I work hard to be the best game master that I can, and if I do say so myself, I’m not too bad at it. My groups always seem to have a lot of fun, or at least enough fun that they’re willing to return to my table. Plus there’s the few hundred people who seem to think I’m interesting enough to warrant reading this site, so I figure I can’t be failing completely. Unless a lot of you are just google bots and image wranglers.
…damnit, that’s exactly what you are, isn’t it?
Regardless, I believe that a person should always look for ways to improve, and I need to improve as a GM in more ways than I’m comfortable admitting. I rarely come away from a game session without feeling as though there’s something I could have done much better. I am honestly embarrassed to admit to some of these flaws, and I questioned whether or not I even wanted to share this post. But I also believe that the best kind of writer is one who is brutally honest. Especially regarding themselves. So here we go;
I wet the bed into my teen years.
There. Everything after that should be easy, right?
Consistency is a big personal battle for me, and my failure to be consistent has often affected my GMing in numerous ways. The extent of my preparations, for example, varies wildly. Occasionally I’ll come to a game with ten or twenty pages worth of notes, but more often I’ve got maybe a page of sloppily assembled chicken-scratches. I have a terrible habit of letting other concerns get in the way of my game mastering responsibilities.
Fortunately, or not, my greatest strength as a GM is improvisation. I can pull a varied and interesting game out of thin air without too much effort. But I think this ability can become more of a crutch than a boon. Even the best improvisations are rarely consistent with games I’ve run in the past. Players start to notice little oddities: “If half of the villagers have disappeared, shouldn’t there be empty houses we can stay in? Why do we need to stay in the mayor’s spare room?”
Perhaps my worst inconsistency is in my scheduling of games. I often put off arranging the next game session, because I find social situations so draining. It’s strange that someone like myself, who always feels exhausted after spending an extended amount of time with people, would be so attracted to a game that is inherently social. I’m a walking contradiction, apparently.
Overland Travel has been a weakness of mine for years. The way I handle it did vastly improve when I began mapping my overworlds with hexes. But drastically improved does not mean good enough. I still truggle with basic elements of presentation. I currently have my players indicate how they’d like to travel on a hex grid, and I fill in the blanks as they do so. Not only is it a waste of time to have me filling in hexes, but I hate that my current method has players interacting with a grid, rather than using their imaginations to create the environment for themselves.
I’ve been reading a series of posts written by The Alexandrian on this subject, which address many of the issues I’ve had with running hex crawls. Hopefully after tinkering with it, and trying to run a hex map according to his guidelines, I’ll have a firmer grasp of how a game like that should function. I would like overland travel to be one of the highlights of my games, where adventure hooks lurk behind every hex, and players can spend an entire session being entertained by a lengthy journey. I’ve been able to capture some element of that in my games so far, but I want more.
Economies in my games never make much sense. Going back to the problem with consistency, there’s rarely a set buying power for a gold piece, or any real gauge on how common it is. When my players approach their wizard friend and ask for a completely reasonable magic device that they should be able to acquire (but for which there is no precedent), I come up with a price that ‘seems right.’ Only later do I realize that I’ve significantly over or underestimated the item’s value. I also have a bad habit of being a great deal more generous with treasure than I ought to be, because I’m worried about keeping my players engaged in the adventure if they don’t feel suitably rewarded.
Yes, I know that’s ridiculous.
Focus isn’t something I even realized I was failing at until recently. I started making audio recordings of my games, and realized that my group and I spend a lot of time chit-chatting during game sessions. Worse: more often than not those tangents originate with me. Time for a big surprise: I like the sound of my own voice. You could make the argument that so long as everyone is having fun, it’s not really a problem. But, having played in Brendan’s OD&D game, I’ve seen how much better the game is when everyone keeps their attention on the game. Brendan does a great job of gently guiding everyone’s focus back to the game when it strays. In that way he’s provided a model for me to learn from.
Traps are my weakness when it comes to dungeon crawls. Otherwise, I think I do a pretty decent job of making dungeons work in my games. But when it comes to traps, I’ve never been able to pull them off satisfactorily. Either they’re so non-threatening as to be boring, or they’re so deadly as to be cheap. In part, I blame the game systems I’ve GMed for this one: D&D 3.X and Pathfinder. Skill checks are not a very fun way for a player to search for traps, nor are disable device checks a fun way to get rid of them. I covered this a bit in my skills analyses of both perception and disable device. However, having now played in Brendan’s OD&D game where traps are handled properly, I feel as though I have a better understanding of what makes them fun, and why I’ve only had limited success with them in the past. I guess here, again, Brendan has provided a model to help me improve my own GMing. Thanks!
Low Magic eludes me. I dislike fantasy settings where magic serves as technology. It can be fun now and again, but the world is much more interesting when magic is rare. Yet I always seem to end up in high-magic games. I’m not quite sure how it happens. One minute there’s only one wizard in the area, and he’s a crusty old curmudgeon. The next moment I’ve offhandedly mentioned to my players that there’s a wizard’s college in the capitol city. Fuck! Butter luck next campaign.
There you have it. My biggest failings as a GM. Hopefully I can get them sorted out soon and move on to more minor issues with my style.