log in or register to remove this ad

 

D6 Ways to be a Great Game Moderator

RPGs have sections on what an RPG is, what dice are, rules, and usually GM advice including adventure design. However, knowing the accoutrements and rules of gaming do not necessarily lead to great refereeing. Dice not make one great. So what does make a GM great?


Here are six concepts and skills to master. Hone these ideas and see your GMing steadily improve. They aren’t the only talents and traits you’ll need, but they are a start.

1. Consistent game night

Games fall apart if they aren’t played. While this seems trite it is simply true. If a GM picks a day and time and sticks to it, she will eventually draw in players who can work with that schedule and have game night become expected and routine. All the other concepts fail if the GM doesn’t actually run an RPG for her players and to do that game nights have to happen.

2. Creative improvisation

The greatest strength of an RPG is a GM who can allow the players to try anything. No matter how crazy or off the wall an idea is, a human GM can make a ruling and set a scene and then roll to see what happens next. You develop this skill by running RPGs. You can help yourself out be preparing small ideas ahead of time: NPC names, mini-encounters, a prepped tavern for when the adventure goes off the beaten path, and some extra stats for NPCs and creatures.

3. Detail oriented

The GM makes the world. No one else is going to remember all the details better than the GM. The GM has to run the NPCs and creatures as well as referee combat, roleplaying, and exploration. An organized GM with easy to use notes can concentrate on the game at hand and not struggle just to run the basics of the game. The mind will be freed up for more creativity and sharpened to make better judgment calls. The GM can also have more time to be a better host.

4. Director of the PCs

RPGs are a lot like a play with the GM doing every job except those of the main actors. And the main actors are the ones who get all the applause. That’s okay, in fact it is great. Direct your players as needed, but trust them to know their character and play them well. Help players with areas of weakness whether that is lack of rule knowledge or encouraging more roleplaying. Work with them, encourage them, and as a team make them the stars of the show.

5. Excellent Host

The GM asked everyone to show up and game. That makes the GM the host no matter where you meet. Be kind to the players. Make sure they get breaks and are comfortable. Smile. Be hospitable. But also don’t take on burdens that are not a GMs to bear. Bad dice, poor PC decisions, rules that are a bit off, and even just a night that goes poorly all happen. Be gracious, acknowledge anything that didn’t go well, and move on.

6. Know the spirit of the rules

The rules cannot tell a GM how to run her game. Once the GM sits down, the game becomes her responsibility not the designers or a book. Know the rules well, really well, but go beyond knowing to true understanding. What is the actual point not just of the RPG you are running, but why is this group in particular, your group, igaming at all? Lean into the type of RPG experience you and your players like and when needed make an informed judgment call that honors the spirit of your RPG campaign. Build trust with your players so when you do need to let something happen well out of the rules as written they are comfortable with your ruling and the campaign rolls on to the continuing enjoyment of all. Just remember to also be impartial. Do what is right and fair to the overall game the entire group wants to play. Hey, if being a judge was easy everybody would be running RPGs!

And an informal number seven. If you GM, give yourself a pat on the back. You are doing a huge amount of work to help drive the entertainment for you and your friends. You are reading, writing, designing, doing math, leading, hosting, coaching, and acting. Honestly, well done.

There are many more ways for a GM to become excellent. These six concepts are a good place to go back to and re-examine as your campaign rolls ever onward. Keep improving, keep reading, keep being kind, and be bold. The GM who is fair and fearless will have players eager to follow her into enjoyable roleplaying.

What are some of the things you do to be a great GM?
 
Charles Dunwoody

Comments


Eyes of Nine

Everything's Fine
RPGs have sections on what an RPG is, what dice are, rules, and usually GM advice including adventure design. However, knowing the accoutrements and rules of gaming do not necessarily lead to great refereeing. Dice not make one great. So what does make a GM great?


Here are six concepts and skills to master. Hone these ideas and see your GMing steadily improve. They aren’t the only talents and traits you’ll need, but they are a start.

1. Consistent game night

Games fall apart if they aren’t played. While this seems trite it is simply true. If a GM picks a day and time and sticks to it, she will eventually draw in players who can work with that schedule and have game night become expected and routine. All the other concepts fail if the GM doesn’t actually run an RPG for her players and to do that game nights have to happen.

2. Creative improvisation

The greatest strength of an RPG is a GM who can allow the players to try anything. No matter how crazy or off the wall an idea is, a human GM can make a ruling and set a scene and then roll to see what happens next. You develop this skill by running RPGs. You can help yourself out be preparing small ideas ahead of time: NPC names, mini-encounters, a prepped tavern for when the adventure goes off the beaten path, and some extra stats for NPCs and creatures.

3. Detail oriented

The GM makes the world. No one else is going to remember all the details better than the GM. The GM has to run the NPCs and creatures as well as referee combat, roleplaying, and exploration. An organized GM with easy to use notes can concentrate on the game at hand and not struggle just to run the basics of the game. The mind will be freed up for more creativity and sharpened to make better judgment calls. The GM can also have more time to be a better host.

4. Director of the PCs

RPGs are a lot like a play with the GM doing every job except those of the main actors. And the main actors are the ones who get all the applause. That’s okay, in fact it is great. Direct your players as needed, but trust them to know their character and play them well. Help players with areas of weakness whether that is lack of rule knowledge or encouraging more roleplaying. Work with them, encourage them, and as a team make them the stars of the show.

5. Excellent Host

The GM asked everyone to show up and game. That makes the GM the host no matter where you meet. Be kind to the players. Make sure they get breaks and are comfortable. Smile. Be hospitable. But also don’t take on burdens that are not a GMs to bear. Bad dice, poor PC decisions, rules that are a bit off, and even just a night that goes poorly all happen. Be gracious, acknowledge anything that didn’t go well, and move on.

6. Know the spirit of the rules

The rules cannot tell a GM how to run her game. Once the GM sits down, the game becomes her responsibility not the designers or a book. Know the rules well, really well, but go beyond knowing to true understanding. What is the actual point not just of the RPG you are running, but why is this group in particular, your group, igaming at all? Lean into the type of RPG experience you and your players like and when needed make an informed judgment call that honors the spirit of your RPG campaign. Build trust with your players so when you do need to let something happen well out of the rules as written they are comfortable with your ruling and the campaign rolls on to the continuing enjoyment of all. Just remember to also be impartial. Do what is right and fair to the overall game the entire group wants to play. Hey, if being a judge was easy everybody would be running RPGs!

And an informal number seven. If you GM, give yourself a pat on the back. You are doing a huge amount of work to help drive the entertainment for you and your friends. You are reading, writing, designing, doing math, leading, hosting, coaching, and acting. Honestly, well done.

There are many more ways for a GM to become excellent. These six concepts are a good place to go back to and re-examine as your campaign rolls ever onward. Keep improving, keep reading, keep being kind, and be bold. The GM who is fair and fearless will have players eager to follow her into enjoyable roleplaying.

What are some of the things you do to be a great GM?
Good list @Charles Dunwoody . I also try to encourage and mentor new GMs when possible.
 

I think involving the players as much as possible in creating the details of the game world can often help with items 2 and 3. If you have the players contribute meaningfully to the world you're all collaboratively creating, then they will likely be more invested, and it allows you more time to focus on the other areas that require the GM's attention. Plus, it ideally will create a loop of creative inspiration....the GM prompts a player to give a world detail, then the GM and other players are inspired by that idea and build upon it, and so on.

Ask questions and build on the answers, in other words. Let things emerge through play rather than deciding everything before hand.
 

Good list @Charles Dunwoody . I also try to encourage and mentor new GMs when possible.
Thanks!

Your way is subtle and I like it. You have to examine yourself and your methods to teach others. Sometimes those being taught see one of your blindspots or ask about something you thought was obvious or that you thought you had articulated but actually glossed over. So you learn yourself even as you're teaching. And in turn, everyone gets more GMs. You get to play more often as a player. Which in turn helps improve your GMing. And then you pass on even more to other new GMs. Nice!
 

GuardianLurker

Explorer
Stretch yourself. Experiment with techniques and methods.

If you always run pre-prepared adventures, write a small one. If you're just glossing over NPCs, script a scene or three where you have to roleplay a detailed NPC. If you always design a world top-down, run a hex-ploration arc or campaign. If you've always admired the con GM's who have all the props and background music, get some of your own. If you've always run a black-and-white game, run shades of grey.

Your experiment may not work out, it may fail utterly. You might find that what you did just isn't in your bailiwick. Or it might work next time, if you do a few things different. Or the best result of all, it may be a wild success and your players won't even notice.
 

R_Chance

Adventurer
I think involving the players as much as possible in creating the details of the game world can often help with items 2 and 3. If you have the players contribute meaningfully to the world you're all collaboratively creating, then they will likely be more invested, and it allows you more time to focus on the other areas that require the GM's attention. Plus, it ideally will create a loop of creative inspiration....the GM prompts a player to give a world detail, then the GM and other players are inspired by that idea and build upon it, and so on.

Ask questions and build on the answers, in other words. Let things emerge through play rather than deciding everything before hand.
I've had players who didn't want to know too much about the world. I usually involve them by having them "build" what they should be most familiar with, their homes. I look over the PCs classes, backgrounds etc. and come up with something they would all have in common. I'll tell them, for example, that they are all from the same village / manor. And encourage them to lay it out, sketch out the place, the NPCs etc. I fill in the details that they might not know or haven't bothered with, make sure it integrates with the world and another location is detailed. These are often revisited by the PCs for various reasons. I've had PC help with detailing a seminary from the High Church of Law, an isolated mage / hermits tower, and the gutters and alleys of a couple of slum areas. This way the PCs know what they should know, where they grew up. Then they have a world to explore without knowing "too much". And my world gets more detailed :) Some of these locales originated decades ago and they are still in use (if not by their original player / creators).
 
Last edited:


I've had players who didn't want to know too much about the world. I usually involve them by having them "build" what they should be most familiar with, their homes. I look over the PCs classes, backgrounds etc. and come up with something they would all have in common. I'll tell them, for example, that they are all from the same village / manor. And encourage them to lay it out, sketch out the place, the NPCs etc. I fill in the details that they might not know or haven't bothered with, make sure it integrates with the world and another location is detailed. These are often revisited by the PCs for various reasons. I've had PC help with detailing a seminary from the High Church of Law, an isolated mage / hermits tower, and the gutters and alleys of a couple of slum areas. This way the PCs know what they should know, where they grew up. Then they have a world to explore without knowing "too much". And my world gets more detailed :) Some of these locales originated decades ago and they are still in use (if not by their original player / creators).
I like this idea. I'd even see if I could take it a step further (with players who have an interest) and build backgrounds tailored to the setting together. I'd rather be a former fishmonger of Fenmarsh than an outlander for example.

I have tried to get players of religious characters to help build the gods and temples. That hasn't worked (yet) but it sure seems the players would have vested interest in being involved. I'm glad you were able to get your players to pitch in!
 

R_Chance

Adventurer
I like this idea. I'd even see if I could take it a step further (with players who have an interest) and build backgrounds tailored to the setting together. I'd rather be a former fishmonger of Fenmarsh than an outlander for example.

I have tried to get players of religious characters to help build the gods and temples. That hasn't worked (yet) but it sure seems the players would have vested interest in being involved. I'm glad you were able to get your players to pitch in!
I have used social class backgrounds (based on race and class) and nationality (in my setting) going back to 1E / 2E. I connected Background Skills / Non Weapon Proficiencies from 1E and 2E to social class origins. Players either picked their background or rolled on a chart based on their chosen class (their choice). The result was I had a some background knowledge of the PCs to build on even when "backstories were not a thing". This enabled me (then and now) to figure out what connections they might have. Despite the possible familiarity of this I have also told players they should "write their epic stories" in the game. Childhood memories are one thing, the actual dragon slaying needs to happen in game.

I have also resorted to the "you met in a tavern", or on a river barge travelling to the city or other generic meet ups for some groups or certain members of some groups who didn't fit in with the others. Still, I like the "you've known each other since you were young" bit. It gives PCs a reason to be friends / loyal to each other. Replacements can filter in from "home" or just be the odd guy who meets up with the group along the way when player deaths / replacement happens. What's funny is when PCs who don't come from "home" get drug back there and pretty much adopted by their PC friends families :D It's very... organic.

When I do have a very disparate group using the "tavern meeting" or other generic beginning some singular event (say a massive bar brawl or being drafted as someone's second in a duel) can give individual PCs that group cohesion needed for an adventuring party. And, once they've been in the World Beneath the World Above and risked their lives together, they're solid. The PC party needs imho a reason to stand together through the horrifying stuff most PC parties encounter.
 

COMING SOON: 5 Plug-In Settlements for your 5E Game

Advertisement1

Latest threads

COMING SOON: 5 Plug-In Settlements for your 5E Game

Advertisement2

Advertisement4

Top