log in or register to remove this ad

 

On GMing Advice

pemerton

Legend
I think it is possible for thoughtful RPGers to provide good advice and analysis of play. This is based on my experience in benefitting from that advice and analysis.

Some of those include Ron Edwards, Vincent Baker, Paul Czege, Eero Tuovinen, Christopher Kubasik, Robin Laws and Luke Crane; as well as a good number of posters on these boards: it's invidious to name names but @chaochou, @Campbell, @LostSoul, @S'mon and @Manbearcat have probably had the most influence on my practice and my reflection.

One thing that characterises good advice is that it locates itself within a fairly clear set of orientations towards and expectations of play. If I read a post or a blog and it does not do this, but rather just proceeds as if well all know what "good" roleplaying should look like, then for me that it is a warning sign that I'm unlikely to find the advice useful.
 

log in or register to remove this ad

Hand of Evil

Adventurer
Epic
Only advice I have found useful over the years as been; "know your material and your players."

Every game is different and while GMs and players may be similar from table to table, each has their own pace and flavor, making them different. So, do not give advice, give tips, tricks, and methods to help all at the table.
 

pming

Legend
Hiya!

For me, the best advice is very specific and 'easy' to do.

As an example, "Roll your d20 to hit and your attack's damage dice at the same time". That is specific and easy to do. It's easy to see results from adhering to that advice.

Less useful is saying "When attacking, try and speed up the process by whatever means you can think of. Pre-rolling dice, or rolling together, or just using averages all the time". The point is still there, "make combats faster to complete in real time", but the advice is not specific, and might not even be easy (depending on different factors).

When there is "vague" advice to take or give, it needs to be "short and sweet". It can be open to interpretation, but the gain is in the fact that it IS "vague". For example, "The most important rule for a DM is this: BE FAIR!". That is 'vague' in that it isn't telling you anything specific on how to obtain that 'fairness'. But that's ok because the very word 'fair' is subjective. For example, I see 1e Barbarians and 1e Fighters as being "fair" because of XP progression over the course of months and years of game sessions; it all balances out, so to my mind it's "fair'. Others may not feel the same, and they want the two classes to be 'equal' in XP progression, damage dealing, damage taking, etc...just different 'flavours' of it.

So when the DM remembers that advice, "Be Fair!", they interpret it as suits their particular idea of fairness. But they are taking the advice, as their decision, whatever that is at the time, is weighted within their own framework of "Is this fair?".

^_^

Paul L. Ming
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Are we supposed to write long posts about our every assumption, target audience, and other things to offer better advice?

Well, no. That'd be exactly backwards. Because, again, advice shouldn't be about YOU, and your assumptions. It should be about the game of the person you're advising. How much do you know about it? If you get a more full picture of the situation, your assumptions won't really be in question - because you won't be assuming.

I'm saying that before you offer advice, you should ask questions. Ask about the playstyle of the people you are advising, ask about how the players act, what they like, and so on. Make sure the advice that comes to mind actually fits the game they are playing.
 


prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
Well, no. That'd be exactly backwards. Because, again, advice shouldn't be about YOU, and your assumptions. It should be about the game of the person you're advising. How much do you know about it? If you get a more full picture of the situation, your assumptions won't really be in question - because you won't be assuming.

I'm saying that before you offer advice, you should ask questions. Ask about the playstyle of the people you are advising, ask about how the players act, what they like, and so on. Make sure the advice that comes to mind actually fits the game they are playing.
It sounds as though you're suggesting that advice should be more ... personal. More about a given situation--GM, players, game (and "game" includes a lot) than general principles. I don't really disagree with you, that that's probably an ideal, but I do think there's something to be said for talking about general principles--even if some of those might not be immediately applicable for a given situation.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
It sounds as though you're suggesting that advice should be more ... personal. More about a given situation--GM, players, game (and "game" includes a lot) than general principles.

Yep.

I don't really disagree with you, that that's probably an ideal, but I do think there's something to be said for talking about general principles--even if some of those might not be immediately applicable for a given situation.

So, I'd say that "talking about general principles" is an entirely different activity than "giving advice", and should have different goals.
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
So, I'd say that "talking about general principles" is an entirely different activity than "giving advice", and should have different goals.
What about ... something like pre-emptive advice, for lack of a better term? The idea that there may be something like FAQ for TRPGs?

And if there are general principles worth conveying, you seem to be advocating something more like connecting them to specific situational advice. That about right?
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
What about ... something like pre-emptive advice, for lack of a better term? The idea that there may be something like FAQ for TRPGs?

So, if we set aside things that are really about human interaction (Wheaton's Law, and so on)?

There's darned little that's generally applicable. It has to be targeted by game, playstyle, and so forth.

And if there are general principles worth conveying, you seem to be advocating something more like connecting them to specific situational advice. That about right?

Yep.
 

Game designers seldom offer good advice (Except occasionally Kevin Hite). Part of it is that most are too plugged into a 'world' mindset, where they have to appeal to the very width and depth of the hobby.

Whereas I want advice that applies only to my table.
 

It sounds as though you're suggesting that advice should be more ... personal. More about a given situation--GM, players, game (and "game" includes a lot) than general principles. I don't really disagree with you, that that's probably an ideal, but I do think there's something to be said for talking about general principles--even if some of those might not be immediately applicable for a given situation.
I can think of only two universally good pieces of advice to GMs:
1) Be honest with your players.
2) Don't be a dick.

everything else varies by situation, game, and playstyles.
Best Practices for D&D are not the same as for T&T, nor either close to those for Houses of the Blooded.
 

Here’s some advice on Improvization I just put in the railroading thread that may be of use to folks reading this thread:


Effective improvisation is deploying a very different muscle than working from prep. I’ve seen a lot of people say they don’t believe that either (a) they can do it (and maintain coherence) or (b) that anyone can do it (and maintain coherence).

I’m sure there are a small number of folks in the world where (a) is true (because some of the below becomes a barrier). However, (b) is is absolutely not true because GMs have done it and have been doing it for a time.

Things to work on to become better improvisers:

* Practice your listening skills (the less you talk, proportionately, the better you become at improvising).

* Be humble, ask questions (about the setting at large, about the present situation), and offload some of your mental overhead onto table/system.

* Embrace structure. Chunk your information mentally so it’s very digestible and write down pithy statements as play develops so it mentally cues you for future use (Master Seargeant Rosco Hicks, I say I say, loves mint juleps).

* Pick the right system. Systems with overwhelming cognitive load (and that doesn’t mean rules heft, although it might…that absolutely can mean setting and expectations of canonical lynchpins for play) or creative restrictions (that you must reference) are not good for consistent improvization. Systems that embrace improvisation will provide clear and organizing structure for the conversation of play and moving around it and will be an intuitive and creatively liberating experience for all participants at the table.

* Start small (practice various conflicts and get good at that before you put it all together), set goals, be mentally prepared for stumbles and adversity, and recognize what success looks like (it’s not perfect).
 

MGibster

Legend
I try to remember that in online forums you're not just giving advice to the person who started the thread but also to everyone who might come along and read it later.
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
I can think of only two universally good pieces of advice to GMs:
1) Be honest with your players.
2) Don't be a dick.

everything else varies by situation, game, and playstyles.
Best Practices for D&D are not the same as for T&T, nor either close to those for Houses of the Blooded.
I don't broadly disagree, but I think that one can come to understand one game (or type of game) better after having run or played something else, and I think there may be adventure types that are (or can be) consistent from one game to another--which might be a subset of "playstyles" in your quote.
 


Mmmmm, I don't know if this is something that can be excluded from the job. S maybe it would be better to say; Don't always be a dick. I mean table humor being what it is... S


pexels-photo-931317.jpeg
 

I have been a GM for many years and consistently get good ratings (back when the RPGA used to give them, from cons where that occurs and from random players at cons who often ask 'are you running anything else?' and from friends who I trust to be truthful). I always, always read GM advice information in pretty much every situation I see it -- online, in books, whatever.

I also am strongly involved in acting and direction theatre; a hobby that shares a lot of similarity with roleplaying (you could almost think of a role-playing group as an improv troupe performing for an audience of themselves, using a set of rules to focus their improv) and I cannot think of anyone in that profession who would not suggest reading advice. Even the great actors regularly do so.

GMing has a number of aspects, each of which can be improved on by even top-quality GMs. probably the top two in my experience are:

Creativity: How many books are there on creative writing? On world design? On building engaging stories? On well-developed characters? An engaging environment is so important for a good campaign that I will devour any advice available or this.

Dealing with People: The social aspect of a GM is also critical. You are effectively a team leader trying to make your team as effective as possible at their goal -- having fun. You need skills like handling problem players, encouraging shy players, managing stress points and issues that potentially hurt people.

A good advice book (or forum post) does not just state a single statement and leave it at that. It provides evidence, examples, personal stories and so on -- just like books on creativity or social skill do. There are many books that offer just one piece of advice, and then spend the entire book explaining it.

Having said that, I will list a few things that have significantly helped my roleplaying:

Three descriptors per NPC: That will almost certainly make an NPC enough different from the others for them to be memorable. Advice on what those descriptors can be was very helpful too. Now I try and do this no matter what system I run in. Even a set of vanilla guards become much more engaging if they are "always talking about football • wearing uniforms that look years old • smell vaguely of beer".

Evil Hat's FATE ACCESSIBILITY TOOLKIT. For me, I have always worried that it I tried to present/play a character with a disability, that I would do a bad job -- minimizing the effects, stressing stupid things, overcompensating -- and this book, by presenting advice from people who have direct experience AND are role-players, was phenomenal. Tons of good individual advice, but more importantly gives me confidence that I can introduce characters with disabilities without looking like a dick.

Beat analysis (e/g Robin Laws' Hamlet's Hit Points). I've always sort known that you need ups and downs, and that the best campaigns mix them up, but having detailed careful explanations of why and how, with strong examples, makes it much easier to implement in practice.

... and a very specific example:

@CapnZapp's hate of several Pathfinder 2 mechanics. I like PF2 and generally disagree with him on a number of the issues. But I read pretty much all his posts because they and the responses challenge my experience with the game and that is always a good thing. It's easy to enjoy a game and so when someone says "X is terrible, don't do it" the initial response is "you are wrong; it works fine in my game" -- but a better reaction is to think "why don't I have that problem" -- maybe I haven't encountered it yet, maybe I just sort of ignore the issue, maybe I have developed a workaround in the way I apply the rules. Changes I have made based on these threads include better signaling of hazards, alternative presentations of haunts, modification of scenarios so rolling encounters are less likely or can be escaped from.

For me, advice snippets are rarely of any use (the "three descriptors" advice is an exception!). What typically makes advice work for me is an in-depth discussion. So I read books and I read threads, and when I remember to be open-minded about people's opinions, it is very common I learn something that makes my gaming better.
 

Level Up!

An Advertisement

Advertisement4

Top