What do you want to do better as a GM?

delphonso

Explorer
GMing is a skill, you get better with practice, time, and advice/observation of others. Personally, I love GMing. I love writing a story where I don't control the main characters and collaboratively making a world with friends.

But like every skill, you'll hit a plateau. And that's where I think I've been the last few years. I'm sure a few of us have. So -

What do you want to improve in your GMing, and maybe we can all share some advice and tips. What do you think you're doing well, and what can you experiment with?
 

Jacob Lewis

The One with the Force
I have recently decided to try and do this professionally, so I have literally been working to improve my skills by running more games for more people. However, because this is new and uncharted territory for me, there isn't an obvious plan or roadmap to follow for success. So I had to come up with my own ideas and give it a shot.

(I realize this is not the same thing and could lead to a whole different topic for discussion, but the points about improving your GM skills are highly relevant to this. To that end, I will not discuss business-related or professional advice here. Just focus on the GM stuff.)

I know that I am good and competent at what I do. My own personal style and unique personality help to distinguish my own brand, so to speak. But as soon as I decided to make a serious go at this, my first step was to figure out ways to prepare myself as a professional as opposed to someone who just ran more games for strangers, fun, and profit.

I have been running games on a message board for the last few years due to my work schedule, but that recently changed. So the first thing I did when I got more free time (and my wife's support, of course) was to put myself out there again for more face-to-face games with people I did not already know. I first considered 5e D&D because it gets more interest and there is always a demand, but then I decided to see if I could get interest in the game I truly wanted to run, Edge of the Empire. Sure enough, there was interest and I quickly found a dedicated group of players. I have been running the campaign for them every other Saturday since August, and we have become good friends.

I treat every session like an audition and a training exercise. I pay close attention to my performance and read the reactions of my players to provide clues to what works and what needs improvement. Since I began, I have continually focused and improved on my pacing, organization and prep, and my ability to focus less on the rules and books to capitalize on more play and fun during time at the table. Turns out the group is a lot of fun and the campaign is still going strong.

I have also run a couple one-shots to teach others who were curious about the system, and try to get them started with their own groups. I even did a GM demo recently to demonstrate the mechanics of the system and how to incorporate some of the fundamental principles of improvising scenes, collaborating more with the players to build a scene, and using theater of the mind more effectively by removing visual aids like maps and minis (and also when maps and tokens are actually useful).

Now that I have gotten my stride, so to speak, I am getting ready to ramp things up with more games and more groups. I want to be able to focus on several ongoing games and systems at a time to become more diversified and able to accommodate more demands. This may require more time management on my part, finding ways to simplify prep and being more prepared. I also need to be more knowledgeable with rule sets, or at least comfortable enough to adjudicate on the fly as needed.

In short, the first thing I asked myself when I chose this route was "Why would anyone want to pay me to run games for them?" And that has become my roadmap, not only for my future professional career, but also for my mission of self-improvement.

There is more I can share, but I have babbled long enough. I am interested to hear ideas from others.
 

aco175

Adventurer
I want to work on more of the exploration and roleplaying pillars over the combat. I think there is room for more set up and description in my games. We like the fighting and gaining levels and magic and such, but having time with the shopkeeper and lords. Making them more lifelike and giving the NPCs quirks and such may make my games better.

I do like having enough planned out for each game. I tend to have some encounters written down and plan for some things I think the players will think of. The group says they like things, but we have been playing for a long time and I'm sure they would say it either way.
 

Ulfgeir

Explorer
I want to be better at writing adventures. I have lots of ideas, but getting something useable is difficult.

And need to be better at improvising seamlessly.
 

LordEntrails

Adventurer
Stepping into the persona of NPCs. My NPCs are not memorable. I know the techniques, but I never use them when it becomes actual game time. Whether it is speaking in first person, or adopting a voice or mannerism, I always forget to do it.
 

Jd Smith1

Explorer
I wish I had better acting skills. I can't do accents, and like LordE above, my NPCs often fall short of the mark I would like to achieve.
 

delphonso

Explorer
[snip]
There is more I can share, but I have babbled long enough. I am interested to hear ideas from others.
Thanks for sharing, Jacob - this is an interesting journey I have yet to encounter. I pretty often bring new people into the world of DnD and love giving people their first adventures. There aren't any game shops where I live, so unfortunately, I can't run games in shops, as I'd like to. Getting used to new players is probably the hardest part.

I want to work on more of the exploration and roleplaying pillars over the combat. [snip]
I've also noticed that groups that have played with the same dynamic for a while tend to be peacefully satisfied with whatever they're used to. Throwing in some intrigue and social interactions would certainly shake things up.

I want to be better at writing adventures. [snip]
These are two tough things to balance - improv and writing adventures. Generally, I think knowing the beginning and the end of a session is enough, and improving the middle (especially NPC interactions) is a good way to do plenty of both.

Stepping into the persona of NPCs. [snip]
I wish I had better acting skills. [snip]
It's surprising how much of a difference accents can make. Putting on the voice is basically like putting on a costume, and helps get the players in that mindset. I reckon you can find some videos which teach you how to do easy accents like Cockney and Cajun.

----

Personally, I feel like I'm very weak at scene description. I tend to have a very visual imagination, but when we get to a room, I often skim over what it looks like. I don't think it's a problem or that anyone else notices, but boy I'd like to get better at this.
 

Jacob Lewis

The One with the Force
Stepping into the persona of NPCs. My NPCs are not memorable. I know the techniques, but I never use them when it becomes actual game time. Whether it is speaking in first person, or adopting a voice or mannerism, I always forget to do it.
I wish I had better acting skills. I can't do accents, and like LordE above, my NPCs often fall short of the mark I would like to achieve.
You don't necessarily need to step into a role to bring a character to life. Not everyone is comfortable or proficient at it. But the good news is that is not a requirement. Simply describing the character's manners and what he says is sufficient for narrative purposes. Coming up with smart dialogue on the fly isn't so easy unless you had a lot of practice, like voice actors or writers. So don't beat yourself up over that.

My one bit of advice for NPCs is to think of an actor or a character from a movie or tv show that you already know. For example, the first NPC the party meets in the Starter Set for DnD 5e is a veteran guard they rescue from goblins in a cave. I decided he would be played by John Cleese, complete with an English accent and attitude.

"Right! About bloody time you showed up! I think they were going to eat me! It's just a flesh wound. Now where are my things?"
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
So, the main thing I often end up wishing i had done better, is describing interesting elements of a scene that help paint the scenario. Things like what the food smells like, how the locals are dressed, the type of coastline when they arrive at the island where the tower rests, what sort of birds circle above, etc.

I will often have a specific vision in my head, but I’ll only impart some of that data. Part of that is that if I get interrupted I lose track of what I was gonna say, so I just move on to moving things forward.

I really need to manage player attention and cross talk better.
 

Fanaelialae

Adventurer
I'm trying to get better at adding interesting details to scenes. I'm good at providing solid, broad strokes descriptions. Enough for the players to work with and just let their imaginations fill in the rest.

However, a friend and fellow GM is amazing at coming up with these fascinating little details that he drops into scenes that add so much depth and color; you feel as though you're really there.

In general, his level of GMing aptitude has been what I've been working towards ever since we started gaming together about 2 decades ago. I'm not there yet, but I feel that I'm a lot closer than when I started. Of course, it doesn't help that his skills have improved significantly over time too.
 

MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
I'm good at improvising NPC backgrounds, motivations, and side plots on the fly, but I would like to improve on character acting and improvising scene descriptions.
 

delphonso

Explorer
(snip)
I really need to manage player attention and cross talk better.
You might find a balance here by having scenes collaboratively designed. One of my players loves the idea of acrobatic stunts, so whenever we describe a scene together, he always adds stuff he can jump off of or swing on. It really gets him into the scene and eager for the next event.

I'm trying to get better at adding interesting details to scenes. (Snip)
Remember that loose ends are forgotten but closed circles make a big impact. You can add little details and just see what interests your players. The others will be forgotten and don't need to be worked on.

I'm good at improvising NPC backgrounds, motivations, and side plots on the fly, but I would like to improve on character acting and improvising scene descriptions.
I find myself relying too heavily on the improv aspect with my groups. It's an important part of the game, but can lead to skimming over details.
 

Shiroiken

Adventurer
Immersion. I tend to get ahead of myself and try to rush to the action (combat, exploration, or social encounters) without setting the proper mood and description. This can be really important, since knowing the description before a combat might open up tactics, hint at a secret door/compartment during exploration, or give the players a route to convince/deceive the NPCs. I used to be pretty good at this, but the skill has atrophied quite a bit lately.
 

hawkeyefan

Explorer
I’ll be picking up my long running 5E campaign soon, after taking a break for a while to play some other games. What I’m hoping to do is bring some of the cool elements of other games into my 5E game.

I’m going to try and use some more player based narration, and partial success for skill checks. And I’m going to use Inspiration as a more team based element...try to promote more collaborative play.
 

Fanaelialae

Adventurer
Remember that loose ends are forgotten but closed circles make a big impact. You can add little details and just see what interests your players. The others will be forgotten and don't need to be worked on.
That's probably true in a general sense, and good advice. However, as a player who remembers and appreciates those loose threads, I can say with certainty that they have an impact on at least some players.

Closed circles I'm reasonably proficient with. I make ready use of relevant details and foreshadowing.

What I want to be better at are the irrelevant details, which I actually have a much harder time with. That might sound silly, and it can certainly be overdone, but in the right amount they add this beautiful layer of immersion to the game. Where it's less like you're imagining the scene and closer to actually being there. At least for me.
 

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