Friday, 29 July 2016

Thoughts on the best way to teach how to GM...

There's been a lot of interest in the call that I put out last week, and a lot of it from quarters I wouldn't have immediately thought would have responded, such as the indies and a huge number of people wanting specifically to teach women and children, and while unexpected, that's been a great source of joy to me over the last week.

I've had offers of articles, programs, youtube videos and even turning up at conventions to impart knowledge to those who are just learning, and that got me to thinking...

For me, GMing is a skill best taught by another GM who's already done their time in the trenches, you can't teach surprise, and you certainly don't want people looking through the how to guide when they first take the step to running a game, doesn't inspire confidence in them or the game they're running if they're still looking things up.

The format of the program that's been put together has all the different aspects to it, from written word to live display, but I wanted everyone's thoughts on how they think it best to impart the knowledge?

For me, having run a games team for years, it's starting the new GM as a player and working them up from there.

Reason?  Because if they can see how you do it, they'll get the idea of how easy it looks, and it's only afterwards, when you tell them how much was made up on the spot, that they get the idea of what they're getting into.  For me, an adventure is an outline of a story that then develops into something else, I know full well that most players don't follow a set path and that sometimes the adventure you had planned will go the way of all things and be seen never again, and you as a GM have to run with that.

Case in point this wednesday when one of the werewolves in the party had given their word to attack something that was decimating the other wolves in the area (it was a Nexus Crawler...Look it up...) and was walking to their certain doom knowing that it was their certain doom, but their character would not allow them to walk away from their stated word.

What to do?

I could have fudged the rolls to have it knock them out, but they'd have known that I'd done it and I don't believe in having characters saved by me.  The path they were on would have only one outcome, and in this case, I knew that the character in question also had a promise to save its packmates and always act for the greater good of the wolves, I spoke to one of the other characters who pointed out that the wolves needed to retreat and gather the information, thereby giving them a reason by which they could walk away from the fight without losing their honour, because saving a pack mate is more important than fighting a hopeless fight.

But there was a moment when that wolf kept walking forwards and I was actually thinking about getting out a blank character sheet...

Things like that, you don't learn from articles, you learn from seeing them happen and seeing people react to them, from seeing what needs to be done and knowing the characters and the world enough to make that call.

So for me, teaching people directly, face to face, is always the better of the options, but I'm interested in others thoughts...


  1. You weren't the only one looking for a way out you know. There was a reason she slowed right down! :)

  2. As much as you can get, basically! I think you're right that face to face teaching with individuals or small groups is going to be a good idea, but YouTube videos can teach a lot more people for the same amount of effort and don't lose out on all those valuable body language cues that written articles lack. And then again, gamer demographics are likely to have a pretty high quantity of anxious behaviours that can make watching online videos awkward and for whom the idea of going through with something face to face without a thorough understanding and expectation beforehand is just unthinkable, so there's a place for text-based advice too.

  3. Epistolary Richard29 July 2016 at 17:05

    For me, it’s a journey I’m still on, but the progress is made largely by experience. Nothing taught me how to be a GM better than being a GM. Watching GMs is instructive, sure, watching how they deal with particular situations is useful, but for me that was flesh to layer onto the bones of experience. But how did I get that experience as a GM? I didn’t throw myself into the deep end. I waded in. Games are different. And different games place a different emphasis on the role of the GM. I actually started badly, trying to be a GM in a game where I was both providing the players with limited choices and also had to do a tonne of research. It didn’t work out that well. I throttled back and started with games where the GM role was less critical, started getting comfortable with the concept of not having a character, of controlling NPCs, of using them to highlight the PCs, then worked my way up to having greater control in a scene, to portraying the whole world around them and then finally I went back to running a set adventure, a lot freer and more effective than when I started.

    So, for me, how best to impart the knowledge? Build a ladder of games, starting with the ones where the GM role is most restricted and least critical to the overall success of the game and then encourage them to take each step, move onto the next rung of games, when they feel ready to take on the additional responsibilities.

    If I’m trying to interest someone in boardgames, I probably don’t kick off with a game lasting 6+ hours where one mistake might doom your game. I introduce them to something lighter, where they can make mistakes and not suffer too much because of it. And then if they enjoy it and show the desire for deeper play and greater commitment then they can progress onto other games built to deliver that.

  4. It sounds like you already have detailed plans, but for what it's worth: I think that face-to-face instruction is the one distinctive thing that you/we can offer. There are already plenty of videos and articles out there (although it doesn't hurt to create more good ones).

    I think the ideal format might be something like the transferable skills courses that sometimes get run at my workplace: a half-day or one-day workshop alternating between facilitated discussion and short small-group exercises ("Okay, we've discussed dialogue scenes- now you get to run one! Break into groups of three and choose one person to be the GM, and work through the instructions on the laminated sheets!") Of course, that may not prove practical to organise.