5 Days to New HOLE!

I have had a number of really great DMs over the years, and I have tried (and I like to think, largely failed) to incorporate the things I liked the best about each of their styles into my own game. Allow your players to feel in control of their own destinies, try to say yes, keep the action taught, be mysterious, but generous with information, reward cleverness, and when necessary, reward not-so-cleverness. Whether I succeed or fail, I am always trying.

What are some of the best traits you have observed in your DMs during your time playing D&D, Ars Magica, Storyteller, or whatever your choice of gaming goodness is? What things have you liked and tried to add to your own game? What makes a great DM?

62 Responses to 5 Days to New HOLE!

  1. Unfortunately I am usually relegated to playing the DM, and whereas my players always seem to have fun, I am overly critical of my abilities. But of the very few other people I’ve had DM for me the first guy, my friend Ian that I haven’t seen in more than ten years was good at using mods to good effect, as well as coming up with his own fairly entertaining stories when the time came. And my friend Jake was a whiz at pulling plot hooks, names and such out of thin air. I never saw him write down anything but a note or two, and yet his were some of the more entertaining games I ever played in. I try to use both of those in my games. Plenty of forethought, but leave the majority open so that when the players invariably go left when I wanted them to go right (or simply straight ahead) I’m ready to roll with it and keep the game going and fun. I also, in my own games, use a lot of other people’s stories, twisted to fit the campaign we’re playing. Such as, say I watch a good sci fi movie, but we’re playing a western game. I’m good at finding a way to take the general plot and changing just enough to fit the genre to be exciting in a western setting. And if any of my friends have seen the movie too then I’ll change just enough that they never know what they’re in for until the last boss fight. Then they look at me and grin and say “Oh yeeeah! I shoulda known.”

      • That guy Ian used to watch a lot of anime, and in our D&D adventure we became aware of some threat in a lost tower or some such. Upon investigating we were attacked by giant bug like machines, and when we killed one my character snatched a big glowing crystal off of it’s belly, only to have the crystal latch onto and burrow into his chest. Freaked me out at first, but then the damn thing grew a thick extra skin around me and gave me all kinds of badass powers. I could shoot lasers out of my hands, jump super far, run super fast, all kinda shit. My friend we were playing with got one too and we went on to take out the big bad alien nasties that were invading the world we were playing in. Ian told us later he was inspired by some anime show that he had been watching at the time. All in all it was one of the more entertaining campaigns I’ve played in. Oh and Cowboys and Aliens looks pretty sweet. I’m all for mixing sci fi and western. That’s why I loved Firefly so much after all.

  2. My current DM does something rather funny that I would include when I get enough experience to DM. Some of the people in our group are paranoid and use ‘detect magic’ or search for traps or other such cautiory measures to the extreme. In response to this, he will endlessly repeat the same information no matter what the roll was. It gets to the point where the paranoid players stop doing such caution-minded actions and the more reasonable players, like me, start doing them. And we find all the traps and magic whats-a-whos-its. Hopefully the paranoid players will get the hint soon.

    • My answer to using Detect Magic to search for traps was: Who the heck would waste valuable magic when a little non-magical chemistry and acid or black powder purchased from the Dwarves could do the same job?

      As an example, here’s a completely nonmagical trap that will have the magic detectors biting their nails trying to figure out how it was done nonmagically: One Alchemist in my campaign, in his attempts to create diamonds, managed to produce Calcium Carbide. Calcium Carbide looks like grayish whitish sand or gravel…but when you pour water on it, it generates Acetylene gas, which burns very hot (It’s used in welding) – Though he used magical fire to produce the high temperatures needed to create it, the CC itself is nonmagical.

      One of the bigbads (a lich) in my campaign paid the alchemist to produce it in large quantities, and he built a room with iron walls, floor, ceiling, and doors. The doors operated like an airlock (the second door would only open when the first one was closed) On the walls up near the ceiling were everburning torches (yes, those are magical, but they’re easily identifiable as just metal torches with a permanent magical flame on one end and an insulated handle that would allow you to carry one without burning your hand.)

      The floor is covered with about 3 inches of the aforementioned chemical, which just looks like sand. The inner door (opposite the entrance, and as previously stated only open-able when the first door is closed) holds back a tank of water (not enough to fill the room, just enough to fill it to about 6 inches deep, and consequently fill the room with Acetylene gas) The outer door is vented to allow free flow of air (which will allow the room to become uncomfortably warm for anything that isn’t a fire elemental or similar fire-dwelling critter rather quickly if the acetylene is ignited)

      • Nice, but I’ve found that trying to inject hard science be it chemistry or whatever into D&D worlds is counterproductive. D&D worlds were specifically set up to function by magic, not by laws of nature. Sure, they have what looks like normal natural phenomena (gravity for example, hot air rising up, tides, etc.), standard geological stuff (volcanoes, flowstone caves, river valleys, etc) and landscape features (grassy plains, forbidden deserts, tropical jungles, etc.). Because that’s what we, humans beings from real Earth, are accustomed to, and thus tend to put into Fantasy genre stories. Just as every Pulp Adventure story set in a jungle will have mysterious ruins, rivers full of crocs or piranhas, lost lands of dinosaurs, and a smoking volcanoe in it… it wouldnt be a jungle without it. Even Eberron, which had a technomagic industrial revolution, works by pulp genre dungeonpunk concepts… especially Eberron.

        I know, I know. I too once wanted to inject a bit of “realism” into D&D. My scientific mind rebeled against that idea for years but people finally managed to persuade me. Volcanoes are not geological phenomena and outlets for upwellings of magma from the Earth mantle in a Hot Spot… no, on D&D worlds volcanoes hurk up lava because they contain a portal to the quasi-elemental plane of magma and it’s what volcanoes do. Which explains how you can have an Underdark below all those landscape features, and its neither boiling hot or filled with magma. -or have a desert right next to a swamp. Or rivers that flow uphill into the mountains (look at some maps of D&D worlds!). It’s all done by portals.

        I once tried to incorporate real world chemistry dressed up as real historical alchemy in my D&D game, during the mid-1990s… and that was way back in AD&D 2nd ed when proper skills didnt even exist. Boy, I dropped that idea after a while. For one thing, it was a pain for me the GM to do all the extra work on writing alchemical treatises for the wizard character and the players to figure out, and secondly… players started using real world knowledge and concepts, even subconsciously; instead of solving challenges in the game by using their characters’ in game class powers, they now entertained the idea of simply using chemistry to blow stuff up or make stink bombs to clear out rooms and similar. I had opened a can of worms. Now, I’m usually a GM who likes to reward out of the box thinking because when I’m player I hate GMs who do eveything by the book and kill every new idea. But… you will notice that in d20 D&D 3E, alchemical items exist, things like stinkbombs exist and have rules to use them. But the game developers were keen on excluding all the really powerful things you can do with chemistry… such as bombs. Or simple things like gunpowder, because next thing you know you have battleships with batteries of guns, and then you might as well play 7th Sea. I think the developers of D&D want to make sure alchemy stays at the side lines, a craft for NPCS, while the really destructive powers are reserved for high level magic and epic spells.

        End note: If you want a realistic medieval world with only traces of magic and a few “unnatural” monsters from mythology, then play Harnmaster (World of Harn). It’s a good game.

      • Usually, when players have become overly paranoid and search every inch for traps, or use True Seeing on every NPC, or alternatively kill every NPC on sight because “he will betray us anyway, they all do”, it’s the fault of their Gamemaster. Or a previous gamemaster’s fault, and heaven help you if you inherit such a group.

        The trap paranoia thing in particular can bring a game to a grinding halt. But again, if players have learned that if they do not search for traps on every inch of surface, no matter if logical or not, they die, because there is always a trap… then it’s not fair to punish them for it by forcing them to run headlong into traps that were there but could have been avoided if only they had been allowed to take the time to search for them…

        • Yep. I blame the old-school mindset that the DM/Player relationship is supposed to be adversarial. Some DMs take the idea way too far and you end up with players who must search for traps everywhere and must kill every non-good NPC they meet, no matter their social standing, plot relevance or even if they were hostile.

        • As I was reading I was thinking that my answer to this would have been no traps at all for several dungeons, and maybe even a time issue to make them hurry. Afterwards I would switch to low trap-population dungeons and stick there.

          @ Ron: I played (briefly) in a game like this once. It was a new campaign I started in with a group of his older players. I couldn’t figure out why they seemed so paranoid from the jump… checking their beds every night for traps, insisting on scrying protection 24/7, when we were brand new and hadn’t even gone on an adventure yet… until the door to my church (I was a cleric) exploded when I touched the handle. All of the other players yelled at ME for being stupid enough to touch something so obvious as a DOOR without even detecting for magic first. I thanked them for their time and made use of their actual door… willfully neglecting to cast detect magic on it either.

    • The detect magic is only partially to find traps. The character in question can use it at will (in 3.5, don’t ask me how I don’t know) and uses it to find any and all sources of magic. From items to magical traps to magical NPCs. The trapfinding is from our rogue who wants to have “the sharpest eyes in the world” which for some reason means he has to be constantly searching for traps. Despite this, my ninja has a higher spot check and an equal search check.

      • If he is a wizard, and of high enough level, and has the Permanency spell, he can spend a certain large amount of XP and have certain spells permanently anchored to him, always on. Detct Magic is a favorite for wizards, as is read magic, or True Seeing. (Well until he walks through an antimagic field and all his permanent spells are gone forever, which I find annoying… after all, it is perfectly legal for wizard class characters to do this, by the rules, so he should at least get the XP back, otherwise the risk is simply too great… when in contrast he could just spend some money on a magic pair of glasses. Or the permanent spell should become some sort of spell-like or supernatural ability for the wizard, that cannot be dispelled. But that’s just me.)

      • It was so bad that during the obligatory sewer adventure took us the entire session when it was supposed to only take an hour at most. I could understand if we were trying to break into a castle or other some other place that would trap and defend the sewer-based entrances but we weren’t just going through the sewers to move undetected. We weren’t entering, leaving, or going under anyplace that would booby-trap the sewers underneath. And he isn’t high level. We are level 5. I think its part of his backstory. His character is paranoid. Though we are playing an evil campaign. Paranoia comes with the territory.

  3. What?? I cannot edit my above long posting, my reply to Elfguy, (about alchemy and volcanoes in D&D worlds), because “Your comment is marked as spam”?? 😐
    Sorry, folks, I forgot to properly close the bold tag, and now I cannot edit it. Sorry.

    Edit: And now that posting is GONE! Dammit.

  4. How to be a good gamemaster… hm… difficult… usually my answer is: “By trying to avoid the things that I have seen bad gamemasters do.” (Or even technically good gamemasters who nevertheless couldn’t stop themselves from falling into the trap of incorporating their own Mary Sue GM-NPC, or similar annoying habits.)

    What occasionally kills a game session of mine is when I cannot manage to get the proper atmosphere going. And mass battle scenes in a tactical rules-heavy game like D&D. I admit I prefer to run horror games, pulp adventure, or other games with more emphasis on storytelling, also I do run d20 3E D&D back to back with Cthulhu Now currently, and some Perry Rhodan[*].

    I rarely run games at conventions, and if I do, only with pregenerated characters that fit my scenario for the players to use. Otherwise, even in one-shots, I prefer to know the players beforehand and what characters they have so that I can tailor the game plot towards them, to make sure I can provide them with logical motivations for going along with the plot, make sure every character can have a moment to shine where his expertise is needed, and add little side scenes that allow them to roleplay their characters’ quirks. For that reason, I do put characters into dangerous situations, but I do not aim to kill them, I aim to keep them alive, because otherwise the story would be over. (Which is why I prefer games that allow you to create the atmosphere, the illusion of danger while at the same time no player character can die a meaningless death in the middle of the story due to a crappy die roll.. that is not how narratives work.) Now, I’m not opposed to killing off PCs in one-shot adventures with pre-generated characters, or to have my one-shot character gruesomely killed at the climax of the story, especially in Call of Cthulhu or Unknown Armies one-shots.

    But the point of a game shold be to provide fun both for the players and for me, the gamemaster, equally. Because I cannot properly run a game that bores or annoys me.
    —–
    [*] German SciFi RPG derived from a long running weekly multi-author Pulp SF novel series (and its various spin-offs) which began in 1961 and is still running. During the 1960s it was mostly Pulp SF (robots, spaceships, alien empires, brave Terrans, psionic powers, ancient astronauts, but with rather idealistic attempts at despicting a world without racism and with gender equality for the time, with a main hero who tried to solve problems mostly by diplomacy and peaceful resolutions), with some hard science sprinkled in (one of the original founding authors, now dead, was a physicist and engineer) and some heavy fantasy elements that crept in during the 1980s.

    • “But the point of a game shold be to provide fun both for the players and for me, the gamemaster, equally. Because I cannot properly run a game that bores or annoys me.”

      I tell each game group at least once at some point that I run the game for my enjoyment, not theirs. The fact that they have fun, too, and keep coming back to the game is a bonus. πŸ™‚

      • I think a gamemaster does have a certain responsibility towards his players. It’s not supposed to be a One Man (or One Woman) Ego Stroking Show.
        Otherwise you end up with another type of Bad Gamemaster: the one who believes his adventure is the Next Great Novel and treats all the players’s characters as nothing but puppets who have to play out his fantasies.

        That said, I also believe players have a responsibility to not act like jerks and not to consciously derail the plot just because they can, or cause havoc and attack other PCs because they are bored, just sit there like a sack of potatoes wanting to be “entertained” (go watch some TV instead, jerk! I put work and time into this scenario!).

        Unless the GM is really really bad or consciously screwing with some players. Yes, I myself have once become so pissed off at a vain GM who wanted to railroad us into her perfect fantasy plot of helping a prince escape an arranged marriage and threatened to ruin my character if I didn’t play along, that I packed my stuff and declared my character had taken his spaceship and left the planet in the middle of a scene. While my husband decided that his character (a secret agent posing as an artist, hired as a bodyguard for the annoyingly selfish whiny prince) would follow his contract to the letter.. .the contract to the prince’s father, that is!…. if the prince tried to run away from his political marriage and responsibilities, the secret agent would assassinate him and blame it on some insurgents. After all, the secret agent was loyal to the crown. 😈

        • Once a second player played along, they managed to completely blindside the GM and cut the game short by forcing the prince on pain of pain to go back and marry the woman his father had selected. And it worked. Not because the GM adapted the plot on the fly, but because she had lost control of her own scenario and in the end was smart enough to accept the outcome.

        • Hey, the players can do whatever they want…but as in most fantasy novels, “big things are happening” at whatever time period the players are currently adventuring in. If the intrepid heroes choose not to face the evil wizard when he’s only in control of a small village, they will wind up trying to stop him after he’s already taken over the duchy and is working on plans to conquer the kingdom…and if they avoid the confrontation even then, well let’s just say it’s good to be the king…

          One of the most fun campaigns I ran was just after I got out of college and GURPS was just coming on the scene. Since I was already into cross-genre campaigns, the innate advantages of a gaming system that could handle wizards AND robots side-by-side inspired me to create a “long arc” time travel campaign. What I did was, I had each player come up with a GURPS character based on a 150 point starting build (real “hero” level characters) once the magic sourcebooks came out (I actually got magic items in both of the first two GURPS Magic Items books, which was cool (My AD&D Fighter/Thief “Eristan” even got his sword in there…BY NAME.)

          I didn’t tell them what genre or era we were going to be playing in, just to make a character they’d have the most fun playing, then I spent about a week carefully making character descriptions of each character from each of the other characters’ cultural and historical perspective.

          For example, to the Middle Ages Wizard character, the High Tech Robot character would be described as appearing to be a very thin knight in full armor, and his laser sidearm would be described as “either an odd looking hammer, or a small crossbow that was missing it’s crosspiece”

          I then took each player into another room and described their arrival in the first setting (Nonhistorical Cavemen-with-dinosaurs) where all of them were accidentally summoned by a neanderthal Shaman and described the other characters to them, and we went from there. The Campaign centered around whatever they decided to do in each era, as they were randomly transported through time by the “magic bone” the NPC shaman had found (actually a high tech time manipulation device being sought by both good and evil time travellers (The good ones wanted to recover the device and return everyone to their own times, while the bad ones wanted to steal it and use it in a nefarious scheme (What exactly didn’t matter, since it was basically just the Maguffin)) The Catch? The players’ characters start out not knowing any of this, and the other time traveler groups both take pains to disguise themselves as locals and NOT reveal that they are time travelers, so in each scenario (and, of course, in each scenario, “something big is happening”, and the “magic bone” will only recharge once whatever is going on is resolved, one way or the other, and it’s up to the players to push things along , or they could just wait around until whatever-it-is happens, which could take years or even centuries depending on what exactly was going on (The first problem was an asteroid impact on the other side of the world that kicked up a lot of dust into the, and the party had to help the neanderthals learn how to survive the oncoming ice age)

          • Oh, and in case you’re wondering why I would submit a magic item possessed by one of my own characters as my own creation, it was created by the character as part of a wish, so the idea for the effect was, in fact, my own.

            The sword and it’s wielder are treated as being completely intangible, but ONLY to magical items, spells or anything “magical” (with the obvious exception of the sword itself, in the case of the wielder.) The reason I wished for that effect on my sword was, I wanted a way to turn it off (by sheathing the sword) and the dungeon we were going through was essentially a maze with a lot of passageways blocked by prismatic walls and other very nasty magical traps. We were near the end of the dungeon, and the cleric was out of spells. One of the traps summoned a Djinn who was forced to grant one wish before attacking the party. Since my Fighter/thief failed the disarm traps roll badly, he set it off and had to be the one to make the wish. Part of the rules imposed on this particular Djinn was (and he was forced to tell us before I made the wish) that he couldn’t do anything else after granting the wish but try to kill the wisher – so the rest of the party was safe, and the granted power made it so the Djinn’s spells couldnt hurt my character (and being a magical creature, he couldn’t even touch me, his hands passed right through as if I wasn’t there). This gave the Magic User time to rest and recover his spells (and the cleric too) while my character kept a firm grip on his sword and retreated to an already cleared out part of the dungeon so the Djinn’s spells couldn’t hurt the others while they recovered.

            The campaign was pretty low magic other than this particular dungeon, so the sword wasn’t all that big a deal afterward, but it really saved our bacon finishing up that raid. And it had obvious disadvantages (I couldn’t be healed or benefit from helpful magic while wielding it, and any other magic item would just fall through me, so I couldn’t use anything else, but it was still a cool sword.)

  5. The single best trait for a DM/GM that I have experienced is the ability to ‘tell the story’ and allow the players to shape the pages.

    Sounds simple, but when you meet a real “story teller” and not just a gaming buddy fielding a mission the player experience is simply magnificient. A pure feeling of identity with the characters and the world and a great deal of immersion. Even mundane tasks and easy missions some how become brilliant.

    I think this is something that can come naturally to people but is also able to progress too through experience.

    • Not disagreeing with any of this, but it did remind me of a session once where the DM’s attempt to do this completely backfired on him.

      It was a game session with a guest DM (was hanging out with a couple friends who were gamers, and one brought along another friend of his who also happened to game). I recall he handed out some pre-gen characters and started narrating our arrival in a city in his home-brew campaign world. We arrived in time to watch the NPC wizard-king of the city blast an attacking dragon out of the sky in a single combat round.

      Obviously not needed in that fight, we then proceeded to wander aimlessly for a couple of hours real-time until we all got too bored to care any more. He kept giving us hints about interesting places to go, but no plot hooks that any of us found interesting enough to investigate, or rather interesting enough to perceive as plot hooks.

      Not sure if I ever gamed with him again after that.

        • The leads were such things as “Lizard men are rumored to live in the swamp to the south.”

          Usually, you would expect the DM to follow up with something like “And they’ve been attacking caravans/villagers/orphanages/public libraries/whatever.”

          But, no. That’s all we got: “lizard men live there.” So what? Big freakin’ deal?

          It mostly came down to the players and the DM having completely different expectations from the game. The DM was expecting us to provide him with the adventure seed via roleplaying our character personalities/backgrounds. The players on the other hand (myself at least) expected the DM to provide the adventure – especially since they were pre-gen characters. We didn’t know we were in a giant sand box.

          • Thats the sort of Scenario where the Theives start getting itchy fingers and the dwarf berserker starts looking for a tavern brawl…

            I mean, he didn’t even have the town crier come out in the town square and shout “Hear ye, hear ye! The baron has offered a reward of 1000 gold dubloons for any band of adventurers willing to eradicate the Lizardman raiders from the area!” (Some of our campaigns had “Dubloons” which were double-weight coins worth 2GP each)

      • Ah, introducing NPC allies that are so insanely powerful always leaves the player wondering, “Why am I, the 1st level fighter, supposed to save the kingdom?”

      • Ah, plot hooks.

        I always try to avoid railroading and keep my scenarios flexible, so that certain scenes may happen within a larger overall framework of the plot but can be rearranged or thrown out if the players take a completely different path. Then I can either try to gently steer them back on track lest they become hopelessly mired in confusion or walk “off the map”, or see if I can adapt my scenario.

        Thankfully I’m pretty good at coming up with new storylines and NPCs at the fly, and always have been. It’s a talent. Sometimes my on-the-fly NPCs even became so popular that I incorporated them as allies or henchmen. In one case a Vampire:tM GM fell so in love with my character’s little NPC student sidekick whom I had invented (my character was a Tremere teacher) that she used him as a quasi-GMNPC and gave him his own little sideplot with another PC who dated him.

        As a starting GM I used to fervently believe what I had read, that “all railroading is bad”… but these days I have realized a certain amount of “railroading” (as in giving players a clear idea where the plot is) prevents player frustration. I know one of my weaknesses as a GM is that when I run long campaigns I tend towards byzantine plots, with several side plots along the main plot and red herrings going on, to the point that my players have walked past plot hooks which were not obvious enough and later told me they prefer a more linear plot.

        Lesson: Plot hooks have to be visible. Some players WANT plot hooks; they want to know where their characters are supposed to go so that they can “solve” the adventure.

        Other players of a more storytelling bend are contend with goofing around or, if their characters have no pressing matters to do, like socializing with other PCs and NPCs. This type of player can be a blessing to a GM, as they generate their own entertainment; unless the game is supposed to be about a team of specialists, with a clearly outlined goal and limited time (D&D, Shadowrun, Milleniums End) then it’s a distraction.

        While as a player I love GMs who allow me to do things beyond the straight path of the plot, I have seen at least one GM let this kind of player indulgence get out of hand. At its extreme there wasn’t even an outside scenario; he simply asked the players what they wanted to happen at the start of the session, and then all that happened all evening was PCs talking to each other and shopping and attending to their own little side plots. It felt like SimLife.

    • Oh yeah. If it works it is epic.

      I am glad to say I have experienced it a few times, both as player and as GM.

  6. “How to be a good GM”, the ULTIMATE answer πŸ˜‰ :

    Be adjusted to your players !

    Honestly, it doesn’t matter if you are an oppressive railroader who is mostly telling a story to your audience or a very reactive arbiter with open scenarios and great initiatives, as long as you are in harmony with your group.

    This year, I had to GM a group who had been playing under an alternating pair of railroaders for years. They have been used to easy, plot-hole-ridden scenarios with only one way forward and with a single determining criteria for any challenge : does the GM want it ?

    The result is that they are now a group of either dull uninterested players who are mostly here to see friends or, knowing they can’t get away with anything major affecting the plot, fiendish bullies brutalizing minor NPCs without rhyme or reason.

    Personnaly I enjoy complex worlds with intricate plots without holes, unkillable NPCs where good initiatives (especially too-good one) are not squashed by a GM hammer… and my GMing style reflect this.

    Thus I had a lot of trouble with this group … and it pains me to say that, perhaps, a railroader GM who just yank them by their chain in the only direction is perhaps better suited to them than me…

    Since that fiasco, I put together a new group : )

    • Agreed, the players’ gaming styles and expectations have to harmonize with the gamemaster’s gaming style and expectations. That is why these days I do not allow new players that I don’t know personally in my groups, because the one time I did, the player never really seemed to have fun, and for me it felt like an uphill struggle trying to find out what the hell he actually wanted (he kept changing character concepts for his character) until I gave up. Thankfully he left the group at the end of the campaign.

      Maybe it had to do with him never having played a tabletop RPG before but being a World of Warcraft online player. The way I ran D&D was not the way he expected it. He kept trying to optimize his “character built”. Now, I have another “optimizer” in my group (you can’t even call him a min-maxer because he manages to max out everything, at least in numbe-crunching systems like d20 D&D 3E. Him being a mathematician might have to do something with it.) and he doesnt give me such problems. I have learned to steer him and as long as I make sure the other players with less optimized characters still feel they can participate everything is fine.

      But this WOW-gamer didn’t even know what he wanted… an alchemist.. no a sorcerer… something with dragons… a dragon disciple? no he said, not powerful enough… a time-bending wizard (a fan-made prestige class taken from the internet to which I said no)… Make up your mind!

  7. I’m pretty good at being flexible and adapting my scenarios on the fly, but I suck at drawing maps. I have a clear mental image how the scene looks like. (I have a very visually oriented imagination and good spacial abilities and can imagine things in three dimensions and examine them from different angles.) And I do not usually suck too badly at art, just… I cannot draw maps. In fact, more precisely, I hate drawning maps. Even with map software. Maybe my wish to get everything perfect down to the last detail gets in the way.

    These days I mostly let a player draw what I describe. Or for Cthulhu Now, use Google Maps on the laptop. (“You are… here. And you want to drive… there.”) Hurray for technology.

    • My grandparents used to live up near Seattle. When we were playing Shadowrun years back I asked them to send me a map of Seattle that I would then use while playing the game. Made it sooo much easier, even though the Seattle of 2050 was a hell of a lot bigger, we could still get the general idea of where things were.

  8. Another thing that helps with GMing is the ability to act out NPCs convincingly and give them a distinct personality or feel so that they are more than just dispensers of exposition, or XP to the slaughtered.

    I’m pretty good, I think, at the acting part for major NPCs, with manierisms and gestures and dialogue as long as I have a clear idea of the background and motivations. But I have no talent for doing accents. diferent ways of speaking , yes, but not accents. I wish I had. So these days I wised up and stopped trying. It just sounded silly.

    • I can do some accents pretty well. Especially on overzealous scottish accent. We played a swashbuckling game one time with my two nephews and while camping on the way to London we got attacked by some bandits led by a large Scots outlaw named Angus MacFeargus. My nephews were rolling on the floor when I had him declare in a thick accent that he would “Chop of their wee heads and shove them up their arses!” Mind you my nephews were about twelve and ten at the time.

      • I try hard to get rid of my German accent when I speak English.
        Bizarrely, when my husband and I were visiting Trebah Gardens in Cornwall (the one in the UK), I got into talking with a local lady and she asked me, “Where in Scotland do you come from, dear?”
        Weird.

        • And I’m sure you’re doing a wunderbarwonderful job at it, too. πŸ˜‰
          Somehow all I can think about is this tidbit(only with regards to the accents of course, in case my joke is misunderstood). πŸ˜†

  9. With DM’s, I’ve encountered 3 very different types.
    The first was a great storyteller. His adventures involved twisting plots, fascinating characters, and incredible NPC interaction. It was hard to get him thrown off the story reguardless what we did. However, the fighting was rare, and the treasure was similarly rare- but usually more artifact type stuff that a large part of the story hinged apon. We’d walk away with a huge feeling of accomplishment, but had a hard time remembering exactly what it was we did to merit it.

    The second type had ultra-developed NPCs and spectacular battles. However the story was sparse- usually a bit of conversation leading up to a fight, or searching for healers afterwards. Treasure was near non-existant, and I think he had a secret grudge against magic users. With his campaigns, our characters leveled incredibly fast… if they survived!

    The third was the classic “Monty Haul” DM who would heap treasures and magic on us for the smallest deed. It was a blast figuring out what various items did and figting battles with all the gizmos we found. The only problem was that we leveled up so phenominally fast that we were fighting dragons for warm-up and taking on Gods on thier own planes of existance just to get a fair fight. Even when he’s strip our characters of all thier “stuff”, an 83rd level fighter really doesn’t need a sword to whoop someone’s ass anymore.

    So I guess I’m still looking for the “perfect DM” who can successfully merge those 3 traits. I’ve tried to do it myself, but I’m not sure how it turned out from the player’s perspective. I hope it rocked!

    • My opinion, Jesse, is that you need two basic things to be a competent DM. A range of different experiences with past DMs so you can steal their tricks, and the willingness to allow your players to have fun. It sounds like you have both.

      • I watch other GMs I play under and make mental notes of what did work, and of the things that totally didn’t and which I hated as a player. If I hated them, my own players would probably hate it too.

  10. An important thing I feel about good GMing is: Stick to the genre.
    Every RPG (except GURPS which is just a system) has its specific mood and genre, and mixing it up means missing the point.

    • Well since it stands for “Generic Universal Role-Playing System” it does what you would expect: Lets you run a campaign in any genre with characters being more or less balanced against each other cross-genre…so a 100 point Robotic Ninja would be balanced against a 100 point Medieval wizard.