Introspection: Skills as a Game Master

Jun 2, 2011

I’ve spent a lot of hours as a game master. I’ve run numerous systems ranging from classic fantasy games to post apocalyptic settings. Pure hours of running or the range of systems doesn’t make me a stellar GM. I do many things well but the list of things I do poorly is just as long.

Analysing yourself is about as enjoyable as a root canal. If you want to improve at anything, critically identifying weaknesses and strengths is useful.


  1. Big Picture: I am not a grand vision game master. I do not plot or plan story arcs spanning more than a couple of sessions. If players want to have world encompassing impact, I’m not the guy they want running the game. Thankfully, I don’t write fiction otherwise I’d be perpetually assaulted with 1 star ratings.
  2. Preparation: Traditionally, I’ve been a very open sandbox style GM. When I do prepare materials, I expend a minimal amount of effort. The likelihood of the material never being played is always lurking in the back of my mind. Making a best effort would improve play. I need to improve on prep work and find ways of making the material interesting to the players.
  3. Auto Sandbox: Being overly open isn’t always the solution. This ties into the big picture and preparation topics. If I commit myself to a solid, introduction to the games, player adoption will come quickly. Leaving people adrift with little guidance is just as bad as forcing them down the rails of a pre-planned adventure.
  4. NPCs: The majority of my non-player characters are little more than rough sketches. I realize interesting NPC’s can be a major role play driver but somehow I rarely take the time to make them engaging either as allies, acquaintances or enemies. Fleshing out the personalities and involvement with the player characters adds significant potential for roleplay.


  1. Defacto Game Master: Both a weakness and a strength, I have often volunteered to run games when no one else was willing. Running blind (no-prep, no-story, auto-sandbox), does not translate into an enjoyable session. It can on occasion but many of the games flounder. This is less of a weakness today as it was in years past since my group has found many other non-rpg games to fill the dead space.


  1. Flexibility: I’ll give any game a whirl. I have a bent for wanting to try out new stuff. I never planned on running Boot Hill or Cyberpunk. Somehow I ended up doing so. Nothing wrong with that other than what I’ve already mentioned in the Defacto section. Sometimes it works. Alternatively, the group learns they really don’t want to play the system.
  2. Player Engagement: I pick up on player engagement fairly quickly. If a session is foundering, I’ll kabosh it rather than continuing to brutalize players with boredom. Sometimes the decision is merciless. Tact could be improved on occasion. If a game is failure, I believe it better to terminate quickly and move on. For games going well, the players who are engaged in the game get the majority of my attention. I’ll try to engage the straggler for a while in a game session.
  3. Character Engagement: When players spend the time to generate characters with history and goals, I incorporate them into my games. Especially when players actively point out the nuances of the character prior to game play. Adapting to the character quirks adds a lot of depth for both the player and I. Too many game systems fail to encourage history and quirks. When a character is generated above and beyond the basic system, paying attention to what they envision opens doors. Role play doesn’t come from skeleton characters based off a draw of the card.
  4. Criticism: When I suck, my players are welcome to tell me I do. Everyone fails. I listen and try to incorporate the feedback if it is relevant. I’ve screwed up badly as a game master on several occasions. When it happens, I laugh at myself along with everyone else. Being perfect is impossible and laughing at myself is good therapy.

I have no illusions. At times, I’m a pretty good GM. On other occasions, I fail miserably. Every game and session is different. I aim to improve on where I lack and be humble when corrected. As long as everyone is having fun, life is good.