This is a question that keeps popping to mind. The ability to run a game of Dungeons and Dragons for several other people is a challenging one. Generally, one has to know the rules, know the world, know the players, know the characters, have writing ability, acting ability, story-telling ability, a massive attention span, the ability to macro and micro game, the ability to adapt and the flexibility to roll with the punches.
That’s a pretty impressive list…
Newer players often don’t understand the amount of energy, effort and dedication it takes to run a campaign for weeks or months. The best GMs I’ve met are incredible to talk to, they’ve got binders of material, plans for the future, they pretty much know when someone is likely to die, what that person will play next and how that change in characters will cause cascades through-out the campaign. All of this sparks a question, how does one become a great GM? I’m going to cover what I believe are the most important aspects of a good GM.
Step 1, practice. Gm-ing is hard and there isn’t much for it but to do it over and over and over and over. It’s much like writing and learning how to write well. People don’t become amazing overnight, it is a skill honed through hours of pen-to-page action, making mistakes, writing drafts, facing rage and rejection but it has to be done to get better. GM-ing is the same way. If you don’t practice GM-ing, you won’t have the experience to handle it, nothing more, nothing less.
Beyond practice is preparation. Being able to whip out a dungeon crawl when the players decide to abandon saving the kingdom to explore the creepy cave. Players are creatures straight from the plane of chaos. The only constant as a GM that can be counted on, is their magnificent ability to run the train right off the tracks (often backwards, at high speed, in another dimension, while screaming “falalalalala” the entire way).If you’re prepared, you’ll have the right tool for whatever situation your players decide that is happening now.
Adaptability competes strongly with preparation. All those wonderful tools are useless if the ability to twist your train tracks to catch the now extra-dimensional, screaming, speeding, backwards plot train doesn’t exist. The best stories I’ve heard from other players and GMs revolve around the players throwing an unexpected curve-ball and the GM flawlessly receiving and returning it. (I’ve been extremely fortunate falling in with a a large group of gamers that have decades of experience and stories to share).
Experience, preparation, adaptability. These are qualities a great GM has, without them you’ll find tales of terror or even worse…tales of mediocrity! (Let’s face it, the best stories are always at either extreme :P)