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Tabletop fans, what makes a good GM?

Tabasco

Member
Point of curiosity. What qualities do you think a good GM needs?

I'm asking because there's players and interested newcomers locally, but no organized groups. There's one person with experience as a GM who knows his tabletops like the back of his hand, but he's asocial, difficult, and kinda long-winded. I honestly don't know if it's worth it to try to coerce him into a group. I'm curious if, despite my lack of experience (I'm still fairly green myself), I could take up the position and hide behind my ability to think on my feet as far as creativity goes.

Advice?
 

Elessara

N UR THRED; VORIN MAH PICKEL
Good roleplay skills and a creative imagination.
Social and hygiene skills are also a plus.

You also have to be able to control a group of people by keeping them on track while still letting them have a little fun (and getting off track) once in awhile.
There needs to be a good balance between the two.

Other than that it's really just familiarizing yourself with the rules and textbooks to be able to quickley look up said rules and info if you need to.
 
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Never railroad your players, and remember that no matter how well you plan, your players will almost always figure out a way to screw with the plot you have in mind. Just roll with it. Not that I'm suggesting you shouldn't plan stuff out, but always be ready for the players to go in a complete different direction.

Don't let a bitchy player/rules lawyer/etc. ruin everyone else's experience. The game should move at a comfortable pace for everybody with little OOC derailment.

Elessara said:
Good roleplay skills and a creative imagination.
Social and hygiene skills are also a plus.

You also have to be able to control a group of people and be able to keep them on track while still letting them have a little fun here and there.

This too.
 

Alastair Snowpaw

The Skull Paw
Don't railroad players but give them a purpose and a goal. Also have you ever seen the guy GM, cause even though he may be asocial in most cases he could be a really good GM.
Also it's very much about being able to have fun regardless of how serious the scenario is.
Also knowing the rules is important since players who are inexperienced are very likley to ask the gm for help on things.
 

Tabasco

Member
All good advice!

Don't railroad players but give them a purpose and a goal. Also have you ever seen the guy GM, cause even though he may be asocial in most cases he could be a really good GM.
Also it's very much about being able to have fun regardless of how serious the scenario is.
Also knowing the rules is important since players who are inexperienced are very likley to ask the gm for help on things.

I have. He's solid, but also kind of generic, flaky with his commitment to groups, and something of a control freak. To top it off, to even show someone the ropes to tabletop gaming he wants payment, as I learned last year. Thus why I don't think it's gonna be worth the effort (and possible cost) to reel him in.
 
Being a good GM can get rather tricky sometimes; you have to play every single role that your players are not filling, build an entire world, remember all the rules, and come up with an interesting story to tell your players.

I, personally, rather enjoy it though. The first thing I learned when I started running games of my own is that if you have a carefully laid plan for your players, they will find a way to fuck it up. I find it easier to plan general goals for the players and let them figure out exactly what it's going to take to get from Point A to Point B. It's about 35% planning, 65% improvising. Let the world move around the players and react to them, not the other way around.

Knowing your players is equally as important as knowing what they can and can't do within the system and character creation rules you've assigned. Think back to when you create your characters - generally you have a concept in mind and you probably tend to get nearly all you can for the assigned points. Your players will do the same. You need to know their characters nearly as well as your players know them, so that you can set up challenges that they will be able to overcome with a bit of creative thinking. In my experience, my players(at least) tend to like to push their abilities and use every advantage they can come up with. Sure, there are things that I can't plan for, but that's where improvising comes in.

Speaking of improvising, some GMs like to fudge NPC die rolls a bit. I, personally, do this as well. Sometimes it will make the game more interesting. DON'T do this all the time, though. Letting the dice have their say is good as well. The main times when I fudge die rolls is when the players are interacting with an important NPC, whether socially or through combat, and their rolls would normally make the encounter much less challenging than I intended it to be. Occasionally taking down a major NPC with a few lucky die rolls may be okay, but if it happens often, they players are going to get bored. It can be very difficult to find the fine little area where an encounter is challenging, not too easy and not impossible.

Don't be afraid to tell your players "no." Most games have a section on this in the core rule book, but it's something that should be addressed as well. Set your rules for character creation and stick to them. If one player gets something outside of those rules, then the other players will want it as well, or they may very well start accusing the GM of favoritism. This could also upset the balance of the game as well.

Remember, as the GM, you have the final say in resolving everything. Don't be afraid to enforce it, but don't abuse it either. Sometimes you may have to tell your players "tough shit, that doesn't work" when they come up with some overly simplistic loophole for something, but they'll feel more accomplished after they've worked around it - usually. Sometimes your players may do bitchy things that you don't like, but remember the point of the game is to have fun and tell an interesting story - not stroke anyone's ego.

Every game has a theme of some sort. Superheros, fallen gods, vampires, werewolves, horror, action, anime stylings, and so forth. It's best to stick to these themes with whatever game you choose, because the rules in the books are geared specifically for that. If it's a horror game, don't be afraid to give the players a "no-win" situation. If it's a superhero game, don't be afraid to give them situations that may bring their morals into play. If you choose to break the theme of the game, have a good reason for it.

Don't railroad your players into where you want them to go. Set up situations and goals for them to achieve in the place where you want them so that they have a reason to be there. If they don't have a goal to achieve or the motivation to obtain this goal, then you're essentially shoving them into a car with no access to the driver's seat and they're just along for the ride.

Don't be afraid to narrate scenes where a lot of stuff happens. This is great for setting the mood and letting the players witness plot-centric events. Don't be afraid to let them interfere though, either. If there is a scene important to the plot and something must occure that I want the players to see and not mess with, I usually set up an obstacle in their way that will delay them JUST long enough for that to happen, and then whatever else may happen, will.

NPC's should be colorful and unique in their own ways. I'm not saying that you have to come up with an entire backstory for the convenience store clerk they're only going to see once and never learn the name of, but give him a brief, unique description. Small touches like that can bring a scene to life a lot more than leaving them out. Important NPCs should be given nearly as much attention as player characters though, giving them their own unique flair, background, and traits. This will let the players know that someone is important and perhaps even prompt interaction between the NPC and the players. This is something else you can use to your advantage.

I could probably go on with more GM tips and such, but I think I've carried on enough for now.

Feel free to drop me a PM or whatever if you'd like more advice on possibly GMing. I'd be happy to help you out.
 

sunandshadow

Impractical Fantasy Animal
I tried GMing once (Ragnarock, a post-apocalyptic fantasy thing). The venture was a total failure because the players did not want to read or go through the process of creating characters. I'm not sure if this was my fault for not inspiring them or somehow making it easier for them, or if I picked a setting that just wasn't to their taste, or if they just didn't really want to roleplay (this was a bored group looking for something to do, not an experienced roleplaying group).

I will say, the most successful GMs I have played with tended to be both writers and a bit of control freaks. You have to be a decisive, self-motivated person to make up all the background stuff for a campaign on your own days before the players show up.
 
I tried GMing once (Ragnarock, a post-apocalyptic fantasy thing). The venture was a total failure because the players did not want to read or go through the process of creating characters. I'm not sure if this was my fault for not inspiring them or somehow making it easier for them, or if I picked a setting that just wasn't to their taste, or if they just didn't really want to roleplay (this was a bored group looking for something to do, not an experienced roleplaying group).

I will say, the most successful GMs I have played with tended to be both writers and a bit of control freaks. You have to be a decisive, self-motivated person to make up all the background stuff for a campaign on your own days before the players show up.

It kind of sounds like this both the fault of the players and the GM. A GM should be able to walk any given player through character creation and stand firm on the rules set for it as well. The players should also be interested in the setting and the game - they don't necessarily need to read much, but at least be interested enough to get a summary of what they're being dropped into.
 

Rilvor

Formal when angry
Beware of certain types of players, I'll post more as they come to mind:


Power Player: This is covered in some books. These are the players who, if you do not watch them carefully, will build up a strategy that when matured can break many game situations. It is important to monitor exactly what you allow your PCs to have. However, remember that Power Player is not your enemy. In fact, he's great for getting the game moving and keeping things focused because at the end of the day he wants to stab the bad(or good) guy and take his stuff.

Character-Remake-Guy: I don't think this one is covered in any books. There are some players who will never be happy with any character they make. They will approach you every campaign wanting to remake their character, sometimes multiple times throughout the same campaign. Some will even go so far as to intentionally cause their characters to die if you disallow a remake.

I find these players tricky and frustrating to work with, as you should allow remakes every once in a while. Or if you can find a good in-game way to justify it that doesn't destroy the plot (As Character-Remake-Guy often tends to do).
 
Beware of certain types of players, I'll post more as they come to mind:


Power Player: This is covered in some books. These are the players who, if you do not watch them carefully, will build up a strategy that when matured can break many game situations. It is important to monitor exactly what you allow your PCs to have. However, remember that Power Player is not your enemy. In fact, he's great for getting the game moving and keeping things focused because at the end of the day he wants to stab the bad(or good) guy and take his stuff.

Character-Remake-Guy: I don't think this one is covered in any books. There are some players who will never be happy with any character they make. They will approach you every campaign wanting to remake their character, sometimes multiple times throughout the same campaign. Some will even go so far as to intentionally cause their characters to die if you disallow a remake.

I find these players tricky and frustrating to work with, as you should allow remakes every once in a while. Or if you can find a good in-game way to justify it that doesn't destroy the plot (As Character-Remake-Guy often tends to do).

I've never had character-remake-guy in any of my games personally, but that does sound like a pain in the ass, and something that I would have to take a firm stance on. The group I run with generally understands that once you produce a character for a game and the first session has run, that character is nearly set in stone. The only time we don't adhere to this is when a player wants to make a minor tweak, taking something away that hasn't been used yet to replace it with something else that doesn't effect what has been used so far, but that doesn't get the OK from the GM all the time. The group I run with is big on the "Why does it make sense for this character to have this?" line of thinking, which sometimes(not always) prevents powergaming as well, but a lot of it weighs on the GM to decide if the character is suitable for the game or if the player should go back to the drawing board.

If I may add a few of my own, though:

The Rule Lawyer: The Rule Lawyer is another one to look out for. Your players need to realize that it's only a game and that story should be put before the system - meaning that sometimes NPCs may do things that break the system(even if it isn't blatant) for the sake of the story. The Rule Lawyer can ruin this by starting arguments and breaking the entire mood that is set up through the gaming session. The Rule Lawyer can also easily be the power gamer as well, or follow them closely, since the power gamer usually tends to sift through everything he can to build his character exploit loopholes in the system. Every system has loopholes, it's part of your job as a GM to tell the player no when they find it - and they will find it.

Alternate Universe Character Remake Guy: This guy will do one of two things - either take concepts from movies, video games, books, even NPC's from other games, and so forth and directly and blatantly rip them off, or they will make the same character the same character, regardless of the setting and other options provided. The former of these tendancies should be obvious why it should be disallowed. The latter though, is a player limiting themselves. I'm not saying that if someone makes the same character for every single game, they should be rejected, but instead they should be encouraged to branch out and play other types of characters. While it makes predictability easier on you as a GM, the player may get bored quickly.

Aloof Guy: This is the guy that will be texting people or posting on facebook during a session, I even had one guy start playing WoW while I was GMing a game once. I'm fully aware that tabletop gaming isn't exactly srs bsns, but that is quite disrespectful to the GM, who likely spent hours planning just for that session - let alone the overall story. I hate this guy more than the Rule Lawer or Power Gamer - at least those two are invested in the game. If you find this happening, a brief one-on-one aside with Aloof Guy should fix the problem, I usually tell them that if they can't pay attention then my games are not for them.

Excessive OOC Guy: This guy constantly drags people out of character, usually with stories or tangents that have nothing to do with the game or situation within the game at hand. He easily annoys other players, slows game progress down to a crawl, and probably doesn't realize just how bad it is. I usually handle this by having a brief, private conversation as well, and then after that I begin throwing in-game penalties at his character. This isn't entirely the fault of the player though - if the GM fails to give the players a nudge to continue, then things can quickly stagnate and Excessive OOC Guy may come to the surface.

That's about all I can think of at the moment as well, but I may toss in more as I think of them, unless Rilvor covers them first.
 

Rilvor

Formal when angry
No-Fun-King: This is a player who takes alignments to the extreme, making it a detriment to the experience of the rest of the players for the sake of themselves. A good example is Paladins who loom over the party with the promise of smiting should they infract against his beliefs (Lawful Good taken to the extreme). This is merely a classic example, there are many others. Carefully watch your players to make sure they're enjoying themselves (this is a standard GM thing here) but also watch to see how they react to each other. If you see the other players sighing or throwing sidelong looks when another player speaks a character action, there is a bit of friction going on here and it may be best to find out what's ailing them off to the side or after the game. Unfortunately all I really know to do about No-Fun-King is to ask him/her to tone it down a bit when you have him/her alone. Don't try to give the party methods of circumventing No-Fun-King. This only justifies their behavior towards the party and makes No-Fun-King feel as if everyone (including the GM) is against him/her.


Chaotic Stupid: This is a character type you will see often following the "LOL SO RANDOM" type of behavior. Often attributed to Chaotic Neutral (I strongly advise forbidding this alignment unless in the hands of a very mature player. I've found Chaotic Stupid harder to deal with than Evil characters.) this type of player will do whatever they want, whenever they want no matter what the in-game world's laws or customs may say, what seems to make any sense whatsoever, and often leads to OOC nonsense as well or Metagaming.

An example I encountered: A player who rolled a Druid, then claimed his bear was a "panda bear" and proceeded to attempt to sit down and take out a pot of honey from his bags.

While this may seem funny to some, it's incredibly irritating to some and destructive to suspension of disbelief.

These players will attempt to justify any action, ANY action including incredibly evil ones as "Well it's what my character would do right now!" as some people incorrectly believe that "Chaotic Neutral" means lawless and unaffected by morals.

As a rule of thumb, look at character's alignments before the first session and ask your players why their character fits the alignment they've chosen.
 

TechnoGypsy

Gentlecolts...
Here's a piece of advice; Have a back-up plan.

One session I did with a few friends, one of which was a complete 'Chaotic Stupid', ground to a halt because that person killed off the NPC that the whole plot depended upon.
That character was meaning to give our party 'mysterious looks', so my friend snuck around to him and poured recently acquired acid into his eyes to teach him a lesson.

That killed him, and the story too.

We did continue the story, but everything missed the crucial element of that npc.
 
Here's a piece of advice; Have a back-up plan.

One session I did with a few friends, one of which was a complete 'Chaotic Stupid', ground to a halt because that person killed off the NPC that the whole plot depended upon.
That character was meaning to give our party 'mysterious looks', so my friend snuck around to him and poured recently acquired acid into his eyes to teach him a lesson.

That killed him, and the story too.

We did continue the story, but everything missed the crucial element of that npc.

Back-up plans are definately useful. The good thing about NPCs though is that they are replacable. That same NPC could have come back as a slightly different person and interacted with the party in a different way, while the person that got killed there happened to be a thief that was eyeing the players as potential targets.

I always have a few different directions planned out that any given session could go. I think of it more like I'm placing key elements and possible interactions in the world, and the players may or may not discover them. If the players happen to walk right by it, then I'll find another way to possibly attract their attention to whatever details I wanted them to know. Guiding your players is a subtle art that it takes quite a few sessions to master, but it's certainly an interesting challenge.
 
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