Ringing Out the GM Changes

Game Masters’ Roundtable of Doom #3

This month’s topic comes to us courtesy of Scott Robinson, who asks, “How has your gaming and/or GMing changed over time?”

So many things have changed. We’re more diverse, we play different kinds of games, and we’re older if not wiser. I’ll focus on how my GMing has changed.

175px-D&d_Box1st (1)To start with, I was a simulationst GM. What I was trying to simulate was an epic fantasy or sf novel. Without the character development. I threw in some jokes, used random die rolls to create encounters, and killed a bunch of PCs. White box D&D to 2nd Edition and a little Traveller. Good times.

Slowly I started to bring in the bare bones of plot into my games. Now there was a reason my players were clearing out a dungeon. Not much, maybe they were geased to do so, but it was something.

CoC 1st edI got into goal based, rather than encounter based, gaming starting with Call of Cthulhu. Story based gaming had arrived, and I was hooked. Wild adventures with characters who had professions, not classes. Simple, not complex, rules. I will never forget running Masks of Nyarlathotep or Horror on the Orient Express.

I played a lot of systems since then, but the idea the game was about a goal, rather than a series of encounters, really struck home with me. I enjoy both kinds of games, but when I first tried a goal based game, it was like a breath of fresh air. Walt Ciechanowski did a nice post about the differences over in Gnome Stew.

13thFor a while, I equated games with story to goal based games, but games like 13th Age have changed my mind. 13th Age is a wonderful mix of storytelling and encounter based fun.

numeneraSetting has become more important to me. I used to hand-wave setting in my early D&D games. “It’s like Tolkien, Leiber, and Moorcock I’d tell my players, and then run fairly unconnected adventures. These days, a great setting really makes me want to play in that world. I had more fun than the law will allow with Rogue Trader, just because of the setting. Numenera‘s setting is so awesome I want to play it all the time.

robins lawsI got another eye opener when I read Robin’s Laws of Good Game Mastering. Shockingly enough, not everyone played rpgs for the reasons I played them! Who knew? I started to pay more attention to everybody’s fun. Instead of the game mechanics creating all the fun, I worked on giving players spotlights and letting them take control of the narrative.

Which reminds me, at some point I started to read books, blogs (like Gnome Stew), and the like about how to be a better games master. I watched my friends GM and copied the things that worked for me. Before, I just focused on the rules, now I’m more focused on the table.

These days, I’m much more comfortable improv. When I pick up a published adventure to save time, I still do a lot of improvisation. Even when I’m not playing an indie improv game like Fiasco, I’m always twisting and turning the game based on what the others at the table are saying. And my players do the same.

Now that I’m designing adventures for publication, I try to think more about how others who aren’t me would run my adventure. And how players who aren’t my players would play it. Playtester feedback can be real humbling when something that was effortless at my table becomes a confusing stumbling block at theirs.

It’s been a fun ride. I can’t wait to find out what happens next!


More on this topic:

Delta GM by Marc Plourde

Plans that Come to Naught by John Clayton

The Evolution of My GM-Style by Scott Robinson

My Evolution as a GM by Lex Starwalker

Home Grown Gaming by James Walls

Evolution of GMing Style by by Peter Smits


The Game Masters’ Roundtable of Doom is a meeting of the minds of tabletop RPG bloggers and GMs. Every GM has his or her favorite system, but in these articles we endeavor to transcend a particular system or game and discuss topics that are relevant to GMs and players of all roleplaying games.

If you are a blogger, and you’d like to participate in the Game Master’s Roundtable of Doom, or if you have a suggestion for a topic, send an email to Lex Starwalker at gamemastersjourney@gmail.com.