In which I begin my GM Odyssey

Mark/ June 24, 2014/ GM University, Opinions/ 1 comments

I recently posted that I felt there were six key areas that a person could apply everyday skills to GMing and improve their ability and become a more effective GM. I want to take some time and address each area briefly from a high level and begin discussing them in depth in future posts.

For a refresher the list is as follows.

  1. Acting
  2. Public Speaking
  3. Organization Skills
  4. Managerial
  5. Sales
  6. Stress Management

This is by no means an exaustive list but it really is the major areas and most things fall under one of these areas as a subset of them if we are being honest. So lets take a look at each one and why it is an important skill.


I have heard this a lot in my GMing career. “I wish I was more improvisational” or “I wish my NPCs were memorable” This is where acting and improvisational skills can help. The GM while not primary Storyteller does have the influence of every character not listed as PC. his is a huge opportunity to make memorable characters and situations. The ability to become different characters in different moments is a key element to being not just successful but memorable. Plus side maybe you can bring your talents to a local play or make a youtube movie and get noticed. Acting can also help you read other people and understand motives behind situations.

Public Speaking

The number one enemy behind GMs and players opening up is fear. Fear of being laughed at, fear of getting it wrong, fear of it all blowing up and going wrong. Having the skills, and mind you they are skills that can be learned, to be a public speaker. Showing confidence and the ability to prepare talking to an open forum (albeit usually small) is still challenging and when there is constant feedback it can feel daunting. Sometimes even stifling, but being prepared to mentally be in front of an audience will help in your ability to think quickly and react with confidence.

Organization Skills

Being able to keep records, keep track of your game world and your story is very important. This most people would agree is a no brainer, but not everyone is very good at it. It takes skills and the ability to follow a plan to keep things organized by developing a process to do that. No jus throw it all in a folder but making sure things are easily found and easily gotten to are key elements to make sure things don’t get forgotten or fall through the cracks. You have to be your own administrative assistant.


Lets be honest, the biggest part of GMing isnt managing the game its Managing the people. You’ve got the Rules Lawyer, the want to be Larper, the Power Gamer, the “It’s what my character would do” guy. That collection of egos and opinions can be enormous and you are looked to  lead the group through a collective story, a shared experience of cool awesome. Well the key is learning how to communicate and prod people in a way to get their best without upsetting is a difficult set of skills that Managers, coaches and leaders of all kinds have had to learn and learn well. These are not innate inaccessible skills but ones learned in business classes, and political work.


This one is a bit tricky. I am not talking about trying to convince you to buy something sales. I am talking about the ability to understand what people need or want out of the game, really understand the type of person that person is find the gap between where they are as a player and help them bridge to where they want to be in the game by providing the idea, system, time in the spotlight, etc. The ability to ask questions and dig deep into a players wants and needs for the game really plays a key role in helping them and yourself have fun. This is a definite sales technique and the better you are at uncovering needs it will translate well in Sales jobs, telemarketing jobs; even retail jobs.

Stress Management

The last area a GM needs to be good in is Stress Management skills. After Being an Entertainer, giving speech after speech, being your own administrative assistant, Manager of the group and even spending some time selling you are exhausted (and we haven’t even been a storyteller yet). The stress of wearing multiple hats can really get a person down. One bad night or one off hand comment can tear a person down when they aren’t ready for it. The ability to understand where stress comes from and redirect it is a set of skills that can be invaluable to you in life let alone your GMing career.


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1 Comment

  1. This list makes it seem as though GMing is far more troubling than it’s worth. The return isn’t worth the effort of the work, LOL! I jest.
    These are some components of which aid in make outstanding GMs, but as one reads it they should note that these are all aspects of what make GMing fun -even though it appears tedious and overwhelmingly. There is a certain rush, a feeling of raw excitement, when one GMs that it is often quite difficult to explain. Although the players are the “stars” of the show, a GM is everyone else who puts the show into production. Now, I won’t list a list of roles I perceive a GM to be, but I will state that one aspect of GMing is necessary and I would like to list it:

    A GM needs to recall what the reason for taking upon the obvious responsibilities of GMing are for; to have fun. Fun is the drive for all players. The complications of organizing their lives, setting aside precious time, and keeping an unspoken commitment to arrive at a schedule destination is all due to a desire of having fun while gaming. Regardless of your GMing skills, people will not be drawn and committed only due to the level of detail that you masterfully weave into the adventure you created or the world you crafted. No, it is the fun that players perceive when playing with GMs and other players that keep them hooked and returning. A GM has to be flexible with the players, the adventure, and the challenges. It is not a concept that should be debatable, but accepted as a empirical truth. If a GM isn’t flexible, than the game can come to an unexpected halt, or a slow pathetic death. What does flexible mean? That the GM is willingly -even if not prepared- to go down whatever rabbit hole the players lead him into. A GM would be acceptable to bending -even breaking- the rules in order to appease his players. Following the narrative device that has been implemented in gaming as of recent, the “yes, but” approach. All these aid the GM in being flexible, which in turn provide more opportunities of enjoyment for the players and conversely the GM themselves.

    “The winds may fell the mighty oak, but bamboo, bent even to the ground, will spring upright after the passage of the storm.” -Chinese proverb

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