I GM, therefore, I am

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I GM, therefore, I am

Post by Cowboy on Thu Feb 12, 2015 11:07 pm

So today I was sifting through my old hard drive and found my old D&D files. Brimming with unorganised notes, pictures, and other priceless artefacts from years back.

Among the files was a gem titled, "Advanced GMing". A document I compiled three years ago and gave to a fellow GM. before you read further and find out my perspective (from three years ago) on some of the things it takes to be a good GM. I invite you to think about it first.

No really.....Seriously, think about it.

Its a hard skill to master, one I'm sure you can never truly perfect. Merely hope that each game session you run has the players leaving thirsting for more and cheering for a job well done.

Now that you've thought about what it is to be a good GM, I ask that you consider the following.

Introduction
If you are reading this, you have taken another step towards advanced game mastering. This is not to say I am an expert, or shining example of what it is to be a GM. Merely your desire to improve your skills by looking to other sources means you continue your pursuit of perfection as a GM.

The following is a compilation of tips and skills I have learnt in my own pursuit of perfection, and tools to aid you in yours. I have formal knowledge in game design which has proven to be an invaluable resource when applied to this craft. Moreover, psychology has taught methods associated with introspection and social dynamics which also allow me improve on my own skills as well as guide the growth of others.

You are a dungeon master yes, but at its core ‘dungeon master’ is merely the term given to a Lead game designer within the context of dungeons and dragons. With this in mind, I can impart with the knowledge I have acquired while studying game design and playing D&D.


I am a Game Designer

What Skills does a Game designer need?

Animated: The world of dungeons and dragons is a parallel metaphor for the real world conjured in a collective imagination. Believability is key, and in order to achieve this, characters need to seem alive. The very word animation means “to give life” understanding the powers and limits of your character will help to inform you animation.

Anthropology: Know thy Audience! Identify what your players enjoy. You could ask your players, however, people are limited to their self-awareness. While the feedback and responses players will give you is invaluable, they can only tell you so much. The Johari window below illustrates that an individual is limited in their self-awareness to the aspects of themselves falling within the open and hidden squares. It is your job as a game designer to identify the aspects of your player’s blind self. The things that they might not realise they enjoy or more importantly, what they don’t, about your game. Observation is key!
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Architecture: You will be designing more than just dungeons as a GM. As a dungeon master you will be called on to design whole battle fields, cities and other complex environments. You need to have an understanding of the relationship between people and space. The natural flow of an environment and the player intended path is a simple concept but difficult to perfect. This also requires consideration for believability. Attention to miscellaneous details such as barrels and creates in front of storage house, or store front wares on sale in front of the local grocery store all contribute to the life of the world and incidentally the player immersion within it.

Brainstorming: You will need to create new ideas by the dozens, nay the thousands. Fortunately you have a table of likeminded individuals (your players) as an inexhaustible source of inspiration. Other muse methods I use are, listening to instrumental soundtracks (from games, movies etc) or simply researching images to develop ideas towards forging a fully developed concept.

Cinematography: An understanding of the art of cinematography will help you deliver an emotionally compelling experience. This can mean the difference between a mundane conversation between two authorities with conflicting motivations and a heated debate that compels the players to feel awkward. Exaggeration is a central pillar that supports believability in an artificial world, use it.

Communication: A world that exists in a collective imagination automatically means each individual will see the world in a different way. You ask them to imagine a castle and each will envisage a structure vastly different from one another. Your job is to invoke consistency in an abstract world. The more effective your communication the more uniform your player’s perception will be.

Creative writing: Dungeons and Dragons is not just about the combat or the treasure. Certainly, they are important aspects! However, dungeons and dragons is about the player’s story. The epic battle they won, the monolithic beast the killed and the stories that come too life though chance and creativity. Setting rich scenes and creating intriguing events with twists, emotions as well as other elements of good story telling, create truly memorable experiences.

History: Dungeons and dragons is a fantasy world commonly founded in the medieval era. In some cases details large or small are influenced by cultures in history such as ancient Greece, Rome, India and Japan. As a result, any amount of knowledge on these cultures and ethnicities can only help improve the skills mentioned, such as attention to detail, believability and creativity.

Maths: A dungeon master needs to be able to Balancing encounters, understand the mechanics of the game and furthermore, probability (dice rolls). The Details and creativity of a world and the nature of an encounter can all be destroyed in seconds if there is no balance on the page in numbers form. Simply put, if ignored, players can die or even become too powerful and the game loses meaning.

Music: Music is the language of the soul. If you truly wish to tap into an immersive experience and touch the players in an emotional way you must use music. We use are 5 senses in real life to perceive the world. Players only have “vision” in the abstract world of D&D, losing 4 other senses. Using sound effects and music to convey emotion and enforce the details of the environment, strengths the connection between the players and the world.





I want to improve

To improve upon your Dungeon master skills you must look at yourself and the game through a lens. Lens grant perspective, and allow you to focus on key areas. This is accomplished by asking and truthfully answering focus questions. Fortunately, you also have a focus group (your players) at your disposal that can help inform your answers.

Lens #1 Essential experience
Stop thinking about your game and start thinking about the experience of your players. Ask yourself:

What experience do I want the players to have?
What is essential to that experience?
How can my game capture that essence?

If there is a big difference between the experience you want, and the experience you have created, your game needs to change. You need to clearly state the essential experience you desire and find as many ways possible to instil this essence into your game.

Lens #2 Surprise
Surprise is so basic you can often forget about it. Use this lens to remind yourself to fill your game with interesting surprises. Ask yourself these questions:

What will surprise players when they play my game?
Does the story in my game have surprises?
Do the rules give players ways to surprise each other?
Do the rules give players ways to surprise themselves?

Surprise is a crucial part of entertainment; it is the root of humour, strategy and problem solving. Our brains are hard wired to enjoy surprises.

Lens #3 FUN!
Playing games is arguably the only activity we engage in with no purpose other than “to have fun”. We play games to entertain ourselves and have FUN. When a game ceases to be fun, it becomes a chore (or something equally mundane and boring). To maximize your game’s fun, ask yourself:

What parts of my game are fun for my players and Why?
What parts need to be more fun?

After all, if the game isn’t fun and enjoyable, why play?












References
Crash Course: Dungeon Master 101
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Encourage Desired Behaviour
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Problems and Development
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Handling inattentive players
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Theme/Tone
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Dealing with Cheating
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Study: Know thy Game!
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DMing Large Groups
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The Monty Haul!
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=> ENDING ON A HIGH NOTE!!! <= [You must be registered and logged in to see this link.]

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Cowboy
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