GM Tips: Nothing is universally right

After I posted my GM Tips: 5 Tips to Help Describe a Scene article a few days ago I was sent some feedback (I love constructive feedback) from Dave Sherohman via Google+, I was pleased to hear that David agreed with some of my offerings, however he did take issue (as I suspected a number of people might) with tip #4:

Original article:

When you’re describing a scene, if possible ask the players some questions to have them fill in some of the finer details, this can take a bit of getting used to if you are accustomed to a more GM-heavy style of game, but it not only saves you some work, it also gets the players more invested in the scene. That said, if the player seems to be struggling for an idea, don’t hold up the game waiting for them, tell them not to worry about it and move on, either throwing it open to the group or making up a detail for yourself.

David’s response was:

David:

I was right there with you up until #4.  While asking players to fill in details may increase investment for some players, there are those of us who will be violently torn out of the game by it.  “What does the sign say?  Why are you asking me?  My character didn’t put the sign there and has absolutely no control over what it says.”  Asking me to help you create the game world during play destroys any sense that the world already existed before I got there.

I’m not saying that technique is universally wrong, but it is not universally right, either.

This isn’t an article to get at David, like I say I love feedback and his point was very well made, but rather to point out that he was absolutely right to bring this very valid point up, something I agree with wholeheartedly.

There is no absolutely right way to GM

There I said it, what may work for one people may be no good for others, and what doesn’t work for someone else might be just the thing that your own game needs, you may hear some people on the internet bang on about secret-techniques of GM-ing or running games the right way, and TBH I think that’s absolutely rubbish.

My GM Tips articles are not designed to provide you with a 100% foolproof way of GM-ing your games, how on earth could I do that? I have no insider information on how your games run or what works for you in particular?

So you might ask yourself why I make GM Tips videos or blog posts if this is the case? Well it’s because over my years of GM-ing I’ve picked up a lot of techniques and tricks that I find work for me in my games, and I’m picking up new ones all the time from talking to other GMs, getting feedback from players, trying out new systems, running one-shots and campaigns, etc. All I can do is tell you what works for me, in my games, and hope that some of the techniques will maybe work for you or at least inspire you to think slightly differently about your own games; if one of my tips isn’t working for you then feel free to discard it, it’s not like I’m hiding in the bushes waiting to whack your hand with the back of a ruler.

That said I will be altering the intro to my GM Tips videos to make it clearer that I’m presenting you with techniques that work for me, experiment with them, test them out, if they work great, if not then either change them to work with your game or discard them.

Thanks again for bringing up a very valid point David 🙂


Picture is part of a Doré wood engraving illustration from The Divine Comedy labeled for reuse on Google Image Search, the original image can be found here.

2 thoughts on “GM Tips: Nothing is universally right

  1. Some very broad tips for GMing are golden: describe only what a character could reasonably see at a glance, and develop details as players ask questions; avoid boring stretches that would normally be blipped out or transition-scene-wiped in a movie (uneventful travel, buying routine gear that is not of a key nature, etc.)

    The Apocalypse World game-system is set up so the GM doesn’t have to roll dice and focuses on story details, and on occasion should toss a question back at the players. It should only be for things that characters would reasonably know. If a character was an apprentice blacksmith before being called to adventure, you can ask the PLAYER to invent who are the major customers i.e. wealthy owners of horses, stables, bulk purchasers of armor (is a war brewing?) If it’s a science fiction game, each player put down a home-planet for their character, and now they are there. The character would likely know things about their home world, and any fact the player can dream up becomes true!

    1. Indeed, I’m very much a fan of the Powered by the Apocalypse games, especially Dungeon World, and I think it’s easy to see the influence of that game (amongst others) on D&D 5E.

      I very much agree that getting players to help contribute to the world is a great thing 🙂

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