313 Changing How You GM

An introspective episode on how Sean wants to become a better game master. Maybe you’ve considered making a change.

  • What would lead you to change how you game master?
  • What things do you want to eliminate from your style?
  • What aspects would you want to start incorporating more into your role-playing games?
  • Do you have a plan on implementing your changes?


Next week we’ll talk about no winners or losers in rpg’s.


Glancing at the show notes, I just was sent Same Page Tool by one of my players last week, spurred by a conversation we had about the old “are goblins evil or do we want a nuanced game”. I liked it. Simple, smooth, and a great conversation starter.


Great episode gentleman! I enjoyed hearing the ideas on how to change, update, or improve your GMing style. As I listened I wondered if playing in games as a player and not the GM helps you add to your style? As a newbie, I have been trying to play in as many games as I can so I understand the systems I want to GM better. And at the same time logging away the techniques the GM is using to see if it would fit the style I am trying to form. I just received “The Hidden Necropolis” and look forward to running this and trying some new GMing styles I want to try. One other point I really found refreshing for this episode is you both have many years of GMing under your belt. And you are open to change if you need or want too. For me, this helps me to remember it is okay to change what you are doing if it’s not working for you. Thanks for your dedication and keep up the great content. Mike


I really appreciate those times when I’m a gamer, because it gives me a chance to remember what it feels like to be on that end of the table. @Idahogamer mentions learning from the strengths of other GMs, and I try that. I also learn from GM weaknesses. When, as a player, I sometimes feel that the GM is being intentionally ambiguous, withholding game information, or generally straitjacketing my character, I get to reflect, “Do I do that? Or do I do anything that might similarly feel like that?”

I also get to experience what it feels like to get attached to a character and the tension resulting from threats to that character and/or disappointment when that character dies or fails.

Then I choose to get over it and play as an example to the GM (who often is a player in my own games).

In fact, I hope soon to play in a game in which a player of mine is GMing. I’m going to try to model what I want in a player. I wonder how well it will work this other way, if my GM can recognize how I play and maybe apply some of that practice to his own. I’ll be playing alongside another player in my own game, as well, so he also can witness my example.


I can definitely appreciate learning from GM weaknesses, as @Gabe mentioned. One person I’ve been gaming with my whole life is always “in charge” whether they are running a game or playing, so I always make sure to involve the whole table in decisions.

I know people have learned from my mistakes, and the feedback they have given me has improved my approach. I think specifically about my old habit of stringing along a home brew campaign without a proper end point, until it would end due to scheduling conflicts or loss of interest. My brothers called my games “shaggy dog stories,” so I learned to tighten things up and have a game that comes to a conclusion: mission accomplished, characters retired, everyone going out in a blaze of glory, whatever.


Really loving all the Curse of Strahd talk, guys. It’s interesting to hear how you brought them into the setting, Sean, and how your group is reacting to it. When I ran CoS I mislead the group into believing we’d be playing Storm King’s Thunder. So when the mists came and the setting changed it threw them for a loop. They were disoriented and it created some excellent tension as they investigated their unfamiliar surroundings. The thick mist and dense pine forest, creating disadvantage on perception roll’s, coupled with the threat of unseen wolves howling all around them was terrifying for the group of 1st level character. I thought it set a good tone for the campaign.

I also introduced a disguised Strahd using one of the modules aliases. One, I wanted Strahd to get a feel for the characters who just entered his lands. Two, I hoped that it would provide an oh shit moment in a future session when the alias was revealed to be Strahd. What are you thinking for introducing Strahd to the game? Completely understand if you don’t wanna say for fear of spoilers.

Great conversation on Changing How You Game Master. It’s really important to reflect on how you run games and consider what you do well and where you can improve. Get feedback from your players if you can, especially players who run games or have played with other GMs. Improving as a GM has probably never been better due to the internet with the sheer number of actual plays you watch and listen to. It’s easy to see what other do, what you like and dislike about their styles and consider what you’d like to try and incorporate. Maybe take one or two things you’d like to do better in a session and focus on making that happen in your game, something like how Brett describes rooms in a very methodical, step wise fashion. There are a lot of places in CoS where that will be helpful. i.e. The Death House, The Amber Temple, Castle Ravenloft.

I think system mastery is important, for both the GM and the players. I mean, initially, just play the game if you’re a beginner. Dive in, get your feet wet roleplaying, and roll some dice. Have fun. If you keep going with it, then you should try and level up your mastery of the system. Of course you can’t memorize every rule but you should lock down the fundamentals. And it’s really important your players know their characters. If they don’t it possibly suggests to the table they aren’t really into the game, they’re not invested. It also speeds up game play on the player side. Waiting each turn for player actions can really kill the momentum of the game.

As always, great stuff guys. Look forward to the next episode.


Anytime I’ve actively worked on improving how I run RPGs, I tend to start small. Pick one thing to experiment with in the next session after discussing the idea with the group. Let your players know you want to try something new and get feedback at the end of the session. (This is a tool known as Roses & Thorns, where everyone at the table shares something they liked - a rose - and something they didn’t or thought could be better - a Thorn. It’s used a lot for playtesting games and I’ve found it a helpful practice for my games in general.)

The other suggestion is to pay attention to how other GMs run their games. When you’re in a game with @Hobbs, are there any techniques he uses? For example, I had a GM at a con who always used questions to help drive the story rather than statements and it’s one I’ve incorporated into my games.

From what it sounded like in the episode, @sean, you seem to be looking for a revised style that gives you something missing from your games as well as provide fuel for players. A happy GM makes for a better game nine times out of ten. Game mastering is all about the ABCs. Always be changing.