Speaking and Listening
As a GM, it’s your job to set the scene for your players, no
matter what strange places you take them to. But it’s also your job to mediate
the story that you’re trying to tell, as well as react and compensate for the
influence your players have on the story. GM or not, roleplaying games are
collaborative storytelling experiences.
With that in mind, this week I’m going to give some general
advice for Game Masters, Dungeon Masters, Storytellers, or even just as players
in GM-less systems to help them start out and develop into Game Masters that
people love to play with.
With that in mind, let’s start with Speaking and Listening.
When I talk about Speaking, I mean that in many ways. The
first and foremost way I mean is speaking with authority at the table. You are,
after all, the final arbitrator of the rules and dice rolls, as well as story
beats. As such, while it doesn’t make you a bad GM to be unsure of something,
your players will appreciate those moments when you sound like you know what
Achieving this starts with knowledge. Read up on the system,
keep clear notes of NPCs and plot hooks, and such so that even if you have to
reference something, you can do so in a clear and concise manner. From there,
follow up with confidence. Even if you forget a rule and have to ad-hoc
something on the spot, be consistent and fair with your rulings and present
them concisely, even if later on when you’ve had time to research and realize
there was a better way of doing that and make it clear that you’ll be doing it
that way from now on or not. Finally, Remember to keep your cool, even in the
face of rowdy or outright antagonistic
players. You’re the guide for the players, after all.
Another way that speaking is relevant is in the voices.
Contrary to the various famous tabletop gaming streams out there, you do not
have to be a professional voice actor to create an engaging character voice for
PCs and NPCs alike. Heck, you don’t even have to use a voice at all if you don’t
want to or aren’t comfortable doing so. However, it can add a lot to who you’re
portraying by giving accents, tonal shifts, and the like to key NPCs.
Experiment, and maybe plan out notecard talking points so that you can give
organic speeches while covering what the character wants to say.
On the other hand, there is also Listening. Some GMs forget
this, but being the arbitrator doesn’t just mean you have free reign. It’s give
and take. When you might be forgetting a relevant rule like what conditions are
affecting whom, or when you need to reference something that a player happens
to know offhand, or when a player tells you they’re not comfortable with how a
scene is going for reasons beyond being caught up in feeling the tension with
their character… those are all important times to listen instead of just
Listening to your players can also be useful in helping
write the story. Sometimes during your offtime or even during the game, players
will be very vocal about speculating what the answers to your campaign’s
mysteries will be, or even what’s around the next corner. With that, you might
decide that you like their ideas better, or have an idea what to avoid to
subvert expectations. People often joke “Don’t give the GM ideas!” but full
disclosure? We love it when you give us ideas, and not just because we hold the
fate of your characters in our hands. That’s the beauty of collaborative
That about does it for today, but we’ve got a lot more tips
to cover! I hope you enjoy this!