No GM is perfect (except one chap I know who is amazing and has nothing left to learn, but strangely sometimes finds himself without a group). All of us fail, from time to time.
As a GM, I don’t joyfully rush toward failure with open arms—I save that kind of thing for when I’m a player. That said, failure is part of my (gaming) life. It’s important to learn from my failures as it helps me become a better GM (and I’m keen to be as good at GMing as possible).
I’ve been running games for 35 years give or take. During that time, I’ve developed a pretty good feel for my GMing style. I know what I like and don’t like in a game and I’ve learnt how best to set myself up for a successful session behind the screen.
I still fail, though, and—annoyingly—I still fail at the same things.
Improvisation vs. Preparation
If you’ve read this blog for any length of time—or purchased any of Raging Swan Press’s books—it should be blindingly obvious I’m a huge fan of preparation and detail. When I’m prepared, I’m happy. When I’m not, I’m nervous. After all, Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance.
I don’t mean by this that I’m incapable of improvising. I can ad-lib area descriptions, random minor NPCs, treasure descriptions and so on with the best of them. When I game, I excrete verisimilitude. (There’s a mental image for you!)
However, I like to know the “ground” the PCs will likely explore. For example, if the PCs are in a dungeon I want to have prepared all the areas they are likely to visit. That means, I’ve read the area descriptions, prepared all necessary stat blocks and so on. I don’t like to go into an adventure in a half-arsed, unprepared fashion. (This makes running urban adventures a particular nightmare for me as the PCs can go literally anywhere).
Part of the problem, of course, is Pathfinder—ad-libbing stat blocks on the fly is tricky unless you are pulling something directly from a Bestiary or suchlike. (And anyway, I don’t really want a stack of books behind my screen just in case). At the time of writing, we’ve just started a sporadic 2nd Edition AD&D campaign and I expect it will be much easier to add spur-of-the-moment encounters into the game. I’m looking forward to the relative simplicity.
Patience with My Players
As the GM, I’m naturally more invested in the game than the players—mainly because it’s my baby and I have to spend many extra hours between sessions preparing. Sometimes, I spend more hours preparing than playing.
I, therefore, get frustrated when players haven’t managed—for example—to knock up a rudimentary background, level their character or buy mundane equipment and so on between sessions. I mean, how long do these things take? If the game is important to them, surely they can find the time to get them done?
I think failing to do your “game homework” is particularly bad show because when you don’t do these things between sessions it inconveniences everyone else who has found the time.
Obviously, I acknowledge that sometimes people can be just too busy—they’ve just moved house, had a baby and so on (I’m not a complete swine). That said, generally, even the busiest person can find 30 spare minutes in any seven-day period.
As a player and a GM I just do so love watching someone else level their character or agonise over what mundane equipment to purchase while I sit around doing nothing. Of course, this frustration can bleed over into the game, which is less than ideal as we are all chums and gaming is meant to be fun.
What About You?
How do you fail as a GM? Let me know, in the comments below.