Practically anyone can run a game. To be a great GM, though, you need so much more than a basic understanding of the rules, a module and some dice.
The GM is pivotal to the success of a game session. If the GM is crap – or off his game – the chances are the session will suffer. While it’s relatively easy to muddle along all truly great GMs have certain characteristics:
- Honesty: This is a total no brainer. As GM, you really shouldn’t be cheating. If you feel the urge to cheat – particularly to screw over the PCs – you shouldn’t be a GM. Impartiality is key to a GM’s role. Of course, sometimes a GM may fudge a die roll or two to keep the game moving, but that’s not really cheating as long as it’s done for the greater good (for “good,” read “fun”).
- Effective Communicator: Roleplaying relies on good verbal communication. As the GM, you’ll likely be doing more talking than anyone else at the table. It falls to you to describe the physical situation, portray NPCs and answer questions clearly and concisely.
- Flexible: Of course, the GM is in charge of the game. That doesn’t mean, though, he can’t be flexible. At some point, the players are going to do something odd you didn’t anticipate. A good GM can think on his feet and deal with whatever is going on. Similarly, a GM should be as flexible as to which character options to allow his players (as long as he thinks they are balanced and will add fun).
- Proactive: GMs spend more time working on the game than anyone else. They don’t have a boss and so they must set his own targets and goals. Being proactive and being able to plan ahead are vital skills for a GM to cultivate.
- Organised: It doesn’t matter how awesome the campaign is, if the GM can’t find the adventure, stat block or whatever the session is likely going to grind to a halt. Being organised pays huge dividends over the course of a campaign. It massively reduces the amount of stress besetting a GM. It also dramatically reduces prep time.
- Creative: This is a fundamental part of the GM’s role. The GM is responsible for designing and developing the campaign world. Even if a GM exclusively uses published adventures and settings he still needs to tweak them to better suit his players’ style of play and preference. He’s also got to think on his feet –players, after all, have an annoying habit of doing the unexpected.
- Positive Attitude: The GM – to a large extent – determines the mood of the table. Everyone turns up to have fun. A miserable GM puts a dampener on everyone’s fun.
- Commitment: GMing requires a much larger investment of time than playing. A GM needs the commitment to keep going even when he’d rather not. While GMing isn’t a full time job, it consumes a lot of leisure time. A GM needs to be committed to the game and the campaign he is running.
Help Fellow GMs!
Can you think of any other characteristics great GMs have? Share them in the comments below and help your fellow GMs game better.