Gamemasters come from all walks of life and backgrounds and we have all learned our craft from different sources and experiences. Those experiences have helped to shape us into the gamemasters we are today, but can we be better? I think we are always in a constant state of learning and to that end these simple tips that will help make you a better and well-rounded gamemaster.
During your planning phase, ensure that you have a solid grasp of the game rules. If you don’t, be upfront and honest with your prospective players. They will be appreciative knowing in advance that the first few sessions will be a learning process for you and maybe for them as well.
Communication is key; stay in communication with your players during the planning phase and between sessions. Nobody likes their questions to go unanswered so be a little attentive to the needs of your players. Between games is a great time to do all those background tasks, whether they be in-game related or administratively oriented, and a good time to clarify any gray areas. particularly with the rules.
Learn to read body language. Admittedly, this is a learned skill and will come with time and experience. Your players will give you body language cues as to how they are feeling about the game, by the way in which they look at you, look around the table, fidget in their chairs, etc. This is a little harder to apply when playing games online (VoIP), but it can be done if you’re watching the camera feeds of those that have webcams.
Do your homework. Don’t leave your players hanging! If they ask you a question about the rules or some story element and you don’t have the answer readily available. Make sure you research it and get them the answer they deserve. Again, communication is key.
Be prepared for the day of the game or session. It is not wise to show up to the game table unprepared. Read, re-read and make notes about the adventure or story you are going to run for your players. Have any props ready to go for when they are needed. Try to minimize the number of times you need to stop a game for little things that could have been prepared in advance. We will always run into situations where we need to reference a rule book or quickly re-read a module paragraph to ensure we are presenting the information properly. Just keep it to a minimum. If the timing works out, use it as an excuse to take a break for five minutes.
Respect your players, they are people after all. Ensure you treat your players with the same level of respect that you expect to be treated. Be considerate when contemplating using colorful language or delving into narrative aspects that people could be offended by. If there are subjects or themes that could be problematic, be open and upfront with your players. Let them voice concerns beforehand, but also, ensure they know that they can voice concerns at any time during the game. Don’t argue with them about it, hear what they have to say and move the story ahead by skipping that part of the narrative. You players will respect you more for be attentive and cognizant of narrative topics that some might find offensive or problematic.