So I’ve just learned about the controlled chaos that is the RPG Carnival. It’s like Iron Chef for nerdy blogs and March’s secret ingredient is ‘How to be a Better GM.’
There have already been a bunch of great responses recommending that GM’s listen, adapt, and communicate (among other things). Rather than poorly reiterate their advice, I’d like to talk about two things every GM should do: Steal and Stretch
Thieve from other games, television, novels, film, anything that isn’t nailed down can have a place in your game if you want it to.
Do you like it when Sci-Fi shows run with a ‘deadly game show’ episode? Then slot it into your game.
Need a colorful and lawless ‘neutral’ zone in the shadow of an evil empire? Rent ‘Casablanca’ and reskin it’s people and places.
Looking for super-spy style gadgets or a new batch of magic items? Read some Nick Fury or watch a little Man From U.N.C.L.E. and adapt their gear to your setting.
Never be too proud the lift ideas from other sources. RPG’s are always a collaborative activity and there’s nothing wrong with taking something and making it your own.
I’d advise against trying to steal a whole plot though. Very few players want to run through the exact plot of a film, and even if you try most Players will veer away from it at the earliest opportunity.
Sticking to situations, concepts, characters, locations and gear should provide you with plenty of plunder!
Don’t be afraid to fall on your face.
Like a lot of activities, it’s easy to get stuck in a rut as GM. Once you’ve GM’d
for a while you get a sense of what works for you and what doesn’t. And this is a good thing, but it can come at a cost.
It’s great to play to your strengths, but you might find yourself using the same techniques, tropes and tools every time you sit at the table. When GMing becomes that routine it can also become a bit boring, for you if not your players.
So in the interest of keeping yourself interested and interesting:
Run a different style game. If you’re a dungeon crawler, try an evening of intrigue.
Test out a funky technique. Let your players take control of mooks in the prelude to the evening’s adventure (steal from the opening of any episode of Supernatural).
Give a different tool a test drive. If you play traditional D&D, run a player-input driven indie game for a night, or vice versa
At then end of the day, it’s all about stretching your limits and seeing what works. Everything you do as a GM that works was new to you at one time, so go ahead and take a risk. Even if your experiment doesn’t work out, you’ll no more about your GMing style than you did before you tried.
And who knows, you may just learn a trick or two that you can keep for life.