GM Interview: Josiah

game master interview

Welcome to the third in a series of GM interviews I conducted with Roleplaying Tips readers in the fall. Today we chat with new-ish GM Josiah Bradbury.

Section One: Opportunities

What is your biggest GMing stumbling block right now?

Designing failure into my games. I am too nice of a person and I do not want my games to end badly. An example would be during a quest a party member had to do three trials to pass a test. I wracked my brain for a few days designing this and I came out with “Well, no matter what, she will pass.” However, it was a matter of taking the trials and not passing them after all.

Describe your perfect gaming session with you as GM.

One or two combats that run smoothly, and a good amount of roleplaying and character interaction with each other and not just with the game.

Section Two: Your GMing Stat Block

How long have you been a GM?

About 3 years.

Estimate the number of times you have GM’d a game.

A lot!

What game(s) you have run in the past two years?

DnD 4e, DnD 3.5, Serenity, Kobolds ate my baby, Aye Dark Overlord.

What is your gaming schedule, on average?

Usually Wednesday nights (as often to weekly as possible) and they run about 3 hours in length.

Where do you play? Describe your usual game environment.

At my house, in one of two places. Either upstairs on the dining room table with a chessex battlemat or downstairs in the basement where I have a 4×8 gaming table with a gridded plexi.

Do you use published worlds or create your own?

I mainly use my own worlds because I feel restricted by playing in a pre-made world. However, I am a thief when it comes to cool ideas. I scavenge ideas and settings from all sources.

Do you use published campaigns or create your own?

I write my own campaigns, but I am not afraid to poach ideas from other sources.

What non-digital GM aides do you use, other than books?

Notebooks, DM screen, White board.

What electronic GM aides do you use, if any?

Masterplan for adventure writing, Everchanging Book of names, WotC’s Monster builder, Maptools, RPG sound mixer, Campaign Cartographer 3, Fractal Terrains.

What player handouts do you offer, if any?

In general I don’t do many handouts. If I do, they are posted to the campaign wiki and they mostly consist of loot lists or other accounting items.

When was the last time you were a player? What insight about GMing did you pick up?

I am a player in a monthly-ish game. Each time I play I decide there are things I as a DM would have let myself do differently. Usually at the end of each game I swear off being a player forever.

When I settle down and rethink about it I come away with, “It’s good to say yes, but…” more than no.

Screen or no screen?

Screen, but die rolls are all over the place, sometimes in the open sometimes not.

Table or no table?


Laptop / mobile device or no computer stuff at the table?

They are allowed and encouraged.

Minis or no?

I use minis. I have a big pile I inherited from a friend who was getting rid of his stuff. I don’t have matches, so it’s fun when the party fights zombie goblins or vampire rats.

Section Three: GMing Style

Describe your players and their playing style.

  1. Loud, Enthusiastic, combat mechanics player.
  2. Roleplayer, group face, could care less about the mechanics.
  3. Roleplayer, likes to hit things, mechanics are secondary to fun.
  4. Quiet, Watcher.
  5. Quiet, watcher, Combat Mechanics player, Sore loser.

Describeyour group’s playing style.

Our group plays a bit casually. We have two players who are mechanics players. They love the systems and build their characters well. The rest build their characters but I help them out a lot. We are a combat lite group with more combatless sessions than combat sessions.

Describe your GMing style.

I am laid back, though I am a hardcore tactics gamer, so it kills me sometimes that we are so combat lite.

What is your best GMing skill or ability?

Playing on the fly. I usually will plan a scene with about a paragraph of material in advance. After that it goes wherever my players want it to go.

My advice would be to just let the game go sometimes and see how it unfolds when the players have some power. I ran a game once when, at the end of each session, I would ask the players what they saw – and what they saw was the start of the next session.

What process do you use to organize game sessions?

It’s pretty straightforward. We play on Wednesdays, and every Wednesday I text two players and call two more and we decide if everyone can play.

What is your typical session planning process?

It depends on how combat heavy the session is looking to be, but I usually prepare about a level in advance, usually no more than a paragraph per scene. For combat I will plan out the encounters in advance.

What are your favourite GMing reference books, other than the rules?

Any and all fluff books, Dracomonicons, Open Grave, Planes above and below. I love these books for the inspiration for content for games.

What are your favourite online resources for GMing?

Stumble Upon and the roleplaying category. Other than that, At Will blog, Angry DM blog, WotC forums.

What tools or aides do you wish would be created or invented to help you GM easier?

I am actually quite happy with my tools, but I would say more official support on the DnD 4e side.

After working through these questiosn and getting a 10,000 foot view of your GMing, what is the number #1 thing you’d like to learn about and work on next to become a better GM?

I want to be fun, yet fair. I want to blend my tastes of combat more with my group’s casual gaming.

Now it’s your turn

Dear reader, would you like to do a GM interview? It is fun and easy. Guaranteed, you will learn something about your own GMing when doing it, which is priceless insight to gain.Do a GM interview >>
  • Ana

    GM from Brazil here! Your site is great (and addictive!). I feel the pain from this GM, when you want the player to find out something and he doesn´t!

  • Derek Rawlings


    You talked about designing failure into your game and I wanted to comment.

    From a player’s perspective I’ve played in enough games where I felt unchallenged and that no matter what decisions I made I would succeed somehow — just because the ST was too nice. This is a problem, because without a sense of peril I feel like I’m playing a rail video game (like House of the Dead), where I’m forced down a path that invariably leads to success. Players must feel a sense of agency over their successes in the game in order to enjoy it.

    When I go back to the games that I run I too have felt the pressure to make certain my players succeed. At best outright failure feels like a waste of time, feels narratively wrong, and at worst disheartens players. Here are a couple of tricks I’ve picked up that might help your situation:

    Grades of success:

    When creating encounters place different levels of success into them. For instance the best case scenario is the heroes stop the bad guy before he can activate his superweapon. If he manages to start the superweapon it may be stopped before it powers up. Failing to defeat the threat before the superweapon powers up means that the superweapon causes a lot of collateral, but mostly cosmetic damage.

    In each case the villain is stopped and the superweapon is disarmed without considerable loss of life, but the degree of success is based entirely on the wherewithal and decision making ability of the players. All give narrative catharsis and propel the story into the next arc which means that as a storyteller you shouldn’t have to worry about disheartening players or compromising your story in favour of making it flow.

    To implement this idea look at every encounter before running it and ask yourself what the best and worst case outcome will be. “Failure” can simply be the necessity of an additional encounter, or as complex as an entire subplot.

    Alternate choice:

    Similar to degrees of success, above, only in this case create a deliberate duality. Your party can either A or B. Their decision must influence the future of the story. They might be able to have their cake and eat it, too, but this should be very hard, and by accepting this risk should be able to outright fail at both. This is the classic scenario where the bad guy says you can either save these pedestrians or your boy/girlfriend.

    Failure is sometimes okay:

    Sometimes it’s okay for them to fail. Sometimes your PCs are up against forces they have no right winning against… maybe they went into that really dangerous dungeon or picked a fight with a boss they can’t beat at this level. In cases like this it’s okay to let them fail.

    What most players don’t never seem to consider is that failure in an encounter doesn’t have to result in their PC’s deaths. The boss may consider the characters a nuisance and just leave them unconscious licking their wounds, or perhaps see them as perfect stock for their slave pens, or perhaps even need them alive for some purpose the player’s are not aware of yet.

    The point is that a failed encounter doesn’t have to mean a re-roll (though it could… sometimes players need a good PC death to keep them on their toes so long as it’s narratively interesting).

  • Monex

    Its been heavily updated but still carries a fair amount of DD baggage. .Before making drastic changes the very first thing you should do is talk it over with your group. I GM off a laptop and when I m running DD I have a Firefox session running with tabs open to and I use to create HTML pages for each of the critters that the party may encounter. Monster 3.5 is great in that you can customize the output format and then edit the page to customize the critter. I used to use a spreadsheet to manage initiative and hit points but I found myself interacting with the computer instead of interacting with the players..If you dont use a laptop find a system that works for you.