17 Ways To Fall In Love With GMing Again

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0387

A Brief Word From Johnn

New Mapping Article Posted

Check out “Mapping Tutorial Using Free GameTable Mapping Software” by Patrick Crusiau, which was recently posted at the website. Patrick has done a great job with words and graphics to explain how you can use GameTable for easy mapping.

Volume 8: 5 Room Dungeons Ready For Download

The next volume of 5 Room Dungeons contest entries is now ready for download.

Featured in this volume:

  1. To Sell a Gem by David Hickman
  2. Place of the Embalmers by Wulfhere
  3. The Nobleman’s Daughter by Dragon Lord
  4. The Great Gate by Davide Quatrini
  5. Heart of the Dwarves by Paul Darcy

Download (PDF 1.0 MB) – 5 RoomDungeons – Vol08


Johnn Four
[email protected]

17 Ways To Fall In Love With GMing Again

A whole new year lies before you. Will it be game-full or game-less? I say put your carpe diem pants on, my friend, take those old dice out of your pockets, and get rolling!

Remember how it used to be? Wonderful days filled with marathon carb-filled sessions, cola-out-your nose game moments, and strange little dice whose unfortunate diameter was smaller than mom’s vacuum hose?

Following is collective wisdom from myself and three top-tier RPG blogs with tips and advice on how to get enthused about GMing again. Seize the GM screen once more!

Tips From DungeonMastering.com

Dungeon Mastering rocks! Nine out of ten red dragons think it’s the best source for D&D entertainment!

Shed Blood

All players love an epic battle. When’s the last time you’ve been blinded by the blood spattered on your face? Wasn’t it cool? (Note: I mean in-game. If that happens to you in real life, you might want to keep that to yourself.)

An encounter for the ages would be a great way to get back into DMing. Make sure you describe every axe slash and spell explosion in gruesome detail.

Buy A Book

I know it gets my DMing juices flowing to get a new book.

You can even look at an RPG you’ve never played before and introduce your friends to a new game. Buying a new book to get your DMing mojo back is like subscribing to the gym to motivate yourself to get back in shape.

Well, you know what… Scratch that. When I get a gym subscription I lose the motivation to get in shape. In any case, you get the point (hopefully).

Drink Coffee

Coffee is great by itself, but the key here is to get together with a fellow DM and hang out / plan campaigns. You can plan a campaign as a team effort or each plan your own. It sure is more fun than spending Saturday afternoon in your basement planning a game by yourself!

Tips From Musings of the Chatty DM

Musings of the Chatty DM is a rapidly growing RPG GMing blog that focuses on the Craft of Game Mastering (with a focus on D&D), Tropes, Player Advocacy and Campaign Journals (from preparation to execution). It has a rich and varied community, and it is rumoured to house an Evil Overlord obsessed with the Crunchy bits of RPGs.

http://chattydm.net/  ~  http://chattydm.net/forums/

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Get To Know Your Players Better

No matter how long you have known your potential players, spending a little extra effort to get to know them better is one of the best paths to provide more entertaining games.

Observe the way they react when you propose a new campaign. Note the type of PCs they want to create and the enthusiasm they radiate around the prospect of starting a new game to give you priceless clues as to what they are looking for.

As proposed by Robin Laws in his GMing Bible book (possibly the best GMing book ever written), try to learn the types of players your potential gaming group is made of. Then try to learn what each player’s key motivation is that makes them come back game after game.

A great way to find out is to meet each potential player one on one and discuss the future game (characters, campaign themes, etc.). Your role will not be to describe and explain (you’ll get plenty of that in the actual game), but to listen carefully to what the player wants.

One trick I love doing is the Rubber Ducky Test (if it looks like a duck and it sounds like one, that’s what the person wants). You ask the player what would be the best possible game session for him/her. Note down what they tell you in point form and create a little chart that tells you a bit about each player.

Armed with that newfound knowledge, try to design your game sessions (or chose/modify the published adventures you plan on using) in a way to give each player at least one scene tailored for their tastes. I guarantee you’ll get awesome results!

Exploit The True Secrets Of Movies And Television Shows In Your Games

It’s become a trademark in my writing, but I have seen on numerous occasions that the tricks that make people react strongly to a movie, book, or TV show also work beautifully in tabletop RPGs. I’m not talking about borrowing plots and characters from your favorite stories (although that is a classic GMing tip). I’m talking about stealing the tricks on which the plots are built.

Having a villain always dress in black and cackle crazily all the time only to turn heel later in the campaign and join the heroes against that bigger and badder bad guy will elicit a reaction because your players have seen these things before.

Having your PCs climb a mountain by jumping from stone to stone while falling from an avalanche will be the talk of your gaming group for weeks.

Those theatrical “figures of speech” are called tropes. Clichés are tropes that have been used to death and often elicit more groans than interest. (Tavern scene anyone?)

Having a look at the TVtropes wiki is a mine of ideas for role playing adventures. I wrote about 20 articles on that very subject and it’s helped me tremendously with creating adventures in my current campaign.


Apply The Rule Of Cool Over Everything Else

Discovering this on the TV trope site changed my way of DMing.

Roughly, the Rule of Cool means if you can manage to make a story, or scene, or NPC cool enough, none of your players will bother with the little details that are incongruous or illogical. The glow of coolness will overshadow all the rest and leave a lasting impression. (Think about the 1st time you saw The Matrix.)

Switching your efforts from making an armor-plated plot line and a finely detailed game world to a coolness gushing session will reward you instantly at the gaming table. Geeks have a soft spot for cool things. Why not sprinkle it generously?

Examples of Cool things:

Also, allow your players some access to the Rule of Cool. I’ve been surprising myself lately by telling my players who want to try dangerous or hard maneuvers “Forget the die roll, this is too cool to fail.” Believe me, they appreciate this a lot and try to come up with more cool ideas.


A conclave of diabolical RPG writers divulging a cornucopia of GMing and gaming advice.

Let Someone Else Do It

By letting a new GM flex their muscles you might find yourself getting inspired to go in a different direction and get back in the saddle.

Switch Style Or Genre

If the spice is gone from your game, try some new spices. If you’re always hack and slash, do more storytelling and roleplay. If you’re always playing fantasy, try some sci-fi for a week or two. Get with your players and see if anyone has anything they’d like to try but were afraid to ask.

Be Enthusiastic

Get excited about the game! Whether you’re the PC or the GM, you need to be excited about it if you’re going to really have fun.

From Johnn

Reminisce With Old Gaming Buddies

Similar to Yax’s tip earlier about co-planning games over coffee, a great way to get excited about GMing again is to revel in past campaigns with players from those days.

Call or e-mail an old friend this week:

  • Talk about great gaming moments
  • What crazy characters do you remember?
  • What funny moments did you have together?
  • Recall great combats
  • Try to remember the great magic items or powers some of the party members had. What did the PCs do with those?

Do That Campaign You’ve Always Wanted

This one was passed on to me by Jason, a good friend at work.

He advises to change settings: “Do that campaign you’ve always wanted to do (i.e. your GURPS asteroid miners war campaign).”

This is a great tip. Hey, you’re not getting any younger (how’s that for positive thinking :). Now is the time to put together the campaign you’ve always dreamt of.

Start by asking yourself what your dream campaign would be. Take notes. Write down everything that comes to mind. Don’t self-edit. No ideas or thoughts are bad at this stage. Just write and worry about sorting and editing later.

Does this exercise as much as you want? Take days or weeks until you desire to move to the next step: putting your notes into some kind of order. Re-write, type, or annotate, and pick your best or favorite ideas. Use these as the seed or core of your new campaign.

When faced with tough decisions, aim for “both” instead of either/or. There are excellent game systems that will accommodate just about anything, whether it’s robots and knights, or the ultimate multi-dimensional universe. Before scratching an idea that doesn’t seem to fit in at first glance, work it over a bit, use your imagination, and see how you can fit it in and get everything you want.

Build A New Group

Wise Jason also advises finding new players if your current group is problematic. “Ditch the old group or take the best of them and move on if you can. Having engaged players will propel and motivate you to put the time in to make the game awesome.”

Teach Kids How To Play

Do you have any young cousins, nieces, or nephews? Kids of your own, maybe? Kids of friends? Maybe they’d be interested in playing (with parental permission)?

Kids play for the fun of it. Realism, rules, and narrow-mindedness are not their top priorities when saddling up to game. Get inspired by their sheer enjoyment of the moment, their desire to play just for the sake of playing.

Did you used to have fun before the daily grind started working its way into your GMing? Was that part of the secret of why you enjoyed RPGs so much? Has your imagination become a bit rusty from repetitive reality syndrome?

Next family reunion, rainy Saturday afternoon, or friendly visit, break out the pencils and dice and GM a short game. You could even try to get parents and their kids involved.

The Kids-RPG e-mail list has wonderful parents and teachers on it who can provide advice, tips, and support for gaming with kids:

And this pair of articles has great info about starting a gaming club:

Go Lite

Has your GMing become burdened with rules, books, equipment, accessories, supplements, and requirements? This not only limits playability over time, but it stifles your imagination and restricts your options.

Go lite. Get rid of your burden:

  • Ask to GM at a player’s place. This will force you to get mobile, travel lighter, and decide what you truly need to GM a game session.
  • GM on short notice. Pick up the phone, call three friends, and see if you can get a game going the same day. This will force you to GM without much prep. While it might be scary at first, once you start going the fun will pounce.
  • Try a lighter game system. Some games are getting pretty bloated with rules, errata, supplements, and so forth. Try a new game that is designed to be lite, or that you know has a limited product line.

Return To Your Original Game System

My first game system was red book D&D, where races _were_ classes, and spells only went to third level. And we _liked_ it. 🙂

Even for just one game night, pull out ye old first game system. It might be Palladium, Battletech, Rolemaster, or a previous version of D&D, to name some examples. Break into your storage area, pull out that dusty box, and prepare for a night of fun.

Build Your Ultimate Game World

Now is the perfect time to build on those great world ideas you’ve always had. World building can be a lot of work, but it’s rewarding.

If you aren’t GMing at the moment, then you can take all the time you need to wield your imagination, put pen to paper, and craft your ideal game setting. When you feel ready, start the campaign and not before.

As ideas take shape and setting elements start to connect, the GMing itch will strike again, and this time you’ll have a homebrew game world to back you up, possibly carrying you for several years.

You might have an idea just for a small world region. That’s great! With much less effort, you can bring a setting to the game table that much faster than crafting a whole world. As you play, you flesh the world out bit by bit, possibly even enlisting your players or other world builders online.

Do Something With All Those d20 Books

If you’re like me, back in the day when third party D&D books suddenly meant wonderful consumer choice, you didn’t hold back. Now, you and I are stuck with shelves and boxes full of books.

This alone might give you feelings of pain and guilt that make GMing less fun that it used to be. However, you can turn things around and put all that stuff to good use:

  • Mine them for inspiration. Scour those books for great ideas and resources. Even the horrible books can have something of use, if only a map or picture you can copy or cut out. Grab a notebook, pick up a book at random, and start skimming through the pages. Write down any ideas that interest you, or note the book title and page # if you want to steal something in its entirety.

Do this during TV commercials or while waiting for the microwave to finish irradiating your Pizza Pop at breakfast. Keep skimming and taking notes until you feel inspired to GM again.

  • Build the ultimate game world. Read through the monster folios, crunchy race books, and tomes of rings and swords, and start pulling out interesting ideas for your homebrew game setting. With my book collection, I think I have 2,153 elf races, with 2,149 of them being wood elves. 🙂

However, what about making a forest realm and putting the best 24 of those wood elf versions to good use? Each race build or version becomes the basis of a clan in a land of territorial conflicts. There will be enough variance between each product’s wood elf build that you can take a couple dozen and use them to craft differences great and subtle in each clan’s abilities, culture, and roleplay.

  • Try new house rules. Prepare for when the next game can’t be played due to absenteeism, and run a one-shot that involves new rules found in your books. Keep any you like for your regular campaign.
  • String together an ultimate adventure sequence. Years ago, I took out all my favorite modules and planned a campaign that would lead the PCs through each. I created bridges between each adventure, and planted NPCs, treasure, settings, and other hooks throughout the adventures to help tie them together. I also took the bad guys from the last adventure and made them the campaign’s primary villains.
  • GM as many modules as you can. I set this challenge for myself but then had the pleasure of starting up a group and campaign that’s still going to this day.

If I GM’d one page from an adventure every day, I currently have enough module pages to last 65.7 years. That’s not even including my Dungeon Magazine collection. I guess I better get started.

My idea was to pick up a module, prep it quickly during the week, and then GM it quickly. I could try GMing it at lunch, going to a local RPG club, or asking my network of players for volunteers for each adventure. If the module is bad, I would try to prop it up a bit (pun only slightly intended), but otherwise the adventure would be over in one or two regular sessions, or perhaps in one long session, and then we’d move on to the next module.

Regardless of module quality, the aim was to get GMing again, master the game rules, and have fun with friends. At the very least, I’d be using the products I shelled out hard-earned cash for, and any feelings of consumer guilt would be rolled away.

Tips From Roleplaying Tips Game Masters

Have some GM advice you’d like to share? E-mail it to [email protected] – thanks!

Why I Like To GM

From Norman J. Harman Jr.

Honestly, the main reason is probably that I’m a control freak. I like to know the secrets, I like to run the show, I like getting my way. This sounds bad, but what I most want is for my players to have fun. So, it works out well.

I love world creation. I spend hours and hours thinking about cultures, histories, campaign arcs. Several GM blogs I read bemoan prep time and give suggestions on how to reduce it. Giving me ideas and a reason to do prep time is why I invite people over to my house every couple weeks.

I like telling a story. But, I’m not disciplined enough to write a book. DMing RPGs fills the same need.

Drawing maps, pictures of magic items, and other props satiates my creative and artistic tendencies. Playing with crayons, construction paper, and glue – what more could an adult-sized child ask for?

Company. Sharing laughter, fear, excitement, etc. with six people is probably the best thing I do all week.

I DM to become a better DM and a better role-player.

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GM Motivation

From Loz Newman

Motivation is both personal, and important. A GM who is feeling doubtful about his future as a GM is probably having problems even if he can’t quite analyze why. Helping others being one of my motivations, I’ll lay out a few of the motivational problems I have had and how I overcame them.

Role-playing is a social activity, highly subjective, with a multiplicity of factors that can be difficult to pin down. Sitting and thinking about your feelings and their sources (jot down notes) can lead to discovering a few sources of problems. Here are three that I’ve come across previously that can have the worst effects.

Problem 1) “It’s all about me”

Egotism, control, lording it over the universe. Call it what you will, it’s one of the GM’s joys to create, lay out and run a universe, even if it’s just for one scenario. Others get to see your creative effort and (hopefully) applaud admiringly. However, they also get to run their player characters, the way _they_ want.

When they start to stampede, leaving great muddy footprints all over a GM’s lovely pristine concept, some GMs start to feel miffed about the loss of control and lack of respect for the creative effort deployed. Many players simply don’t realize what is involved in setting up a campaign, however don’t try to use this as an argument with your players – it would be whining.

Key phrase here: Loss of control. The solution is to realize, in the immortal words of a friend of mine, “Ultimately, we are a group of people who get together to have fun. All the rest is window dressing and organization toward that goal.” A DM must let the players _play_.

OK, he can (and should) limit them to what the campaign world/rules systems allows, but stomping on player creativity just to regain that lovely feeling of “I am God, hear me roar,” would be a major mistake. It would be resented by the players, and rightly so. A good GM should be interacting with his players rather than treating them as only good enough to admire his masterpiece campaign concept.

Tip: think about what you dislike about your players’ behaviors, and how to either adapt to them or negotiate them into something mutually acceptable. In extreme cases, a one-to-one chat might help set mutually agreed behavioral boundaries or separate the player from the group with as little hard feelings as possible. Be prepared to compromise. If your expectations are too high or unrealistic they have to be changed.

Problem 2) “Same old, same old”

If you’re not happy with your campaign world, rules system, or scenarios, then you’re probably unhappy with presenting an inferior work. Gamely soldiering on, trying to hide your emotions…. Remember what I said about having fun? A GM should be having fun, too!

I GM a lot and “player” a little. I have a cycle where a month before the summer holidays I start to get a bit fed up and look forward to the summer holidays. “Overdose-itis”, indeed.

My solution: during the summer holidays I inverse the ratio of GMing to player-ing. This lets me take a break from the effort of preparing scenarios and GMing them, and I can dive into the carefree world of just being a player.

Problem 3) “Against the grain”

Another reason why a GM could be unhappy with his campaign world, rules system, or scenarios could be that he has run up against a flaw he can’t resolve for some reason.


  • A paradox in the world.
  • An inferior rule that diminishes the enjoyment because playing that way “goes against the grain.” i.e. Interferes with the suspension of disbelief so necessary to role- playing.
  • Realizing you have made a really dumb decision.

Much less fun for everybody and a real problem. This sort of thing can kill off campaigns and the commitment to being a part of the gaming group.

Solution: Change it now! Take your courage in both hands and find a better way. Analyze what bugs you about past in-game history/ inconvenient rules. Find a fix you are happy with (and I do mean happy), and say, “Here’s the problem, here’s the solution. Yes, in the past it was done otherwise, but that stunk and I’d like to do it differently.”

Warn (and solicit the input of) your players, telling them you’re retconning (retroactively changing the past of) the campaign just a bit for reasons of game balance/logic. Find an in-game justification for the changes – even if it’s a reason that’s only logical if you don’t look at it too closely – so that everyone can swallow the changes and forge bravely onwards to new horizons.

In the past I’ve brutally trashed dumb rules, retconned NPC decisions as “he was being mind controlled/blackmailed,” retroactively declared that lame gods were “just a loony cult,” deep-sixed sub plots, and twice outright dropped campaigns that I simply felt I couldn’t GM right.

Trust me, shucking off this kind of deadweight is a relief. Your players, if they get that you’re doing this to increase enjoyment for everybody (and they won’t be penalized too badly, or asymmetrically) should cooperate. Listen to their comments as they may help improve the changes.

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Pen and Paper RPGs Rock

From Adrian Young  Melbourne, Victoria

What do I love about being a GM?

Well. I’ve been GMing since 1985 and I love making people happy. My players enjoy playing and I enjoy them enjoying playing. At the end of the day, it’s about getting together with friends, rolling dice and having fun.

It does help if you know your material (adventure, rules, etc.) to make the game flow. And it’s important not to get bogged down in descriptions and too much detail. Our gaming group has settled on the Fighting Fantasy RPG (light on rules and charts, heavy on the fun).

I enjoy preparing the scenarios, and running the adventure. Nothing beats seeing your players smile and enjoy themselves as the weight of the world is left behind and their imaginations take flight.

All of us are now in our thirties, with families, partners, etc. We still love the rustle of character sheets, the sound of dice rolling, the shuffling of figures, the feel of the pencil and eraser, and the laughter and merriment that is spawned from imaginative interaction with friends.

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Find Out Why Your Players Keep Coming Back

From Mothshade

The first thing I find myself thinking about the games I run is that, as long as everyone keeps wanting to play, the game can’t be all bad.

I like to find out why the players keep coming back. I also try to communicate with them as much as possible. I ask what they want out of their own characters and try to incorporate it into the game as much as possible. I discover what kind of gamers they are. This can be critical. If you are essentially a wargamer at heart, the roleplayers or mystery- solvers might find your game inaccessible or boring. The same works the other way around. Honesty, right up front, is always best.

What I like about GMing:

  • Creating. I like to create worlds and plots. It isn’t a matter of control…it is a matter of putting ideas on paper and sharing them with others.
  • Necessity. This isn’t something I “like” necessarily, but it is important. GMs are much rarer than players. That is a fact of life.

Often, if I want to game, I have to run things myself. Players are a copper-a-dozen in the areas where I’ve lived…but a good DM is worth his or her weight in platinum.

  • Satisfaction. I’ve noticed that many GMs are frustrated writers. Failing to get published, they choose to share their stories in a gaming forum. If the players enjoy your game and find themselves immersed, you’ve told a good story – whether it is published or not. Someone knows about it and can regale others with anecdotes and memorable moments from your_ world or campaign. I defy many GMs to not feel a little rush from that.
  • Characterization. A player usually runs one character and has a pre-set progression to look forward to. The GM runs _everyone_ else in the setting. If the GM wants to run a dragon, so be it. A powerful wizard? No problem. A god? Go for it. The possibilities are only as limited as the setting.