A Confidence Hack For Better GMing

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0936

Great GMing means making great decisions.

In the heat of gameplay we have a lot going on in our foggy noggins. (Say foggy noggins ten times fast.)

We’re doing some math, picking NPC words, choosing foe tactics, observing players, drawing maps, conjuring details, thinking three seconds into the future, and on and on.

I love it!

Full-brain hobby.

But something holding us back is poor confidence.

It’s another catch-22 for you.

Low confidence means slow or poor decision-making. Hesitation and bad decisions mean lower confidence. And down the spiral we go.

GMing regularly helps this a lot.

And so does this hack, which I learned about ages ago from a neuroscience book.

Reacting Without Clear Purpose

But first, a quick story about something I just experienced that inspired today’s GMing tip.

I’m at Starbucks right now. I plug in my laptop and start thinking about what Musing I’ll write next as I head to the front to order a coffee. I walk up and recognize the barista serving me.

Groan. Not my favourite barista.

This person hits my weakness: inefficiency. Repeating the same questions, can’t figure out how to key in my order, and exuding an aura of low-competence.

I smile, wait it out, wanting to help.

Then it hits me. Every time I order she instantly starts fingering the large keypad on the cash register. Scanning back and forth with her finger. Asking me again what I wanted. Focused on the keypad in a quest for data entry.

This brought to mind a new game I’ve been playing. (I know, I’m now interrupting my GM tip with a story inside a story – it’s like Inception around here today for you.)

Anomia is a cognitive dissonance party game. Words come up on cards and you have to name something before an opponent does.

I noticed after losing badly (more than once) that I would point at the card and then start thinking of my answer. I saw others do this too.

Next game my goal was to quit pointing. By the end I was breaking this pattern. And voila. My answers were coming a lot faster. (I was still losing games though, heh.)

I was slowing myself down with the body-first reaction.

Stop the physical/delay reaction. Get the brain going first.

And I began blurting out answers quicker.

Back to Starbucks.

I realize (hypothesize?) that if the barista did not immediately start scanning the keypad and its multitude of options she’d serve customers better and faster.

If instead she listened to my order, thought about it for a second until it was crystal clear in her mind what she had to key in, and then started looking on the keypad for the keys, she’d be a lot happier.

First, no more repeated questions about what I’m ordering, room for cream, and cup size. She’d create certainty about all that right away and have focus.

Then she’d go on the keypad quest, which with clarity and repetition, she’d memorize the patterns and sequences for a lot faster until it becomes brain-muscle memory.

At that point she could successfully chat with customers while her fingers automatically found the keys. And she’d be able to enjoy the best part of customer service — meeting people and learning about them.

So too it is with GMing.

The Hack: Get Clarity of Purpose First

You gain confidence with clarity.

When asked a question like, “Who’s in the tavern?” or confronted with a task like deciding a foe reaction, pause for a moment.

Don’t do an “Anomia finger point” first. Don’t immediately paw at the keypad.


  • Take a mental step back
  • Get clarity on what exactly what you’re trying to do
  • Think about the result you want

Then go to the next step, whatever that might be for the situation.

This quick clarification moment gives you several boons.

You might be slow at this at first, but you will speed up. And with practice your GMing will get a whole lot snappier. No more confidence-eating hesitations.

Your focus will improve. With clarity comes purpose and knowledge of next actions. No more repeated questions and frustrated players getting half your attention.

You will game better. Who’s in the tavern is not about a head count. The player is really asking, “What interesting stuff is happening here for me to do?” And the foe reaction is just not about roleplaying. It’s playing the infinite game and opening up cool gameplay for others.

And it fixes analysis paralysis. Make decisions much faster and become a better ad hoc storyteller.

Choose Before You Open The Menu

Here’s something you can do to practice away from the game table.

When faced with multiple choices, such as a restaurant menu, pick what you’ll have before you even enter the restaurant.

Do the same when getting groceries or surfing Amazon.

Get clarity on what you want first. Then look for it amongst the options.

Now you’re comparing against success criteria. Does this meet your needs? Does it get you the result better or worse than the previous option?

Better GMing With Clarity

With better, faster decision-making and mental clarity on what you’re trying to do at any given time you become a better game master.

Your confidence goes up. Giving you a boost next decision. An upward spiral lifts your presence, inspiration level, and energy.

With this hack you’ll learn it’s better to make the best decision you can in the moment at the game table and use gameplay (and more decisions) to correct missteps than it is to hem and haw trying to make the perfect decision every time. Try this hack out and let me know how it goes.