How Do You Fare At This GMing Performance Rating?
I created a new GMing KPI at a local game convention last weekend. A KPI, or Key Performance Indicator, is a way to measure some important aspect of how well you are running a game.
This particular KPI is simple a number. And the only way you can fail at this KPI is with a Didn’t Meet Expectations rating from your players.
Meaning the number itself does not have intrinsic value. It doesn’t matter if your KPI is high or low. It only matters if it reveals whether your players had a good time.
Because in one game at this convention I had a terrible time. And as I sat there at the table, bored and stacking my dice, I wondered why. Why was this game not rolling a crit for me?
The game master was doing all the right things. Really awesome descriptions. Great NPCs. Cool accents. Good plot. Lots of danger and peril.
All great elements I want to have in games I GM too.
So why was I so bored?
Let’s consider video games for a moment. And let’s put video games on a spectrum I’ll call the Interaction Level Spectrum, or ILS.
On one end of the ILS we have a First Person Shooter or Real Time Strategy game. You can’t pause the game. You are always controlling your toon. And you are always doing something, even if it’s lying in wait to ambush your foe.
At the other end of the ILS we have a game like Dragon’s Lair or a Choose Your Own Adventure type game. Cool graphics, wonderful story, and very pleasing details.
However, the amount of interaction at this end of the spectrum is very low. The Choose Your Own Adventure game shows you a bunch of stuff. You quickly make a decision. Then the game shows you a whole bunch of stuff again. It’s like a game where every once in awhile you push a lever, but that’s about it. Low interaction.
So back to our RPG convention game.
I realized as I sat there, getting more bored and withdrawing even further into my thoughts, that the one thing this GM was doing in this particular game was giving us a low ILS experience.
The GM gave great descriptions of what was going on. They described each scene. Described in detail each NPC and each NPC’s actions.
And when we got a chance to speak and tell what our action was, the GM rolled with that and described in great detail the outcome.
Here’s where the KPI kicks in.
Let’s call it GM Interaction Time.
My GM Interaction Time was a few moments every few minutes.
That’s a poor GM Interaction Time.
And I observed it was the same for each player.
My best guess is the GM had an GM Interaction Time of 80%. Maybe more.
That means the GM was doing all the talk or driving the gameplay 80% of the time.
That conflicts with my play style. And my GM style too.
I’m more of a 50% GM Interaction Time person.
That means as GM I’m holding the ball half the total time each game. In a five player game, each player has the spotlight and carries the ball about 10% of the time.
Which makes sense as, if I give each player equal time, and I share equal time while GMing each player, it works out to me doing the rambling, rolling, and roleplaying about half the session.
Now I’d like to point out again, there’s no wrong number for GM Interaction Time unless it fails to meet expectations.
So the awesome thing I got the opportunity to learn while playing this game was that GM Interaction Time is a thing, it’s a personal preference, and I’m going to pay attention to it more in my own game.
For all I know, I could have an 80% score in GM Interaction Time and be doing almost all the talking.
Or, even at my estimated 50% GM Interaction Time, it could still leave too little GM Interaction Time for certain players. I will ask.
It doesn’t matter if your game is like a Choose Your Own Adventure experience or a First Person Shooter. It only matters where on that spectrum you and your players have fun.