Where to Focus for Greatest GMing Improvement?

A fellow game master asked me what area of the game he should work on that would have the biggest effect on his GMing.

Great question. To score a bullseye you at least need to be aiming at the right dart board.

The Wide World of GMing Skills

We have a long list of GMing skills and deliverables to choose from. That’s part of why we love our hobby so much. We could look at building better worlds, creating more compelling campaigns, or crafting epic adventures. All good areas.

We could also delve into map drawing, accent use, effective communication, and Preparing to Improvise. All great skills.

However, the number one thing we can do behind the screen that has the biggest effect on gameplay, in my opinion, is to….

Create, refine, and run better encounters.

Why Encounters?

Here’s why we should focus on improving encounters.

Encounters dominate nearly 90% of gameplay. They overshadow downtime, realm management, vehicle battle mini games, and other subsystems.

Reflect on your recent sessions. Were they consumed by world-building or adventures? While settings and missions set the stage, it’s the encounters that we actually game out. Encounters consume the vast majority of table time.

In addition, encounters are not easy to GM. They include combat, roleplaying, and discovery; table management, organization, and communication; imagination, tactics, and pacing. And lots more.

Further, pick up your game’s rule books and I’d wager 80% of pages are devoted to rules and details relevant to encounters. The standard chapters for character generation, how run this game, and campaign tips would fall outside the 80%. But all monsters, spells, equipment, skills, special abilities, and combat pages are encounter-facing, for sure. This is good a hint that our time and attention while GMing should be spent in encounters.

We also interface with characters mostly in encounters, albeit via proxies such as players, monsters, NPCs, items, and environments. It’s our monsters against (or with) our players’ characters.

Finally, building unique and wondrous realms, learning how to lead by example, providing impeccable descriptions, crafting killer Plotlines, and other such campaign elements are important. But you’ll get the most and best GM reps by focusing on improving your encounters. They offer the greatest return on our investment, considering their predominance in playtime and complexity.

Master Encounters for Maximum Impact

Think of it like the cornerstone exercise at the gym: squats engage more muscles than isolation exercises. Similarly, mastering encounters engages and enhances every aspect of your GMing skills.

You’ll see the biggest GMing improvements fastest, in ways your players will definitely notice and appreciate, by leveling up your development, refinement, and execution of your encounters. This focus will not only enhance the majority of gameplay but also challenge you to master the most complex aspects of game mastering.

If you have my Adventure Building Master Game Plan, go to the table of contents page. The lessons highlighted in orange below are all relevant to showing you how to improve your encounters:

Click here to embiggen the image.

If you do not yet have access to my course, you can purchase it here or become a Platinum Wizard of Adventure and get additional loot to start levelling up your encounters today.

Have more fun at every game!

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Visit the Roleplaying Tips DriveThruRPG store, or browse books and courses to level up your GMing at the RoleplayingTips.com store.

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