Category: GMing Advice


I recently ran two games at our local gameday: fantasy in the first session, and Star Wars (using a VERY simple version of FUDGE) in the second. I wanted to sit down and evaluate what went well and what needed improvement in case I get to run those scenarios again. I’m not going to bore you with a blow by blow account (“Let me tell you about my game..”). Rather let’s focus on some of the big issues that come to mind, and may have […]


While proofreading the final draft of Focal Point I re-read a story I presented about a time when I was a less-than-stellar player. I’d allowed an encounter that went bad for me early on hang over the entire session and I’d resisted any attempt to get back on board no matter how hard the GM and other players tried. Not only did it ruin the session, but it cut the heart out of the campaign and it died a session or two later. As a GM, I’ve […]

Elhal Single Page Handout

It is getting close to that time…Gen Con. A time when I need to run games for strangers. A time when I have four hours to introduce a setting, characters, and a problem; and then GM the players through a hopeful solution to the problem. Along the way, I may have to teach one or more people the game system I am running. That makes for a pretty intense and jam-packed four hours. The faster I can convey things to the players, the faster we […]

The incomparable Josephine Baker.

Sometime last week, I got a message from a friend who was starting the early stages of his prep for next year’s convention games and wanted some advice. His dilemma was that he wanted to run a Hollow Earth Expedition game that was faithful to the 1930’s setting, but still provide characters that are friendly for a table of diverse players. Looking through the archetypes in the book, he was drawing a blank on ways to include female characters that would make sense in the […]


GMing for a party of first-level characters is fun. All the numbers and stats are manageable, the PCs themselves fit within snug parameters, and no matter how much hit points grace you allow, one of them is not likely to survive the session. But how do you frame an adventure that isn’t all vermin, goblins and kobolds? The players have been all through that. They probably want something different. I think taking a cue from the Robin Hood legend is a good way to go. […]


In this article, we’ll look at the concepts of treasure and reward. My goal in our current campaign is to attempt to make most of those items “focused items”: items that have some root in the characters. Our last campaign ran about two years, so players acquired a bunch of stuff. I noticed that a lot of it went unused. Players latched onto a signature item and generally used that one alone. Maybe my approach of throwing a lot of stuff out there and seeing […]

Which came first? The player or the GM?

Last weekend I was at Origins, and now a week later, I’m finally starting to recover. While I’m old enough and wise enough to realize I can’t stay up all hours and do ALL the gaming, I still stay up too late, get up earlier than I should, and try and get in MOST of the gaming. Beyond games, the other convention joy that keeps me coming back year after year are the people. Several late nights were spent just hanging out and talking shop with fellow […]

Invested in the Game: As a GM, it’s horrible to bring your game to a table and see only disinterested, blank stares looking back at you. Good players bring an engagement and investment to the table that lets the GM know they want to be there and play the game. Enthusiasm about their character or even the game itself can be infectious enough to get the other players similarly invested. They keep the distractions to a minimum and are always ready to jump into whatever you throw at them.

Know the Rules but Respect the GM’s Calls: Players that know the rules but respect the GM’s decisions are invaluable. They help keep the game moving forward by knowing what needs to be rolled and when. They’re a resource for the less experienced players, freeing up the GM to focus on running the game rather than teaching rules. Rules lawyers slow the game down arguing about rules, but these are knowledgeable and flexible enough to speed it up.

Share the Spotlight: Not only do good players get invested in their own characters, they also get invested in the other characters at the table. They willingly give up the spotlight and know how to draw the other players into the game. Everybody loves getting their time in the spotlight, and it can be easy to fall into the trap of always giving it to the same players. Good players know how to pull other players into it so everyone gets a turn.

They’re Just Meta Enough: Players should be able to focus on their character’s motivations and reactions, but good players understand they’re part of a game and know how to make choices that advance the game while still staying true to their character. While no one wants to see anyone abuse metagaming, there is something to be said for understanding what will keep the game moving and what will slow it down.

Honestly, the best games I’ve ever played have been a combination of a good GM getting good players and the game turning into something more than anyone at the table expected. It’s what keeps us all coming back for more. What have some of your players done to make you a better GM?

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