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GM Means “General Manager”

Sometimes the GM must do non-game related tasks. As the GM your role extends beyond just running the game. You schedule the sessions, you organize the materials for your game, you approve supplements and verify character builds, and you need to provide the tools for the game. When you agree to be the GM you are agreeing to a second job.

I’m not suggesting that you treat the GM role as work. It isn’t and it shouldn’t be. The role of a GM should be fun, but to maximize that fun you do have to apply a little self-discipline and planning to achieve your goal. What I am suggesting is that you recognize what parts of the GM’s role may not be fun, and then work out a method to make those tasks as painless as possible.

Getting the Band Back Together

Scheduling games is a task that really becomes a pain as you get older from my personal experience. With careers, marriages, and children all requiring more and more of yours and your player’s times it isn’t unusual to spend an hour going around the table saying “Nope, I can’t make that date. How about the next weekend?”. People live busy lives these days, and even the best laid plans can be trashed by the unexpected.

If this sounds like your group do yourself a favor and create an online calendar using a tool like Google Calendar [1]. Work with your group to schedule your game sessions out for the next three months and make sure that all of your players can access the calendar. You can then arrange for email and SMS reminders to keep your group informed. It won’t guarantee that everyone can make every game, but it will make it easier for you and your group to coordinate your schedules with.

On the Road Again

As a GM, I’ve acquired a lot of inventory. Maps, battle mat, miniatures, markers, dice (tons of dice), scenery, pencil box, notebooks, gaming books, and a lot of other stuff. I’ve learned that not only do I need to plan for the needs of the GM, but I also need to plan for the needs of the players (i.e. – “I forgot my character sheet, my book, and I didn’t bring anything to write with. You have all of that stuff right?”). Needless to say, on game day I have a lot of junk with me.

This isn’t a problem when I host the game at my place, but occasionally we game at another person’s home. For those occasions I’ve organized my gaming gear into two categories: essentials that I will most likely use at every game, and non-essentials that may be used only for that particular game. Take all of those essentials and acquire something to transport them with easily. For $20 I picked up one of these mobile toolboxes [2] on clearance. When I need to run a game at a site other than home I just load up the toolbox in my car and grab those non-essential items that I want to use for that particular session. Now I’m ready to GM on the go.

Delegate the Small Stuff, Focus On the Big Stuff

Like any successful manager you should delegate out smaller tasks whenever possible. Have someone else be in charge of snacks and food. Have one of the players make sure that the table is cleared and ready for the game. Put someone in charge of initiative and keeping track of the combat rounds. Don’t just ask for volunteers though, state exactly what you would like to delegate to another person and then ask who will do it. Saying “I need a volunteer.” is the quickest way to ensure that hardly anyone will volunteer.

If you say “I don’t want to interrupt the game to order the pizza. I want a player to take the order for the table and to place the order before 6pm so that we are not starving by the time the food arrives. Who can handle that for the group?” you will probably have much better results. You have given a reason for the volunteer work and you have made it clear what it is that you expect to happen.

Note that I did not suggest that someone else may want to consider taking the task with my choice of words. Instead use a tone that implies that you won’t do the task. This is not meant to boss the players around, but it does send a clear message that gets you the help that you need from the group to run the best game that you can for them. And if your players are helping out with these tasks you should make it your number one priority to show gratitude for their efforts with a game that rocks.

Infinite Problems But One Approach For Solving Them All

Before your next session try and incorporate a few of these suggestions and see if they work for you. Some may, and some may not. You are going to have to think about your own game and come up with what works best for you and your group. For that I offer this final piece of advice:

Make a list of the GM tasks that you do not enjoy doing. If someone else can do it, delegate that task. If you have to do it, improve your process for that task.

That is really all there is to it. Recognize the problem and fix it if possible, make it less painful if it can’t be fixed, or give it to someone else who considers it a challenge and not a problem. Give it a shot and see how it goes.

That is my opinion on the matter, so what is yours? Leave your comments for others to read and share your own experiences with me and other members of the GnomeStew community. And no matter what happens, don’t forget that the GM is a player too! Have fun with it!

6 Comments (Open | Close)

6 Comments To "GM Means “General Manager”"

#1 Comment By DarthKrzysztof On June 25, 2008 @ 6:17 am

I still plan to write “Managing the Dungeon Master Way” someday, mark my words. I had an “absent player” at work yesterday…

This is another advantage of chat-based gaming; it doesn’t matter that I live too far away from -anybody- to host a table-based game, and I don’t have to decide which books to take with me. (I have PDFs, but no laptop.)

#2 Comment By Rafe On June 25, 2008 @ 6:18 am

There are so many things to respond to, so I’ll choose one that really resonates with me: delegation. It’s absolutely critical. A lot of DMs suffer burn-out due to feeling like they’re responsible for everything. The best DMs I’ve had haven’t even been wholly responsible for their own game world. Someone’s a sorcerer? Have them do a short write-up on how magic first appeared and how it’s perceived. Someone else is from Somera? Have them do a short write-up on what sort of land it is and what general traits those people have.

Sharing the load makes players invested in the game and make them recognize early on that it’s everyone’s game, not just the DM’s.

I’ve written about some of that here: [3]

#3 Comment By Troy E. Taylor On June 25, 2008 @ 8:48 am

Rafe is absolutely right. Everyone needs to “share” in the fun.

I’ve found that most players are willing to pitch in with just about any task — you only need to ask them..

Though, that means it’s still incumbent on the GM to be prepared — so he or she knows exactly what kind of help to ask for.

#4 Comment By Patrick Benson On June 25, 2008 @ 8:56 am

DarthKrzysztof – I enjoy online gaming too, and I always buy the PDF version when available for my gaming books these days. One of the really nice things about online gaming though is that I can easily script or write a program for the more intense GM tasks. It makes life so much easier for me when running a game. The problem is that at the table, that same approach may result in me looking too often at the screen and not the players.

Rafe – Good examples! I didn’t want to get to specific with what you can delegate, but those are exactly the kinds of things that a GM can do to get players involved. And as you mentioned, the players will feel as if they invested more into the game and should have a sense of ownership.

#5 Comment By Scott Martin On June 25, 2008 @ 10:08 am

Due to work schedules, we tend to do 1-2 weeks of planning ahead, rather than the months you suggest. We try and coordinate our next session via a blog post and google calendar. While it doesn’t work as often as I’d like [the phone is most people’s first thought], it’s a good starting point.

Coordinating the next session is ripe for delegation– in our Hanford group, the same person coordinates whether he’s playing or GMing. When I’m GMing, it’s a big help. You last bit of advice is excellent– I wonder what my list would look like. Maybe it’s time to find out.

#6 Comment By Patrick Benson On June 25, 2008 @ 11:08 am

Troy – Most players are willing to pitch in. I’ve yet to have a player refuse to help with running and organizing the game.

Scott – Yeah, everything before the last part of the post is really just examples of how you might improve things. Recognizing that a problem exists is really the first thing any GM (or manager) needs to do.

As for scheduling, I find that planning for the business quarter works a bit better for my group. We all know what projects we have going on and it helps to convey to the significant others that gaming is important to us. We wouldn’t plan it out for the next three months if it wasn’t. You should definitely go with what works for your group though.

#7 Pingback By How to be a good general manager – Dungeon Mastering – Dungeons and Dragons blog – DM tips, D&D books, RPG fun On July 1, 2008 @ 11:30 pm

[…] This posts is a commentary that expands on, adds to, and slightly disagrees with a great post from Patrick Benson from Gnome Stew: GM means “General Manager”. […]

#8 Pingback By Gnome Rodeo: Put That in Your Gnome and Smoke It | Gnome Stew On May 5, 2016 @ 5:01 pm

[…] Tips: Issue 410 features tips for managing your group. (See our own Patrick Benson’s GM Means “General Manager” for a different but related take.) Oddly enough, the next section details an RPG-crush on Savage […]