No GM should be an island of ideas. As a GM we are a creative bunch and have many ideas floating around our head: a plot for a future session, a killer encounter, a new artifact, an NPC, etc. Let’s be honest not all of our ideas are great, and worst a lot of them sound great to us, but fail to impress the players when we drop them at the table.
The best kinds of ideas are one that have been vetted by someone else and have received constructive feedback. What we might think is the greatest plot twist may, in truth, offend the players, or crush their free will in within the game. Quite simply, a GM’s need someone to run ideas past. We need a GM Sounding Board; that person who will listen to our ideas, and make suggestions, but most importantly be honest with us; not afraid to tell us if our idea is cool or totally sucks.
Not just anyone can fill this role. There are a few requirements for being a GM Sounding Board (which, because I am feeling lazy we will now abbreviate as GMsb).
First thing, and this may be obvious, but the GMsb needs to be a person that is not a player in your gaming group. If they were, they would be privy to upcoming in-game events, and that would not be any fun at all for them, and likely to anger the rest of the group. So, the GMsb needs to be someone that is separate from your group. Here are a few types of relationships that would work:
- Spouse or Significant Other
- Friend who does not play in your group
- Members of a Discussion Board, where your players do not frequent
- A Gnome (but never Halflings…ever)
While having your GMsb be a full-fledged gamer, is an advantage, it is not a requirement. Someone who has a good grasp of literature or cinema can also be a good fit. Any person with a good grasp of what makes a book good or a movie a hit is going to have the necessary skills to evaluate your ideas.
My GMsb is my Wife who is not a gamer, but is familiar with my games, my players, and is both an avid reader and movie watcher. She has no problem following most of my plots, and she often pulls in great ideas from books and movies, I am likely never to have read or seen on my own (chick flicks, movies without helicopters, guns, explosions, kung fu).
Your GMsb has to be honest. When you have an idea that stinks, you need to be sure that the person you are telling is going to give you an honest answer about how bad it is. They can be nice about it, but honesty is everything. Sometimes this is not fun to hear, especially if you think you have the best idea ever, but a bruised ego is much better than a session that sucks. So, if you do not believe that your current GMsb can perform this most candid service for you, you might want to consider shopping around for a new one.
The best GMsb’s are not just Thumbs Up or Thumbs Down people, they should challenge your ideas, ask you to defend your ideas, and very often add something that you had not thought of. So your GMsb has to expressive, needs to make you work for that idea.
A good idea can be made into a great one, when your GMsb asks the right question, or offers up the “and…” to your idea. I am very fortunate that my GMsb, has a great understanding of story structure, and a knack of asking a question that explodes in my head and causes ideas to rain down.
The GMsb gets the short end of the deal on this. They listen to your ideas, they offer up their opinion, and even collaborate with you. But in the end, you write the session notes, and you run it. Your players think you are some kind of GM savant, but you were not alone. So from time to time, do something nice for your GMsb, and give some props to them.
Two Minds Are Better Than One
The GMsb is a valuable resource for a GM. Having someone who will make sure your bad ideas never see the light, and your good ideas are improved, is a valuable asset. If you don’t have a GMsb, seriously consider finding one, and you should see an improvement in your sessions.
If you have a GMsb, then feel free to give them that praise they richly deserve in the comments below. Tell us, who they are, and some of the best ideas they have helped you with, or some of the worst they talked you out of.
And to my Wife, thank you for listening to me, for 9 years go on about characters, scenes, plots, etc. and for offering up that question or idea that makes my ideas better than had I done it on my own. Thanks.