December 30, 2008

How Do You Run It? Noticing GMing styles

The Boyfriend introduced me to some awesome people over the summer who I now visit downstate whenever I'm in town from school.  We visited them with some other friends this weekend, which was the nerdy vacation I mentioned before.  We always end up playing some video games, some board games, and if there are enough people we play SLA Industries.  Good times were had all around.

The interesting thing to me was how different is the style of GMing is for the guy who's house it is.  He's the one who runs SLA, and he runs it well.  However, he's the only person I've seen (or at least noticed) who can run an entire game from the top of his head.  He starts with only the two sentences on the BPN, or mission statement, that we're given to pursue.  From there he's able to make up everything on the top of his head.  I find it a rather intriguing talent.  Especially since its the opposite of what I've experienced.

I started playing D&D when I was in high school.  My friend's father would run the game and me and my geek gal pals would play.  We never consistently kept up with it unfortunately but I remember that being good times.  Except for the Vampire that he had attack us.  That, at the time, felt unfair.  Tried to run a couple games of my own in high school, but it wasn't until college that I really got into RPGs.  Someone was running an D&D game in Eberron and I got back into the swing of things again.  Sophomore year I started the campaign I'm still running now, and the end of that year I started realizing there was more than D&D out there.  My eyes had been opened.  Now throughout all this time, every good DM I had planned at least something in advance.  Sometimes to the point that it was like having another class for the semester, or a part time job.  I noticed the less planned a game was, the less likely it was fun for everyone.  That's just how it is.  

I will note that since this was all college students, no one has been running games for long, and not extremely faithful to one system.  This is probably where the SLA GM has the upper hand in his ability to make a great situation on the fly.  He's older than me and has been more intensely into RPGs for a longer time than I have.  He might just have the experience to be able to just run a game off the top of his head.  I'm jealous of it to an extent, but maybe ten years from now I'll be able to do the same just fine.  Or maybe this GM friend of mine is also really good at just doing things off the top of his head and I lack that skill.

Have any of you had a GM who didn't plan but ran a great game?  Was it similar circumstances--a guy who has lots of gaming experience?  Or for some reason was this person someone who's just that good at pulling a scenario out of thin air?  Let's discuss!  Comment or feel free to email me:

-d20 Sapphire


  1. It's been a long while since I seriously playerd RPG's, but yes, experience and style makes a huge difference. Inexperienced GM's are essentially "mechanics"; they know the game and they set up battles, but that is about it. Some GM's never get far past this stage.
    A more experienced/better(IMO) GM is a storyteller; they interact with the players and adapts the story in response to what the player try to do. There usually is a plan, but when well done it comes off as spontaneous.
    I have seen completely spontaneous GMing, and that can work too. Here the GM is either letting the players do whatever they want and letting them have fun, or is throwing a series a challenges at the player to try to get them to play spontaneously. These can be some really great sessions, but they work best with small close-knit groups.

    As you noted, a good GM will bring the players into the story. The best ones I knew had us keep a journals for our characters, chronicling the story from our own viewpoint. Further, they awarded experience mostly on the basis of maintaining a regular journal, not necessarily for the battles won and monsters slain.

  2. That journal idea is actually very interesting! It's a great way for PCs to tell the GM what they want to do without exposing it to all the PCs. If I wasn't playing with a bunch of people who already have homework to do, I would use that idea. In fact, I might if I ever start another campaign after college.