Friday, January 4, 2013

Things I do to help be a better GM, part one

Noisms came up with the idea, and others are following suite, of  talking not specifically about how you could be as good a GM as I am, but rather about what I do to help myself do a better job running games.  I think this is a subtle but important concept: I'm a good GM, and maybe a great GM, but I'm not some Epic Level GM where people would pay good money to sit at my table.  I also continually try to be better.  So I think there is some value in talking about what I do to try to improve the craft, that subtle combination of art and science, that is running a roleplaying game.

And here's my first, very simple thing I do to try to make myself a better GM: Read More Books.

A few years ago a friend of mine began giving to me for my birthday a stack of books to read.  These are not books I would ever pick up for myself, because honestly I don't read a lot of books.  Or rather I didn't, and what I read tended to be a very narrow corridor of tried-and-true, fairly predictable authors.  Thankfully I didn't just let these books sit on the shelves, but have been reading them each year.

You may think that the best benefit of reading lots of books is being able to rip off the plot, but this is actually the least beneficial aspect of reading books, because book narratives and gaming narratives don't match up well.  I had a friend who loved book-style plotlines and was forever frustrated when players didn't emulate the genre in the way he wanted.  He should have just written his own books, and I told him so.

No, the thing that you can glean from books is little nuggets of treasure to file away for later.  For example, I read Dance, Dance, Dance by Haruki Murukami a couple of years ago.  It's not a story that would make its way into any gaming adventure, really.  But in the opening chapter there is a description of a location called the Dolphin Hotel that is brilliant.  And I promptly copied the description down and used the Dolphin Hotel showed up in a later game.

Characters, locations, little clever turns of phrases or even the odd plot point or two can enrich your own creativity when it comes to gaming.  And it doesn't hurt to move out of your comfort zone.  If all you read are  Douglas Child and Lincoln Preston books, then all you are going to get is the same sort of fare (although some of them aren't bad at all).

More to come!  Comments welcome!

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