Eyes Up: Where the Heck are We Going?

My name is Ben, and I’m a GM. There isn’t a way on this planet that you could get me to change this.

There’s a bit of an introspective mood settling over the Mad Adventurers Society of late. We’ve been thinking about legacies and how people have been generally horrible about creating a specific group we can then ‘finally’ lay down our mantle of Game Mastering upon and retire.

Personally, I find this funny, amazingly funny. As a tribe, we GMs feel that we’re dwindling. We’re horrible at getting new people onto this side of the screen; some just see an empty chair at the table where a player has lost interest or free time to be there and once we fill the chair we look no further.

Two of the biggest ways I’ve learned about GMing is being at the table GMing and talking about why I want to do things at the table for certain situations. In being a player I can pick out what I’d change for set up, how I’d let this player instead of that player have a bit more of the spotlight, or even how I could start things off differently, but it’s all what-ifs and Monday morning quarterbacking. When I ask the GM how they pulled off a really good scene, that’s when I learn how to GM and not just pour over my mental rankles.

I’ve GMed in the past because I want to play in a Star Wars system and no one else wanted to do the job. I could find a Dungeons and Dragons game, but that just wasn’t my cuppa. The fantasy I’m going for is pulp in space, tales of daring do against beyond impossible odds but with blasters and in a setting that already sparks my imagination. This is what inspires me to this day, that the movies make me want to tell stories in this universe and tell them in my fashion with my prints all over the rising and falling action.

Why am I doing this? I was introduced to the concept of RPGs young and I want, even need, to play and GM. I have fun with it, with each session and the plot twists that have come up I have fun and get a smile for what I’ve accomplished. The basis for it though is passion to tell stories, and to keep telling stories, even if I mess it up. I’ve had players leave because I’m not good enough, and I have yet to talk to a GM who hasn’t, but I keep going. I’ve had one player swan dive a long running campaign because he didn’t want to be there that day and because of this the gaming group almost died off. I keep going because I still have tales to tell and will raise the scraps of an in-person gaming group from the ashes of what came before, as well as playing and GMing online.

But the question keeps coming up how do we get new GMs? Every single GM has self-selected to lead a table. For some it was seemingly ancient colored boxes from TSR to others tackling a West End Games edition to even others scaling the unchanging mountain of Palladium; we found a world we wanted to tell stories in, to be the leader of our band of merry peeps and guide them through the things that emerge from our own minds. Starting from the blazed paths before us by running published games and slowly dissecting them to figure the working levers beneath the game and why it worked that one time, but not the second or third time you ran it.

We have to be willing to get out there and shuffle through the bad times with horrible writing and figure out what did work and what didn’t. For me it’s hard, I have a very bad habit for finding the worst that comes out of a session and obsessing over That One Thing that didn’t go right. I didn’t have the language and concepts back when I started taking GMing seriously to deconstruct how a game could go. I’ve been reading and learning in many places how things are constructed for a game and finding some of the building blocks we use without names. Now that I have some of the language and framing I can deconstruct those irritating and recurring issues and grow from it instead of being held back.

Two things struck me when doing this research and trying to gain the language I needed to go out and learn how to GM in my chosen system.

The first was that High and Low fantasy were the flavors of the day, that to learn how to GM in Star Wars I had to learn to GM in D&D to understand most of the references. It was that or go back and recreate all of the references shown, plowing new ground. This feels like such wasted and daunting effort. It shoos people away from learning.

The second is that the world that I was looking at had a great beginner box, probably the best since the original colored ones, but after bringing people into the world and system they just sat there with few ideas on how and WHY to do things. It was broad concepts or advanced adventures.

These are two big things, and where I almost stalled out in coming back to GMing. I had burned out on Star Wars Saga Edition and was GMing that swan dived game out of momentum. I picked up the beginner box for FFG Star Wars after missing out on the beta, and it was great, I ran the box with my normal group and it wasn’t enough. I burned through the add on adventure well before I figured things out. The social encounter was excruciating with the GM looking up what points were supposed to be there and in general not knowing how to do things, but we had fun. More fun than we had with Saga Edition for the last few months. Why was this the case? Because the GM was having fun and engaged in exploring the story while leading the players.

I ran into an issue though, none of the books I had from Wizards of the Coast in their two kicks at the womprat had anything really useful for how to create a decent adventure. There were one or two pieces on how to do a passable scene, but I found nothing on how to analyze that action scene in your head and see the pieces that can be taken out and remixed to have something cool. With a system I liked and a new energy for it I was trying to figure out how to make it better.

I poked and prodded the internet and could find passable to decent resources for use if I knew the rules for the last two versions of Dungeons and Dragons, but finding any sort of guides when I was trying to use Stormtroopers wasn’t easy and usually vastly out of date.

If I’ve seen Fantasy Flight Games, as well as several other companies, fall down anywhere it is that there is nothing to take the great learning experience that the beginner boxed sets are and transfer it to a middling adventure. The FFG Beginner Box stays with the basics. There isn’t a walk-through of character generation using the supplied PDF for anyone, there isn’t a seemingly thrown together scene with the pieces shown in explicit ways not just breaking down how the rules are but showing off a bit of how to create a scene; over explaining it but letting the new GMs get the tools within which to build.

The best Fantasy Flight Games has is Beyond the Rim, a fairly normal front to back adventure with little in the way of exploration and nothing that suggests how to break it down into its component parts. The other two adventures that are there are for more advanced groups, Jewel of Yavin has a huge sandbox that turns it more into a setting book than an adventure, while Onslaught at Arda I reads as the second campaign the group has been running out of the facility, which is less than desirable for the first adventure released for a product line.

At the moment we’re relying completely on raw talent and dedication without much direction for a new GM to come in and set up. I’m glad that here at Mad Adventurers we let people ask questions we’ve heard before and answer them as graciously as we can. I’m grateful for the tools that Mr. Draper has brought forward for planning as well as the articles that Angry has done giving thought to some of the Whys and Hows about the way we do things in GMing.

This is a fun gig when we can get it, rewarding beyond belief. It lets you get ideas on how to communicate concepts and setting in ways you’d never get the chance to otherwise. Even facilitating a Fiasco game brings a kind of joy that isn’t there for just a player; it’s the same for planning an event that goes off well. There is a huge dollop of contentment from the knowledge that you did this and you saw it through. That you were able to come up with a twist better than the sixth sense, something creepier than aliens, something more adrenaline pumping than a jump off of a cliff (preferably with a soft place to land).

I like the things I do now when I GM and want others to experience this. I’m not going to do it out of an obligation or fear; I’m doing this from a love of the system and trying to spread the joy I have to others. This is something completely optional for people to do, to learn the game, to get the rules down, to know how to not let the rules get in the way, to know enough of both to show someone trying to take over the door or to step aside and offer the chair, these all present problems for a new GM. The thing is that it’s fun beyond belief for me and I think those of the right temperament would get rewards more than they could conceive when they start. We need to welcome more people in and help them see past the rough patches.

One thought on “Eyes Up: Where the Heck are We Going?”

  1. As someone who has relatively recently come into GMing (and for much the same reasons i.e. I wanted to run Star Wars), this certainly resonates with me. I’d love to play more myself, but my only opportunity has been when I convinced one of the players to run Beyond the Rim (it went okay). I enjoy GMing, but it can certainly be draining at times, and knowing that I could reliably play a Star Wars game after my current campaign ends without running it myself would be wonderful.

    FFG does a great job with their intro-to-GM guides in the core books, but it’s never enough to truly prepare you for sitting at the head of the table with expectant faces looking for you to describe exactly how that NPC is going to react. It’s a conundrum that it feels like more work to try and guide players towards being possible GMs than to just keep GMing myself. I’ve no idea how to solve the problem, so I expect I will continue being “the GM” until I run out of spare time for it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *