This entry is part 14 in the series GM Toolbox
GM Toolbox

What tools go into your GM toolbox?

Written by Michael Beck, with contributions and editing by Da’Vane.

As we started with in the Introduction, Michael Beck provided four reasons for writing the GM’s Toolbox.

We only presented two of those reasons since they made ideal opening statements from Michael explaining his motivation for the series, without having to have read the series first.

He also presented two more reasons, which we will share with you now, having concluded the series, because they will make better sense.

Categorizing Roleplaying Tips

One initial motivation was to have an overview over all the topics the GM has to handle. As you can see, it is quite a lot.

Just the index of this tip would consume a page (so throw this list at a player who thinks “GMing can’t be that hard”, of course after saying: “Ok, you try.”).

By creating this index, I hoped to categorize new tips out there, so I can easily compare them to the tools I use and can quickly draw a comparison. You can use this series as an index in the same way.

Also, sometimes I just forget about a good tool because I only used it once. By mentally putting it into a certain space in my toolbox this may help to remember nice tips.

Getting an Overview of My Own GMing

Michael: One motivation of this large roleplaying tip grew by writing it. By giving examples, I forced myself to see where I have gaps in my knowledge or what aspects of my GMing needs improvement.

That was a nice experience to actually question yourself about how you perform in each aspect of your game. Before finishing this tip, I asked Johnn to look for gaps in the index and he suggested some more sections.

Partially, these had been aspects of the game I never cared much about, or just got used to not caring about that much. I think I got by writing this, thinking about what Johnn was asking in his GM Interviews, the 10,000 Foot view of my GMing.

Maybe writing down in a few words, your own tools which you use for each aspect will grant you the same 10,000 foot view. It’s awesome, try it.

Da’ Vane: I had exactly the same experience when I was forced to write about my own GMing abilities in a way that added to this series.

I know from my academic studies that working with material makes you better at it, so you become more skilled using the tools you use the most, and the ones you neglect you find become harder and harder to use.

This is why revision is such an effective means for learning and preparing for exams. The act of writing about something forces you to process the information you are writing about, so the more you write about it, the more proficient you become at it.

Discussion works in the same way. Any means of actively engaging with the material helps you to learn more effectively, and learning is the key to becoming a skilled GM.

By reading other people’s tips on GMing, and then commenting on them in a way that is more than just saying “That’s a good idea,” you are learning to become a better GM, and heading towards becoming a true Games Master.

Someone who doesn’t take their power at the gaming table from a book, and feel bound by it, but from their own expertise and their own skills, because they know they still have the power to run a great game even if the books weren’t there.

Someone whom your players know they can trust to run a great game for them without hesitation, and whom they know will put themselves into the game, using their own skills and abilities, rather than just copying it from someone else.

Anybody can move a few miniatures around and roll a few dice for the bad guys. If you think this is not true, then you’ve not experienced many of the ways board games, card games and war games have been using these tactics to add spice to their games without a dedicated GM for years.

Look at how advanced various CRPGs have become in the past few years, from the likes of Baldur’s Gate all the way to modern classics like Oblivion. Yet, the advantages of having a GM are far beyond this, and consist of one thing that computers and dice will never be able to complete with – human experience.

The quest for artificial intelligence may march on, but nothing replaces actual intelligence on the far side of that GM’s screen.

I’ll leave you with a saying of mine which is applicable, and defines the whole point of learning, and the whole point of this series. “Experience is learning from our own actions. Intelligence is learning from the actions of others.”

About the Authors

Michael Beck considers himself a novice GM, but is encouraged in sharing his tips at www.spielleiten.wordpress.com (German language). Having played RPGs for roughly 10 years now, he accepts the challenge of living with his girl-friend, two cats, a non-finished PhD-thesis and two running roleplaying campaigns.

Da’ Vane, or Christina Freeman in the real world, is the owner of DVOID Systems, and the primary writer of their D-Jumpers series of products. With an academic background in science, especially socio-psychology, she is what many would regard as a “know-it-all.” However, the truth is that she doesn’t know everything about everything, but she knows a lot about a lot, especially about her passions which are games, stories, learning, and people. She is a consummate geek goddess, and yes, she is single if you feel like tracking her down and hitting on her some time….

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