Changing How You Game Master

An introspective episode on how Sean wants to become a better game master. Maybe you’ve considered making a change.

  • What would lead you to change how you game master?
  • What things do you want to eliminate from your style?
  • What aspects would you want to start incorporating more into your role-playing games?
  • Do you have a plan on implementing your changes?


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Random Encounter

Edwin on GM’ing on the fly

I enjoyed the episode about running on the fly, or flying on the run, perhaps, even if it had, I think, some heavy overlap from an older episode that probably had a different title.  Either that or I’m experiencing time travel.  Related to running on the fly, I’d like to give a shout out to a book I had nothing to do with.  I’ve been reading through Nord Games’ “Spectacular Settlements”, and it is great.  There are procedures for making various types of settlements (village, trading post, city, capital, keep) and for each there is a collection of briefly described settlements made by an army of creative writers.  Creative back stories, solid maps, and wonderful art.  I have several books that I use as tools for prepping, and I look forward to using this one in my next creative campaign.  Good job Nord!  On a related note, it sounds like one conclusion we might distill from the episode which might remove a bit of the fear factor is that it’s all a continuum.  We’re always running a prepared game, it’s just that the level and timing of the prep varies from almost none/during a bathroom break to super detailed/way ahead of time.  As we GM more and more, each of us finds our sweet spot on that continuum where we balance nerves, forgetfulness, adrenaline, availability of props/minis/handouts, etc.  When I’m running, I like to mix it up.  Sometimes, carefully prepping a set piece can make for a kick ass evening.  Sometimes improvisation-alizing from a framework can add zest to the story.



Tom comments on GM’ing on the fly

By nature, I’m an over-prepper. Sometimes I’ll take an existing scenario and heavily modify it to fit in my campaign. To me, it feels deep with a lot of detail I might not have thought to add. But then I find myself having to pause to reference my notes or reference material and that can break the flow of the game…or the group will go in an entirely different direction. But sometimes I find myself not really prepared for the game and I ad-lib the session. Almost without exception, these are the more popular sessions. Plus, I don’t have to pause or look anything up…just jot down notes as I go for future reference.

Trying to learn from this, I now do minimal prep…mainly to keep in mind what the various factions not related to the group will be doing. Then I run mostly off-the-cuff. I admit I find it easier and more enjoyable and my group seems to enjoy it as well.

Gabe comments on GM’ing on the fly

I currently run for two games: old school D&D (Swords & Wizardry) and Conan 2d20.

For S&W I do a lot of prep: multi-level dungeons, city and town descriptions (sometimes maps), some names of prominent NPCs, brief descriptions of what might be in an overland 5-mile band, some notes concerning what various factions are up to. But chances are you’re still going to be Gaming on the Fly. PCs notoriously do not go into the dungeon (but it’s there, breathing and attentive for whenever the PCs finally want an adventure). They might decide to travel to a town for which you have nothing prepared. They might do absolutely nothing but make plans and have meetings with the local NPCs (my players tend to do this last one a lot. It’s their way of avoiding putting their characters into danger).

My point here is that something is prepared, even if it doesn’t necessarily see use during a particular session. For old school D&D, I disrespect the “Quantum Ogre.” For me, narrative choices matter: there absolutely should be a difference between going down Passage A vs Passage B. Something else to note is that this mode of play is very dependent on player activity. This is why my favored *master term for this mode of play is Referee. The focus of play is on player agency. If an “adventure” isn’t happening, well… “You did all see the broadside advertising for the Tomb of Horrors, right? Well, are you going to go there?”

For Conan 2d20, in contrast, I tend to select a pre-1950s Weird Tale for inspiration, use that for the story situation, stat out some NPCs, then throw the PCs into it. That kind of game is also reliant on PC activity, but my GMing is much more reactive to emerging narrative. Most notably, I don’t bother mapping what I may presume are going to be key locations. Conan 2d20 is almost a super-crunchy Story Game. “Dungeons” can organically assume the proportions of narrative need, not simulationist exploration. In short, the Quantum Ogre is welcome here (in exchange for my GM resource of Doom).

Now, were I to run S&W “on the fly,” with absolutely no prep… That’s why I have a binder of old standards, some mini-dungeons. I’m late to the old school scene, so my standards aren’t the usual suspects, I’m sure. Three are Creation’s Edge’s “The Cursed Fountain,” Jeffrey Talanian’s “Rats in the Walls,” and Matt Finch’s “Tomb of the Iron God.”

For Conan 2d20 I’d rely on memory. A really good scenario has been based on Clark Ashton Smith’s “The Charnel God.” But I can see spontaneously creating from whole cloth. Conan characters are built bristling with plot hooks. It would be easy enough to look over the characters, drop them into something, then observe what happens.

I expect different games require different degrees of “preparedness.” For my two favorites, whether maps are important or not seems to be the chief consideration. I expect it would be fun sometime, as an experiment, to burble something out of an online random dungeon generator and just run it!

Matt V. with a correction for us

Hey guys. I made a mistake. It’s 30 dollars per person, at 7 people per table. So a full game is $210, but as I said, he offers a lot of discounts if you pay for a full month or the campaign in advance. Sorry about that mistake, guess I should proof read.

Kyle on easy wins

Your “Easy Wins” ep was, as the kids say today some real #relatablecontent . Ever since the ranger in my game discovered the sharpshooter feat and started dishing out up to 50 hp damage a round from 200 feet away, everything I throw at them seems like an “easy win”. 

I like that the conversation veered into mooks, as mooks are some of my fave monsters. I think mooks are worthy of an entire episodes. 

In fact mooks have been my go to method for complicating those potential “easy wins”. You can really drive a high level party crazy with very humble monsters.

My current jam: using mooks to screw up players’ long and short rests.

I had an 8th level party get on Yeenoghu’s bad side, so he set a powerful warlock, a Shoosuva demon, and a pack of Jackalwere’s on them.

After focusing on the demon and the warlock and sending them off, they thought they were in the clear and went on their way. That night when they went to sleep, i had a pack of Jackalweres stampede through their camp every hour or so. Eventually, the jackalweres set the forest on fire near the camp. Soon, a party of heroes was runnig for their lives from a forest fire without rest, low in spell slots, with jackals pacing them in the woods out of reach and out of sight, but close enough to mock them with their constant howling and barking.

Even worse, one of the party is a druid, fleeing the fire the party ran into some gnomes rushing the opposite way to go put out the forest fire. The pc was subsequently Druidshamed into going back to fight the fire even though he jas depleted his spell slots and has nothing prepared to fight a fire. Guess who is going to show up at the fire?

A replenished Warlock, Demon and their jackal doggo pack. All with the party unrested and low on spellpower😂

Another thing to think about with “easy wins” is the perception of your players. I ran a West End Star Wars game for close to a year. That whole time no one in the party was ever anywhere near in jeopardy of dying. Most combat encounters ended without stormtroopers or others getting a shot off. I was often concerned players would get bores. However, with the non hit point based injury system, my players seemed to have no idea how easily they were skating by. At the first sight of a stormtrooper patrol the Jedi would turn into Hudson from “Aliens”: “GAME OVER MAN! WE’RE SCREWED!” You can imagine what it was like when I dropped Vader on them.

The point I’m rambling too… GMs need to keep in mind the perception of peril is just as dramatic as actual peril, and your players often don’t know the difference. Thanks again for a great resource. I would love to hear a mook episode.

Die Roll

  • The Bus to H*ck, game by Jim Fitzpatrick. Get it on Google Drive a card and roleplaying game about a bunch of shady characters on the way to the afterlife. Jim is looking for feedback
  • Role vtt kickstarter complete, early access coming.
  • Same Page Tool This tool does not help you find a common ground if you do not have it – it helps you clarify exactly what you will be playing.

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About the Author
The 'S' of Gaming and BS podcast. Besides producing and hosting the show, Sean enjoys long walks on the beach, running rpg's, and killing player...characters.