What I Learned Writing How to Gamemaster

It’s ironic to write about what I learned writing How to Gamemaster. The entire project is a collection of things I’ve learned over the years. Every section of the book is filled with little epiphanies that I’ve had. Here are a few things that cemented themselves in my brain both during the creative process.

Good Advice Can Come From Anywhere

I count myself fortunate that I’ve been able to game with a wide range of people, both as a gamemaster and a player. There are players that have given me invaluable feedback. I have picked the brains of some brilliant gamemasters. When coupled with the fact that I’ve been able to play dozens of different games, from one-shots to years-long campaigns, I’ve been exposed to many styles. All of it has given me a lot to think about, and improved my own gamemastering style.

Some of the ideas come from my experience in the corporate world. I had to run meetings that had to start and end on time, communicate information, and allow people an opportunity to participate. It often required taking a bunch of strangers that didn’t know me or each other and getting them to cooperate and collaborate. That’s a game group in a nutshell, except the project is a game and the objective is to have fun.

All Styles are Valid

A point I try to emphasize in the book is that there is no one correct way to run a game. There are factors to consider. I could name my three favorite gamemasters, and my games don’t look anything like theirs. What they’re good at aren’t things that I’m good at. That’s okay. My games are fun, and that’s what matters.

Not all games should be run the same way, either. I got to play a variety of games with one gamemaster, and his style was completely different. He managed to incorporate the needs of each game. How he ran Savage Worlds was totally unique compared to how he ran D&D. That creativity was something I didn’t want to get lost in a how-to manual.

Some People Just Want to Be Mad

The precursor to How to Gamemaster was a booklet titled Game Group Management. When that book was announced I was met with remarks like “I don’t need a book to tell me how to play well with others.” Some argued that a game should just be freewheeling and organic, and any sort of structure ruined that. There are always people that assume that because it’s not something they need or want, it’s not anything that anyone would need or want.

I mentioned above that I pulled ideas from non-gaming sources like business management. This made some folks practically turn themselves inside-out with rage. It’s understandable that you work all week and don’t want certain things creeping into your free time. The notion that a game should be a free-for-all, and that people should just struggle until they figure things out, isn’t something I can get behind, though. I have to wonder if some gamemasters just want to be dictators, rather than collaborations that take what the players want into consideration.

How to Gamemaster drops on January 13th in all of the usual places.