The other day I responded to a comment on a previous article, Let the Fun Happen, regarding the reader’s fear of running out of good ideas and inspiration while running games, especially while running games on the fly. That got me thinking about my own style of GMing and how it’s changed and evolved over the years and how I approach keeping my own personal well of creativity from drying up. Here are a few things I’ve learned and adapted over the years that help me bring the AWESOME to the table.
Awesome Begets More Awesome
I used to have the habit of holding onto cool ideas for use at the “right time” in the campaign. I can’t count how many times these ideas ended up never manifesting at the table. Part of me worried that if I used up the awesome when would the next awesome come around? What if my “awesome well” dries up? What I’ve discovered however, is that the well only dries up if you don’t use it. Moreover, the more awesome you draw from the well the more awesome the well contains.
Never hesitate to use your best ideas. Every day, every session, every encounter, put your best ideas out there. Your best stuff resonates with your players and returns to you amplified, feeding your own creativity and energy and refilling your well. Constantly putting out your best work inspires and motivates. You will discover that instead of drying up, your awesome will evolve and expand. Awesome begets more awesome!
Let Them Pick the Train
We’re all familiar with the concept of railroading players and the majority of good GM’s try to avoid it. I used to take a lot of time crafting plots and story arcs and then spending way to much time at the table trying to get the players “on track” with these plotlines. I’ve come to realize that the energy I was wasting on getting the players on my train could be better spent on making their train interesting and exciting. Let’s face it, your players are going somewhere, let them decide where. You don’t need to have any idea where they are going, just focus on making the trip interesting and you’re going to deliver the awesome!
Give Them Options
I throw out tons of potential plot hooks and let the players decide what is important or relevant. When characters interact with travelers, come to a new town, or research local happenings, I mention lots of things that could be cool. There’s a crumbling tower at the edge of town people avoid; the Mayweather twins have been missing for a few weeks; some other adventurers just arrived in the village; a famous battle with a demonic knight occurred nearby, etc. I have no idea if any of these elements are connected, where they lead, or what they mean; but I don’t care. Throw stuff out and see what the players pick up. The important thing I’ve learned about being the GM is that I don’t have to have all the answers, I only need to have the next answer and half the time my players provide that for me. Throw things out and see what awesome sticks!
Don’t Hold Back
I sometimes worry about letting some crazy idea or concept spin the campaign “out of control” and somehow ruining everything. Looking back at previous campaigns I see points where I let things go crazy, and you know what? These ended up being some of the most exciting and memorable campaigns ever; the campaigns my players continue to talk about years later. Even for me they were exhilarating, I never knew what to expect and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t terrified some nights about what I was going to do.
Ultimately I don’t worry about what to do anymore. I turn to the players; I look at what’s holding their interests, I listen to their questions, and I pay attention to their own creativity. Then I take all of these ingredients and blend them into their journey. I don’t try to tell interesting stories, I just make the players’ stories more interesting! Instead of trying to control or direct things I just take a deep breath, sit down at the table, and unleashed the awesome!
Being a gamemaster is a lot of work, they call in running a game for a reason. Becoming a great GM is a lot like finding love or happiness, you can’t force it, you can’t make it happen, and the harder you look the more difficult it is to find. But if you relax and let the game happen, without trying to force or manipulate it, you’ll discover that it’s a lot easier than you think to constantly bring out the awesome.