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What makes a good GM


Pathfinder Society® General Discussion

Qadira *****

1 person marked this as a favorite.

I want an honest opinion, what, to you, makes someone a good GM within the society world (if we need to be specific)

Grand Lodge **** Venture-Captain, Netherlands—Leiden

Thea Peters wrote:
I want an honest opinion, what, to you, makes someone a good GM?

Do you mean, what makes a good Pathfinder Society Organized Play DM?

If not, you posted in the wrong subforum! ;-)

Qadira *****

Auke Teeninga wrote:
Thea Peters wrote:
I want an honest opinion, what, to you, makes someone a good GM?

Do you mean, what makes a good Pathfinder Society Organized Play DM?

If not, you posted in the wrong subforum! ;-)

You must have posted at the same time I was editing lol.

Shadow Lodge **

Thea Peters wrote:
I want an honest opinion, what, to you, makes someone a good GM within the society world (if we need to be specific)

A good GM understands the scenario and the faction mission of each PC, and its implications throughout the game. (The first part is obvious, the second is frequently overlooked)

I've seen games where a player asks the GM 'what does this mean?' referring to a part of their faction handout and the GM just shrugs.

Grand Lodge *

A good DM understands that they play a critical irreplaceable role in the game experience and steps up to it. They should have read any preplanned materials and understood them, and then THOUGHT about how characters may want to deviate from or be better motivated within the scope of the story and done the same with the NPCs. While memorising the AP is beyond the call, half arsing it just doesnt cut it unless your players have that same expectation and will be doing the same too.

They should understand that they are there to have fun and to help the others at the table have fun. They should be aware of the rules (as much as possible) but no so hung up on them that they allow the play experience to stall or pall from a lack of experience or willingness to hand wave/let things pass ("...for this session only fellas until we get this down pat") if it will keep the flow going.

A good DM listens to their players, frequently, about what they are enjoying and not enjoying and WITHIN the frame work of the story, and works to help them with that and helps them find their time in the spotlight. If need be a good DM should also know when to draw the line and take the relevant players to one side if things get out of hand, away from the emotion of the table and try to find balance.

*

Helaman wrote:
...They should have read any preplanned materials and understood them, and then THOUGHT about how characters may want to deviate from or be better motivated within the scope of the story and done the same with the NPCs...

I agree to the intent of this statement, but find it hard to allow players "off the rails" as this is not a home game. However, I do believe that allowing leeway/tit for tat to happen. i.e. in a recnt game I GM'd the players were all spellcasters but one and had spent all of their spells and mundane items on some hard swarms. I allowed them to head back to town to replenish, rest and spend gold on a Teleport spell. They got what they wanted and I think, the urgency was met by having them spend gold on a Teleport.

Helaman wrote:
They should understand that they are there to have fun and to help the others at the table have fun. They should be aware of the rules (as much as possible) but no so hung up on them that they allow the play experience to stall or pall from a lack of experience or willingness to hand wave/let things pass ("...for this session only fellas until we get this down pat") if it will keep the flow going.

I totally agree with these statements and as a newbie DM(still learning all of the intricacies and pigeon holing them in my mind) I am glad that many players help me with the rules as I stumble thru the harder ones. I also think due to the majority of players knowing the rules, it is a great place to learn how to be a DM. As most players in Organized Play are vocal and let you know when you are messing up and what you could do to be better(totally opposite of a home game I am learning).

Here are some of my thoughts:

1) Willingness to explain to newer players the lethality of some actions and scenarios.
2) Be up front on their style of play. I understand that PFS is by the book Pathfinder, but some DM's it seems are out to TPK and play creatures above their Int/Wis.
3) Like others know the module and prep by thinking ahead. By this I mean some scenarios leave out some details players ask about like, "How high is that building? What would the Jump DC be to make it from A to B? How high is the ceiling?"
4) Make it fun for all players. Some scenarios were designed that completely relegate a whole class to baggage handler. So I would like to know this and possibly switch out my character.

Cheliax

NeoFax wrote:


I totally agree with these statements and as a newbie DM(still learning all of the intricacies and pigeon holing them in my mind) I am glad that many players help me with the rules as I stumble thru the harder ones. I also think due to the majority of players knowing the rules, it is a great place to learn how to be a DM. As most players in Organized Play are vocal and let you know when you are messing up and what you could do to be better(totally opposite of a home game I am learning).

Not to derail the thread, but I've found this too. Players can be mighty helpful to a GM.


If you are too timid to do something about someone breaking the "no bullying" rule or are so anal about the rules that you ignore the "rewarding creative solutions" of the Guide, then please do not be a GM in the Society. If other words, if you want to be a good GM, you need to be able to control your table and you have to be flexible, because people will surprise you.

Cheliax ***** Venture-Captain, Missouri—Columbia aka kikai13

I have found the best Pathfinder Society GMs are the ones who know the scenario well, keep control of the table without being a tyrant, roll all dice in the open, and, above all, have FUN!

I strive to meet these criteria every time I run a game. If nobody is having fun, what's the point in playing?

Qadira ***** Venture-Captain, England—Cambridge aka Wintergreen

I'd say that the number one thing is that the GM is willing to go with the flow from the players. You have to be able to keep control when the players go off in an unexpected direction or use surprise tactics so as to make sure that everybody (including you) is having fun.

Sczarni **

Pathfinder Companion Subscriber

One note on surprising the GM. I have ran two games (not society games) where a main villain tried to talk to the party and they were interrupted. The first time, the PCs threw their weapons at him. Funny enough, with the penalties, the two weapons that were not meant to be thrown hit. They then beat his initiative roll and the fight ended within a round.

The second time, the baddie was smart and was perfectly safe from harm. Because it was not known exactly who they were, when he started to monologue, the party rogue help up his hand and in character asked, "Excuse me, are you a man or a woman?!" The game came to a halt from all the laughing. But as I tried to (in character) bring things under control, he kept hassling the guy but what sex he was. I then told him his character had a silence spell on him, at which the player proceeded to hassle me. Needless to say, the game ended there.

I also have a brother who, last time he played at all, would have his character do things in battle like sit on the ground and eat his lunch, or attempt to kill NPCs that were peaceful.

These are just a few examples of unexpected happenings from the hundreds of games I have been involved with. Its going to happen to everyone sometime.

My point: What makes a good DM?
Experience and desire to be a good DM.

Grand Lodge ***

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
kikai13 wrote:
... roll all dice in the open,...

I agree with all of your points, but I don't know that this is always the case.

I vary my dice-rolling dependent on the group. With an experienced, both in-game and out, group I will roll openly. However, I will sometimes roll behind the screen with a group that includes new players, just to avoid killing their characters in their first PFS experience.


Scribbling Rambler wrote:
kikai13 wrote:
... roll all dice in the open,...

I agree with all of your points, but I don't know that this is always the case.

I vary my dice-rolling dependent on the group. With an experienced, both in-game and out, group I will roll openly. However, I will sometimes roll behind the screen with a group that includes new players, just to avoid killing their characters in their first PFS experience.

I just have to add to this that in my almost 30 years of gaming experience I have never been a part of a group where the DM/GM/Storyteller/etc rolled their dice in the open. I can also say that I have never been a part of a group where the person running the game was the type that liked to kill PCs or felt they "won" when the PCs failed, so I have never been in a situation where I would question or doubt their rolls nor ever had my rolls doubted when running a game.

Grand Lodge **

Enevhar Aldarion wrote:
I just have to add to this that in my almost 30 years of gaming experience I have never been a part of a group where the DM/GM/Storyteller/etc rolled their dice in the open. I can also say that I have never been a part of a group where the person running the game was the type that liked to kill PCs or felt they "won" when the PCs failed, so I have never been in a situation where I would question or doubt their rolls nor ever had my rolls doubted when running a game.

I have recently started doing all my rolls in the open*. I love it. I think it also adds to the players excitement as they await the result which they can see with their own eyes. I also feel like it takes off the edge on any preconceived notions of Player vs. GM conflict. The dice land where chaos intended them to land.

In a recent game I had a saving throw for an NPC land skewed between the crack of 2 tables, but it kinda looked like a flat '5' result. I asked the players if they though this roll should be rerolled, knowing that any player in the same situation would have rerolled the result without question. The second results was perfect, flat 5. But there was no question about the result.

If the same had happened behind the screen, players could have assumed that I was rerolling because I didn't like the first result. Of course there is no reason I have ever given my players to think such a thing, but 3 players at the table had just met me a hour before. We don't have that kind of history and perception is what it's all about.

* - Except for the ZOMG obviously secret opposed checks.

Qadira ***** Venture-Lieutenant, Michigan—Detroit

I never saw dice rolled in the open until I joined the RPGA. It was a standard practice at the scores of conventions I went to across the US and Canada. I never asked why, but I believe it is because of the lack of trust between GMs and players. I have spent thousands of dollars on hotels and travel to work my LG characters up in levels. I got burned enough by GMs running the wrong APL or gunning for PC kills. I am fine if my friends want to roll behind a screen, but unless I know who you are I like to see the dice out in the open. As a GM if the players roll out in the open, why should I be any different? They will metagame either way, and it keeps everyone honest. I actually get annoyed if players use small dice or keep their rolls obscured from sight.

Grand Lodge ***

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Typically, I roll in secret for my home games and in the open for PFS, but I occasionally slip.

And as I said above, there are tables where I may treat things differently.

I remember getting a group at GenCon '09 where the party had been TPK'd the session before (Shipyard Rats), and the entire group showed up extremely discouraged for my Tide of Morning session with their new 1st-level PC's. I was not going to TPK that group again in what can be a frustrating adventure, so I rolled secretly. I did roll high enough to kill at least 2 characters early on in the session.

I guess that I think that open dice-rolls, like most other things, are an example where a good GM should use their situational judgement.

Grand Lodge **

Doug Miles wrote:
I actually get annoyed if players use small dice or keep their rolls obscured from sight.

Game Masters should be theoretically impartial to any dice rolls, players however have a vested interest in positive results. If you are sitting on the far side of the room from me and rolling 18+ results for everything all the time....there's probably an issue :)

***** Venture-Lieutenant, Arizona—Tucson aka Sir_Wulf

What makes a good GM, in the Society or elsewhere?

1) He's prepared. He knows the materials well enough to extrapolate from them when the unexpected occurs, he bookmarks the Bestiary entries he will need, looks up unfamiliar spells before the game, and predraws maps when he can to prevent delays.

2.) He's dynamic. He's enthusiastic about the material he's running and conveys his enthusiasm to those around him. He tries to get some rest before he has to run a game, stays hydrated, and tries to maintain some balance in his diet while at conventions.

3.) He plays with integrity. Players get what they came for at his table. He doesn't adjust things to balance the game's challenges without checking first that the players desire such alterations. Any necessary changes to the adventure are made judiciously. If he makes a bad rules call, he tries to make things right later.

The ideal GM doesn't fudge die rolls to keep PCs alive (perhaps making exceptions for children or brand new players). He doesn't fudge things to keep adversaries alive, either: Sometimes players enjoy "pwning" a tough foe.

4.) He pays attention to his players and encourages creative play. Every player gets a chance to contribute in some way and the wallflowers aren't lost in the shadow of more active players. Players aren't worried that they'll lose out on treasure and experience if they roleplay well, because the GM uses his discretion to adjust the scenario accordingly.

5.) He holds the reins steadily, but gently. He quietly discourages disruptive play or digressions from the main adventure without crushing all frivolity or hijinks.

His players know if they disagree with a rule decision, they can raise their concerns during play. It doesn't hurt anyone for a player to look up a rule while the next player takes his turn; if a mistake was made, a quick "retcon" settles things. On the other hand, rules lawyers and munchkins are discouraged from hijacking the adventure.

6.) He has a sense of "story" and occasionally nudges things to help the players understand what's going on. A few subtle hints, a well- timed skill roll, and a scrap of parchment in a villain's pouch all add up together to make a bunch of random encounters coalesce into a sensible adventure.

Qadira ***** Venture-Lieutenant, Michigan—Detroit

Thanks for getting us back on topic, Sir Wulf.


+1 to everything that Sir Wulf said!

Grand Lodge ***

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
hogarth wrote:
+1 to everything that Sir Wulf said!

Sir Wulf was the GM in the first PFS scenario I played, and did all of the above.

*****

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
Mark Garringer wrote:
Doug Miles wrote:
I actually get annoyed if players use small dice or keep their rolls obscured from sight.
Game Masters should be theoretically impartial to any dice rolls, players however have a vested interest in positive results. If you are sitting on the far side of the room from me and rolling 18+ results for everything all the time....there's probably an issue :)

In part of my pre-game introduction, I explain that part of my expectation is that the players roll openly (as I will be doing the same). I also tell the players to just figure in things like power attack or combat expertise w/o the need to declare it (as a show of trust). Then I usually joke about how if they want to cheat, I can do it better. ;-)

Paizo Employee ***** Global Organized Play Coordinator

1 person marked this as a favorite.

As a GM, I make sure to bring a yard stick with me. Not only can I scope dice like I am at a craps table, but I can swat players on the hand for picking up their roll too quickly, push minis around the table like I am Patton, and pat a player on the head softly for a job well done :)


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Roleplaying Game Subscriber
Sir_Wulf wrote:
His players know if they disagree with a rule decision, they can raise their concerns during play. It doesn't hurt anyone for a player to look up a rule while the next player takes his turn; if a mistake was made, a quick "retcon" settles things. On the other hand, rules lawyers and munchkins are discouraged from hijacking the adventure.

+1!

Agreed! I've played where adjustments were made after the game, but if not done honestly, a GM will ruin his game. A recent 'gm' insisted on post game 'retcon', but refused in practice. That, combined with heavy handed favoritism for his pet monsters, ruined the game.


Thea Peters wrote:
I want an honest opinion, what, to you, makes someone a good GM within the society world (if we need to be specific)

For PFS games (and these are not in order of importance) a good judge should:

1) Study the mod, and create ways to draw in characters. This may require creative random npc creation for when players ask questions at the tavern etc. Many mods are broad, that they require the judge to fill in and direct players as needed. Also, be prepared to allow alternative methods to solving PA quests. For example, if it requires a DC 30 diplomacy roll, allow the characters to use bluff, intimidate, bribery, and other creative methods to solve the quest. In addition, if the mod doesn't have it written, develop consequences for failure that are reasonable and hopefully entertaining and funny.

2) Randomly roll for the players perception, stealth, and knowledge skills in secret. Allow them some rolls, but keep some for self.

3) When a player successfully uses their perception, and knowledge skills take them aside and explain to them what they learned and allow them to share it with the group in their own words.

4) Table control. PFS games may have up to six players at the table and this can get confusing. Some players may dominate the conversation and others may be left out. Develop a system where each player tells you what they plan to do. Allow for discussion, but limit the length. Say things like "20 seconds and I will proceed with what you have stated" etc. I like to go around the table and have people tell me what they want to do, one at a time and within 20 seconds.

**

Mark Garringer wrote:
Enevhar Aldarion wrote:
I just have to add to this that in my almost 30 years of gaming experience I have never been a part of a group where the DM/GM/Storyteller/etc rolled their dice in the open. I can also say that I have never been a part of a group where the person running the game was the type that liked to kill PCs or felt they "won" when the PCs failed, so I have never been in a situation where I would question or doubt their rolls nor ever had my rolls doubted when running a game.

I have recently started doing all my rolls in the open*. I love it. I think it also adds to the players excitement as they await the result which they can see with their own eyes. I also feel like it takes off the edge on any preconceived notions of Player vs. GM conflict. The dice land where chaos intended them to land.

Cool Mark! Looks like my GM habits are rubbing off onto you 8-)...

I figure that PC's would know about how skilled their combatants are - and so, with the players being able to see what I roll for attacks, and whether they hit or not, they are (like their PCs), able to gauge the relative skill of their adversary. Then they can see which of their opponents are truly the dangerous ones (again, something an experienced warrior would be able to tell within a few moments of combat).

Andoran *****

Full color drawn out maps for the mods :) And target sites for wolf animal companions

Mike

Grand Lodge *****

Pathfinder Comics Subscriber; Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
Thea Peters wrote:
I want an honest opinion, what, to you, makes someone a good GM within the society world (if we need to be specific)

I believe my answer transcends any single system and applies to the hobby in a general sense.

A GM should be a good judge of character and play styles.
A GM should be neutral and fair when making decisions.
A GM should think fast on his/her feet.
A GM should have fun while creating the same for his/her players.

These are the strong foundation blocks I've grow upon.

Cheliax ****

Wow! Great thread. I'm always striving to be a better GM, this is great help for sure.( I'm still pretty new. ) Most players would be lucky to have anyone from these posts GM for them.

Andoran *****

1 person marked this as a favorite.
Pathfinder Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Campaign Setting, Cards, Companion, Maps, Modules, Roleplaying Game Subscriber

Nice Necro!!!!

Mostly because it brought this back... ;)

I would like to see some Martial Punishment from Mike with the VCs... ;)

Michael Brock wrote:
As a GM, I make sure to bring a yard stick with me. Not only can I scope dice like I am at a craps table, but I can swat players on the hand for picking up their roll too quickly, push minis around the table like I am Patton, and pat a player on the head softly for a job well done :)

Shadow Lodge ***** Venture-Captain, Washington—Eastern Washington aka WalterGM

Kyle Baird wrote:


In part of my pre-game introduction, I explain that part of my expectation is that the players roll openly (as I will be doing the same). I also tell the players to just figure in things like power attack or combat expertise w/o the need to declare it (as a show of trust). Then I usually joke about how if they want to cheat, I can do it better. ;-)

Because of a problem player we had a while back, I had myself and the other GMs start their tables with a similar announcement about the openness of dice rolls. Glad to see it's more popular than I thought.

Silver Crusade **

Michael Brock wrote:
As a GM, I make sure to bring a yard stick with me. Not only can I scope dice like I am at a craps table, but I can swat players on the hand for picking up their roll too quickly, push minis around the table like I am Patton, and pat a player on the head softly for a job well done :)

And smack unrepentant saints fans....

Not that I'm one of them....

<_<
>_>


Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Great thread! I'm still pretty new to the GM'ing part and the table we have has a player who is very much a rules lawyer and I am trying to figure out how to speed up the game without being too tyranty.

I especially liked the comment about if there's a bad rules call the GM tries to make up for it later. I had a player who I totally nerfed on a call, and later I conveniently "forgot" to roll half the damage dice on a disintegrate that would have killed him.

Andoran ****

Be able to translate his or her love of PFS to new players, that makes not a good GM, but a great one!

** Venture-Lieutenant, California—Los Angeles (Santa Clarita) aka Lava Child

After Gamex this year, my wife and I got to talking about GMing. A lot of people at the con had this view: There are two parts, roughly to GMing:

1. Storytelling. Is the game interesting? Do cool things happen in combat? Are the discriptions vivid, NPCs interesting, the desires of players to go off and do something brief or talk to someone not specifically in the scenario are met. Instead of "make a diplomacy check to gather information. .. "Okay. You find out that these things are Yeti. "Okay. As you stroll along the riverside boardwalk of Goku, you stop to have a spiced skewer of chicken and talk with a lovely young Tian woman. She is from the mountains and describes the terrible white furred creatures as demons. An old man from Taldor interrupts her in accentless common, "No, no! the locals here are all superstitious. I believe these creatures are the anthropoid apes known as Yeti. The waitress gives him a withering look."

2. Rules knowledge: Do you know enough to run the encounters? How quick are you? (I love combat manager for this) Do you understand enough about the various classes and their abilities to deal well with characters of all types? Are you willing to say: "I don't know this rule/class/feat well enough, explain it to me." In combat, when there is a rules question, can you say "Run it this way for this round, and find the rule before your next turn." Do you remember that the job of the encounters are to be hard, but not impossible, but that fudging is to be avoided?

Some unspoken rules/controversies:
Familiars - NPC or under total control of the player? Tread carefully!
Don't Coup-de-grace PCs if the fight is still going on (very rude!)
Take it easy on new players- don't fudge, but you can do other things to make life easier for them.

Shadow Lodge ***

Storytelling: Being able to tell a good story and make it interesting. Also, a willingness to play off players. Good example, my character (w/Profession: BBQ Chef) offered a free meal coupon to his resturaunt to a tramatized halfling for information. GM came up with 'but I'm a vegitarian' off the top of her head.

Rewarding Creativity--most of the timeBasically. It's okay to be a rules lawyer. But don't be a rules nazi. If someone comes up with a unique solution, usually let it have a reasonable chance of working.

Know the mod Self explainitory.

Table Control Make sure all players get a word in edgewise. Be fair and keep one player from dominating the table.

*

3 people marked this as a favorite.

1) Preparation: Preparation is the key for a lot of reasons.

Reasons include:
- You want to do the best job you can possibly do, not do it 1/2 a**ed. This is so the players enjoy themselves more.
- You don't want to make mistakes which will drastically change the power level of the scenario. This is common.
- You don't want to forget "cool" parts of the scenario, or little fun (cosmetic) details you wanted to add.
- You want to be completely prepared so that you can focus on roleplaying NPCs well, and be interactive with the players.
- You don't want to forget loot.
- You don't want to forget major monster abilities (like Power Attack, which is common).
- You want to run complex traps/encounters/events correctly.
- You don't want to make your players wait if possible.
- You don't want to pause during combat to read the stuff you should have already made notes on.
- You don't want to take 2-5 minute breaks every 30 minutes because you didn't draw maps or make notes.

All that stuff takes time away from the fun stuff, roleplaying.

2) Storytelling: This is tied to #1 and #3. You have to get the story of the scenario straight in your head first before you can tell the PCs about it. Imagine how it might be played out or how it might be really cool if you were playing it. Basically you're filling in the minor details that the scenario couldn't possibly do.

3) Je Ne Sais Quoi: Some people are just more charming than others. Having said that, it's subjective, a guy that I might find funny, you might find annoying. This is something you can't teach though, so you should just forget I said anything...

4) Having a sense of humor (being good natured): Some people take themselves and the game too seriously. Being able to laugh is underrated.

5) Improvise: Being able to improvise is useful, but I find that's often tied to #1. If I'm prepared, I've thought of most possibilities already.

6) Voices/Roleplaying: Not a lot of GMs use voices and roleplay, but the ones that do I really appreciate it. I change my voice for NPCs as much as possible. Get into the game basically, whatever that means. Props are hilarious as well. If your GM dresses as a pirate during a pirate session, of course you're going to be more into it.

7) Handouts: I love handouts. When used properly, they add another dimension to the game and it's a great way to disseminate a lot of complex information very quickly.

If I was GMing at a big convention, I'd make a handout with the mission briefing and relevant names on it. Sometimes it's just hard to hear the GM, people are reading faction missions, or people come late, so it's useful imo. It's better to ask the players where they're going, than to just lead them everywhere by default. That brings them into the game.

8) Maps: I like using flip-maps. They look awesome, it's fast to whip out (get your head out of the gutter), and players appreciate them.

Second best are hand drawn maps, they're still really clean and contain all of the details you need. Third best are photocopies of the game maps, but these aren't as ideal since most places don't print the image cleanly in black and white. My least preferred mapping method is hand drawing maps during the game with a sharpee marker, yet it's the most common.

9) Don't "tunnel": I've seen a few times where the GM seems to focus on one player almost exclusively, to the point where the other players can't hear what's going on. It's like a 1v1 game, lol. Every player should get their chance at the table and be heard, especially the "mice" players. Let players speak for themselves, don't let other players speak for them.

10) The Basics: Things you would expect out of normal human beings.
- Being friendly (or at least not being a jerk)
- Being a good host (Ex. introducing yourself, making sure everyone is comfortable, offering water at least)
- Not using house rules in PFS

Other good posts on the subject
My Thoughts on Preparing a Scenario
Basically prepare prepare prepare.

Painlord's How to be a better judge
Lots of good advice.

Painlord's How to be a better player
You gotta be a good player before you can be a good GM imo.

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