So, when board threads congratulate other people on their new star-status, I'll often pop in and ask the celebrant for any advice he or she might have for other GMs. Following that policy, I'll indulge my arrogance and assume that the following advice might be of use to somebody else. So, here's my personal, quirky, GM 101 counsel.
Preamble: At the end of Gen-Con 2011, I was a 1-star GM who decided to take a year and serve the PFS community as best I could. Along the way, I've traveled to twenty conventions in the upper Midwest, met people and improved. My Big Three Suggestions: Be aware of why you're making decisions, learn from as many people as you can, and don't be afraid to be spectacular.
1) I've developed a certain habit / style. I try to engage the PCs in dialog during the VC briefing. I try to tailor some NPCs or encounters specifically to mesh with the storylines and careers of the PCs, giving them a chance to shine. I use poker chips to indicate damage done to NPCs. These are just some examples.
More importantly, I try to keep in mind the reasons I make decisions at a table. Why do I stay this far in character as this particular NPC, why do I add or change some fluff, why do I present information in this manner or another? (I write this, because there are some other GMs who make "good decisions" for bad reasons, who seem to be doing funny voices just for their own amusement, or altering details and tactics so as to continually adjust the difficulty of a scenario.)
I try to make decisions in light of three questions: "Does this action help the players immerse themselves in their characters during the adventure?" "Does this action make for a memorable adventure for these players?" and "Does this action advance the health of the PFS community?"
2) I need to play as many sessions of Pathfinder Society as I judge, under a lot of different GMs. As a player, I need to pay attention to the things they do -- Kyle Baird has great hand-outs, Bob Jonquet is very patient with his players, Ryan Bouldan is organized -- and also to the reactions of the other players at the table. I endeavor to steal the good things, while avoiding the things that don't work well.
In the last four months, I've been pushing to reach 150 tables by GenCon, so I've distorted that ratio. I'm looking forward to getting back into the habit of bringing a few PCs to conventions and learning what I can from your styles.
3) I shouldn't be afraid to be spectacular. If the playrs find a small chest with gold coins in it, can I find a prop for that? If an NPC painfully transforms into a were-ant, is there any way to convey that through my physicality? Can I show players a picture of the place they're going, or play quiet gypsy music in the background as they meet with a Sczarni caravan?
Central to this is preparation. I can't do anything cool if I'm just treading water and trying to survive a session. If 4 to 6 people are willing to sit at my table and let me guide them through a story about their precious PCs, then I need to treat that privilege with the respect of preparing the adventure as best I can.
Consonant with that is (a) attention to the GM threads about a scenario and a willingness to discuss the details with other GMs, and (b) a strong preference to re-run the same adventures repeatedly. The first time I run a scenario, it's always a little rocky. After the fifth time, I'm much more confident.
Magician Al Goshman famously said "A professional is someone who's always performing the same act for new people. An amateur is somebody who's always performing new material for the same people."
Thanks, all for your kind words. Here's to the next 150. Maybe not all of them between now and next GenCon.
John, what's your advice?