Acting as the Game Master (GM) is a craft and a skill, and it is honed through years of practice. This article is filled with the wisdom I have gained from GMing hundreds of Games of The Contract in the past decade.
The GM's primary goal is to ensure that the Players have fun. This can be "type-2" fun filled with difficult problem solving, tense moments, brutal obstacles, and anguish at a Character's well-earned death, but it should leave the Players wanting to come back for more. Roleplaying tastes aside, if your Players are bored, frustrated, or feel cheated, you are not being a good GM.
The GM's responsibilities are:
- Establish each scene and situation and enable outside-the-box problem solving
- Breathe life into the world and NPCs
- Be an impartial referee and rules resource
- Manage the flow of the story so it is interesting and engaging
The GM is God. Be a fair one.
Just as Players should strive to play their Characters true and not use out of character knowledge, so too should the GM strive to be an impartial Referee of the events that transpire during the game.
Even in the age of information with access to the internet, situations will still arise where there is a "correct" call to make about a way a situation would play out, but no one really knows what it is.
- What are the local laws regarding the transportation of firearms?
- Would this medicine work to cure a given symptom or disease?
- What is the proper military procedure given this situation?
- What sort of security systems do private companies or the government have in place?
Sometimes no one present knows the answer, and then it's time to make a call. Players can try to convince the GM one or or another, but unless someone has specific information that answers the given debate directly, the GM's call stands. Even if the call is later found to be non-factual, the call made at the time stands.
If there is a dispute over a GM's call, other players can raise their disputes for consideration, but in the end the GM's call stands. If a Player is still pissed after the Game ends, they can call a vote to Void the Game (which rarely happens).
Being a Rules Resource
Due to the fact that GMs often have the final say as to what happens during a game, they often act as the interpreter of the systems and rules in place. If you are ever in doubt, feel free to ask for opinions from your players, especially more experienced ones. Breaking system rules, especially major ones, and especially when character lives are on the line, can invite a void of your game. Generally, though, if people don't complain, they must forever hold their peace.
A large part of the moment-to-moment skills involved in being a GM are just general storytelling skills. Managing stakes, the perceptions of the players, describing settings and characters, and pacing are central skills. It's difficult to master these skills or write about them. Look for them in the narration of stories you read, and make a note when another storyteller says something dramatic.
A more concrete storytelling skill is keeping an awareness of all the details that can affect play. How does that character draw their gun when they were just wearing a poncho to get out of the rain? Are they used to driving on the side of the road where they currently are? etc.
These other tips / tricks can kick your GM game up to the next level. Seriously, try them out!
- Do the voices. Even if you perform them poorly, people love to hear the NPCs speaking. Worst-case scenario, all the players can have a laugh at your bad Irish accent (however, do try to avoid offensive stereotypes).
- If Players do not describe the manner in which they attack, describe what happens when the attack. Make Players feel like their Characters are bad-asses when they are successful.