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Author Topic: How did you learn to GM?  (Read 10935 times)
Martin Ralya
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« on: July 24, 2005, 08:01:52 PM »

I posted a question this morning on Treasure Tables, my weblog for GMs: how did you learn to GM?

My rambling answer is there, in the post ("How Did You Learn to GM?") -- and I'm quite interested in hearing how others answer this question, either here or over on TT. Since I suspect that when folks learned to GM will have an impact on their answers, please post the year if you're so inclined.

(It's also worth noting that I posted this same question over on EN World (where I think the answers might be pretty different!) -- and that this is my first post on The Forge. I've lurked here on and off for awhile, and it's a great place, but it took my curiosity about this topic to squeeze a post out of me.)
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Martin Ralya | Treasure Tables, a weblog for GMs
GB Steve
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« Reply #1 on: July 25, 2005, 12:17:36 AM »

This makes it sounds like there's some kind of GM licence that you get once you done it enough. I guess I learned by following instructions, i.e. reading the GM section of the book in the red box some 20+ years ago but that's probably not the whole story. What is it that you think constitues the ability to GM?

Oh, and since this is your first post, I guess it's for me to say "Hi! Welcome to the Forge!" where the debate is robust but well intentioned.
« Last Edit: July 25, 2005, 12:22:32 AM by GB Steve » Logged
Clinton R. Nixon
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« Reply #2 on: July 25, 2005, 04:07:45 AM »

There's a big difference between when I first GMed and when I'd say I really knew how to. I was GMing for my group back 14 years ago playing D&D, Rolemaster, and Twilight: 2000. Actually, that Twilight campaign - about 13 years ago - wasn't so bad. It became a brutal, violent, Mad Max sort of game, but wasn't a complete power-mad bit of nonsense like my attempt at running Rolemaster was. (I got the rules - those were easy. Making adventures, though - wow, I sucked.)

I would say I didn't really learn to GM until about five to six years ago. I learned from a few masters - quite directly from being in the group of Pete Seckler, the world's finest D&D GM (I accept no arguments here), and playing some convention games with a few amazing people, not all of whom are Forge luminaries or anything. Some of the techniques I use most often come from the best convention game I ever played, which was White Wolf's Aberrant run by a true GMing genius. Clunky rules, but the game itself was a mind-blowing use of inter-group conflict.

Lastly, I learned a lot of how to GM from reading Sorcerer and Sword. I think most of us learned what we didn't know we didn't know from there.
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Clinton R. Nixon
CRN Games
simon_hibbs
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« Reply #3 on: July 25, 2005, 05:15:32 AM »

Very slowly and painfuly, after a lot of trial and error.

Simon Hibbs
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Simon Hibbs
TonyLB
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« Reply #4 on: July 25, 2005, 06:26:42 AM »

You folks think you know how?  Sheesh... I don't.  I'm still learning, and don't expect to ever stop.

So, how do I learn?  I try new ways of seeing things, new tools for insight, new tools for manipulating the social space, and I keep little mental notes.  This tool worked well in this situation but twisted in my hand in something that looked identical... what was the difference?

It's really more like science than like learning.  I'm discovering GMing and roleplaying as I go along.  I benefit greatly from the discoveries of others, though I often need to verify their experiments in my own laboratory before I can use the results to their fullest.
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GB Steve
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« Reply #5 on: July 25, 2005, 06:53:17 AM »

You folks think you know how?  Sheesh... I don't.  I'm still learning, and don't expect to ever stop.
Of course you know how to GM. Doesn't mean to say you can't change though.

So, how do I learn?  I try new ways of seeing things, new tools for insight, new tools for manipulating the social space, and I keep little mental notes.  This tool worked well in this situation but twisted in my hand in something that looked identical... what was the difference?

It's really more like science than like learning.  I'm discovering GMing and roleplaying as I go along.  I benefit greatly from the discoveries of others, though I often need to verify their experiments in my own laboratory before I can use the results to their fullest.
"Science" as opposed to "learning"? Science is learning. It's a process, not an end in itself. Otherwise, yeah, I'd agree with the "standing in the shoulders of giants" bit.

GMing is not just about knowledge of form but also about performance so you are, to a certain extent, only as good as your last session. It's also about understanding your audience so it's much easier with people you know. There are probably other skills that are common to all GMing experiences (such as recognising and dealing with troublemakers) but if you've got these covered then you're probably doing OK. As to when I learned these, I don't know. I just picked up the skills along the way and then one day realised, "Hey! I actually know what I'm doing!"
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Martin Ralya
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« Reply #6 on: July 25, 2005, 07:28:02 AM »

This makes it sounds like there's some kind of GM licence that you get once you done it enough.

What makes you say that? I think the point at which you consider yourself a GM is an interesting topic in its own right, but my question was aimed more at the process by which you learned to GM.

What is it that you think constitues the ability to GM?

Do you mean ability -- as in a skillset, or list of things you know how to do -- or do you mean...I don't know, more like, "When is someone considered a GM?" I just can't tell what you're getting at.

Oh, and since this is your first post, I guess it's for me to say "Hi! Welcome to the Forge!" where the debate is robust but well intentioned.

Thanks for the welcome!
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Martin Ralya | Treasure Tables, a weblog for GMs
Andrew Morris
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« Reply #7 on: July 25, 2005, 07:46:30 AM »

"Science" as opposed to "learning"? Science is learning. It's a process, not an end in itself. Otherwise, yeah, I'd agree with the "standing in the shoulders of giants" bit.

I think what Tony's saying is pretty much the same thing you are, just stated in a different way. You both sound like you're putting the emphasis on the process, not the end.
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Bankuei
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« Reply #8 on: July 25, 2005, 09:06:20 AM »

Hi Martin,

I'll repeat, differently, what I put forth on your blog. 

I'm a '78 child, so D&D was getting into full swing when I came into the picture.  It wasn't until I was about 10 ('88?) that my cousin gave me the OD&D box with the blue dragon on the cover.  I couldn't wrap my head around Gygax's love for strange words, but cut my teeth on Red Box Basic D&D by the time I was 11 or 12.  I ended up learning everything from the books and having to teach other folks around me.  Not until I was in high school, around 94-96, did I get some "decent" skills in my opinion, through extensive use of Feng Shui (the game, not the art of, :P).

Chris
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Larry L.
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aka Miskatonic


« Reply #9 on: July 25, 2005, 09:36:38 AM »

What, you mean you didn't attend the five-year university program where you recieved a GameMastering certificate upon completion? Slacker.

Seriously though... I taught myself how to play from the D&D red box. (1987?) Since this was solitaire play, I also simultaneously learned GM tasks, in anticipation of being the Dungeon Master once I had recruited all my friends to play. Unfortunately, everyone else's parents believed that Dungeons & Dragons was somehow linked to teen suicide. So it would be several years before I actually got to play. They played a very Gamist/PvP drifted Palladium-system game, which, not being called "Dungeons & Dragons," was apparently not a suicide risk.

I've pretty voraciously devoured every game text's "How to Gamemaster" advice, and been frustrated how said advice about the "right" way to play never seemed to satisfy everyone. I've taken turns between semi-effectual GM and partially satisfied player. It's a continually refined process, and until recently, something of a fool's errand.

Ron Edwards' essays kicked off the bloody renaissance, as far as I'm concerned. The process by which a game is enjoyable to all participants was dragged from some kind of mystical black art into useful academic discourse. The bulk of game texts were called out as thinly veiled fiction and coffee-table books, designed to be consumed but not played.

Frankly, I've been delighted by designs which more democratically distribute GM-tasks to every player. I find these games more engaging as a player, and less prone to instilling a sense of cat-herding pariah as a GM.
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Justin Marx
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« Reply #10 on: July 25, 2005, 10:40:49 AM »

Rifts..... the bugs in that system made me realise why a consistent system is a good one. Then I gave all my books to my brother and never looked back.

As someone else said, I'm learning more with every game though. Handling system is the easy part. Giving the players want they really want - that's hard.
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ADGBoss
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« Reply #11 on: July 25, 2005, 11:18:31 AM »

Like most people I have aton of anecdotes, most not too disimilar to what has been said or what might be said.  I think though that point at which I became an effective DM/GM was when I learned that listening to Player's react to the plethora of stimuli available in games. Being a Player and watching my fellow Players and how they reacted to the GM as well as being a GM and watching Players. It was not so much taking advice from other GMs as it was deciding that GMs who pleased Players in certain ways were using worthwhile techniques. Some of this was conscious and some of it was unconscious. The second moment was derived from the first and I topped looking at GMing as work and started looking at it as Play prep, just like I do as a Player. The GM is part of the game and he / she needs to be having fun.

As we grow we are going to integrate new techniques, I think thats almost a given.  I believe it is the fundamental abilities like listening and interpreting Human reaction that makes for the most effective traditional and post-traditional GMs.

Sean
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Martin Ralya
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« Reply #12 on: July 25, 2005, 12:54:46 PM »

Ron Edwards' essays kicked off the bloody renaissance, as far as I'm concerned.

This is very similar to something John Harper said over on TT: "I learned to GM when I read Dogs in the Vineyard. I'm not kidding."

I find this fascinating -- and among other things, it makes me really want to pick up DitV!
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Martin Ralya | Treasure Tables, a weblog for GMs
Remko
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #13 on: July 25, 2005, 01:40:36 PM »

Ron Edwards' essays kicked off the bloody renaissance, as far as I'm concerned.
I couldn't agree more: Ron's essays from the Forge and the stuff from Sex & Sorcery and the Sorcerer's Soul were great. Vincent's DitV is also a great book and a great system... it is my first try at narrativism and it brought all of my fellow players the knowledge that they do like Narravistic games.

But Ron's essays have been more important. I really didn't want to agree with him the first time, but after I've looked it over at my group, I couldn't do anything less than conclude that some of my players have another CA than me and some have the same.
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Remko van der Pluijm

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1. Soviet Soviet Politics, my November Ronnie
2. Sorcerer based on Mars Volta's concept album 'Deloused in the Comatorium'
Callan S.
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« Reply #14 on: July 26, 2005, 03:15:53 AM »

There's a big difference between when I first GMed and when I'd say I really knew how to.
Hey, if we have to talk about when we really know how, I'm stuffed! I swear my GM'ing capacity is about six years behind my players mental capacity. Every time I manage to raise my GM'ing skill, my players have broadened their bloody mental horizons! If I could time travel back I'd rock their socks! It's come to the point where I think I'm going to have to bring in premise type stuff...and that's likely to bend gamism to nar. And damn, trail blazing is just a dead art now and were going to have to work up group control of story or just give up RP (The GM just can't do enough prep to give enough freedom for trailblazing with older players, IMO)

To answer the original question, I can only express how far back on the learning curve I am. And I hope this was more useful than ranty.
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Philosopher Gamer
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