Short article - How to help GMs like me (post-experiment)


Thanks to everyone who participated in my prep experiment thread. I asked for questions, in hopes that would direct me towards interesting bits - the idea was that if Story Games or one of my groups were interested in asking a question, the answer would be interesting to the players, too.

The main result, however, was that I got a clearer picture of how to help other GMs (or at least, other GMs like me).

(Oh, D&D through Dresden through AW style campaign play implied)

"Like me"

I can lay down a lot of material really quickly, when someone is asking for it. But I struggle with a blank page. Talking or responding short circuits my inner editor and some cool stuff pops out. So again, thanks to everyone who was playing around with me in that last thread.

I think a lot of people are actually like me on this, and find prep hard outside of a conversation.


Not all prep is equal. Depending on how I prompt myself, or how others prompt me, I can easily end up writing inert facts about the world, like the lineage of so-and-so who passed down from that other guy who's dead. I might scribble away at the languages or religious symbols, and spend an hour on stuff that doesn't make me feel ready for game night.

I ran this experiment with two other groups outside of SG. All the questions I got *could* have been turned into player-facing data, with the right amount of effort. But the most helpful questions were ones that could ONLY be answered with something that the player characters could interact with directly.


Ask questions of your friend, the GM first and foremost about:
  • Concrete things in the player characters' experience
  • happening in the rolling NOW of the campaign world
  • that will increase pressure on the player characters (but not always in the same way)
This guidance holds whether the GM is asking to flesh out a place, a person, a faction, and so on. Allies increase pressure by asking too much, being unreliable, showing up hurt.

You might say "Come on, Ry. That's just saying to help your friend the GM come up with threat moves and encounter ideas for their next session."



  • (One other thing that I learned, which makes this hard to do in a one-to-Many communication format: it's easier if Start by focusing the GM's attention on something fairly close to the PCs, and staying close to there. This was really good when I got questions here that were pretty clearly about sneaking through the Grounds).
  • edited January 2016
    Ah! So the GM like you who wishes to get help is advised to say to their play group:

    "Please ask me questions about concrete things in the player characters' experience, happening in the rolling NOW of the campaign world, that will increase pressure on the player characters!"


    As a player, I'm not sure if I can reason from, or be inspired by, "will increase pressure on the PCs." I can definitely work from "concrete things happening now", though, and perhaps use the "pressure" element for editorial purposes of accepting/rejecting my "concrete, now" brainstorms.

    What I'm usually looking for, when thinking about my character's experience, is threats and opportunities. I wonder if there's a way to phrase this in those terms without losing the point...
  • N no-no no-no no - your OWN group shouldn't be saying this. You should be asking this of your friend who is a GM. Your friend is running a game but you're not in it.

    (The one playgroup was asking to help me prep for the *other* playgroup)

    This is really advice for people trying to help their friends who are GM's.
  • Glad we could be of help! I hope you get to do this again on SG and other places whenever you need it, it was certainly fun.
  • Yeah, definitely. I think a forum is awesome but I don't want to be "paint this fence for me" guy. Would anybody be interested in doing a kind of group thing, take turns focusing on a GM?
  • Do you know the Primus song "Is It Luck"? For some reason I heard your "N no-no no-no no" in Les Claypool's voice.

    Gotcha on the intent. It hadn't really occurred to me to look to people outside the game to help me with the game, but now that you mention it, I do have friends who'd be good at that, and probably willing... just not likely on call when I need it. Hmm. Y'know, I might just try asking my players to ask me those questions anyway, and see what happens...
  • It was interesting just reading this thread. It's a cool creative activity even if it not got a larger purpose.
  • RyRy
    edited January 2016
    It hadn't really occurred to me to look to people outside the game to help me with the game
    I think this is really common and I want to break us out of that. We can help each other get ready for the next great session, rather than writing the next game.

    Training together is a big deal. Having a conversation is often so much easier and more productive before sitting down to write.

  • This whole thing reminds me of my "thought experiment" in an earlier thread about GM prep. The idea was that the GM would have another person on quick-dial. They would call them to ask questions about the game world whenever they want to "disclaim responsibility". ("So what does the mirror in the hallway do if someone looks at it?")

    Seems like a great technique to me!

    Dave and I seem to be giving the same advice here: straight-out go ahead and ask your "audience" to ask precisely the types of questions you need. Maybe even a list, a la "read a sitch", is in order?

    * "What is here that I can use to my advantage, if I can get to it before my enemy?"
    * "What is my best escape route?"
    * "Where is the enemy vulnerable?"
    * "What should I be on the lookout for?"
  • Paul - that's making me think of another experiment I could do... see how fruitful the questions are when I do it. But I'm so confident in its success that it would start to blur the line between "develop new prep techniques" and "help Ryan get his game ready".
  • I feel like "help the GM prep!" totally deserves a forum somewhere, or a social media group, or a sub-forum on RPGnet or something. Lots of asking and answering fun questions, and just enough AP to make it all real. I could see that turning into a pretty awesome place/endeavor. Wondering what it'd take to set this up myself...
  • Yeah! Sounds great.
  • Why does it have to go to another forum? This site has a "make stuff" sub-forum. These activities broadly fit my definition of "make stuff". I don't know about what others think.
  • Agreed. (Obviously - I just started a thread on that topic myself yesterday!)

    On second thought, I suppose someone might like the idea of doing it elsewhere to attract a larger/different audience. But that's not me!
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