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The Art of GMing

Source GameMastery Guide pg. 28
As a Game Master, you already know what’s expected. You have some players, you’ve designed an adventure full of cunning threats, wild terrain, and a big clever twist, and you’re ready to entertain. That should do it, right? Yet the best-laid plans of every storyteller sometimes go awry. There’s a range of reasons, but while the Pathfinder RPG is a form of group entertainment, it still depends on you as the GM in order to succeed. You are the scriptwriter and director for this production, but you’re also the chief performer. How you choose to approach the role makes a huge difference.

It’s not that players aren’t important; on the contrary, they’re both your audience and your fellow performers, and in many ways everything you do is for them. But they also have less control over the world, and play more limited parts. You lead the band. If you bring gusto to the adventure, your players will respond in kind. If you show up unprepared and harried, they may not invest much effort either. Delivering the best possible performance as a GM depends on how you see yourself when you game, how well you prepare, and what tricks and techniques you use to keep your campaign moving smoothly.

Making it Happen

Source GameMastery Guide pg. 28
With great power sometimes comes a sense that maybe your players don’t appreciate your efforts enough.

You spend time drawing world maps, imagining plots and places, setting up ambushes, and devising schemes for villains. As GM, you have a certain responsibility for everyone’s good time. You strive to challenge the party, but never to break it. You offer a sandbox of a million choices, but guide the party to the juiciest elements.

And yet things don’t always go smoothly. Sometimes, all you want is for the players to embark on the quest you’ve spent all week on, but instead the party accidentally goes off in another direction—or worse, sees the hook for your quest and deliberately decides not to bite because it doesn’t interest them enough, or doesn’t offer enough of a reward. When such things happen, you have several options.

GM as Actor

Source GameMastery Guide pg. 29
As both performer and director, a good GM needs some of the skills of the stage, from use of accents to scene management.


Source GameMastery Guide pg. 30
Presentation, as they say, is everything, and some GMs go that extra mile to make their game immersive with a cool handout, perfect soundtrack, or premade maps of every dungeon room. Below are a few quick and easy ideas for adding more goodies to your game.

Narrative Techniques

Source GameMastery Guide pg. 31
As the GM, you are the one and only conduit for the players to learn about their situation in the game. If you forget to describe something, the players quite rightly feel cheated. If you focus your description on an object, they sense that it might be important. As a result, your choices on how you convey information are crucial to your game’s success.


Source GameMastery Guide pg. 33
Though it’s considered more polite to call it “fudging,” cheating happens—sometimes a GM will be tempted to alter a die roll to make the story go a certain way, or to save a player character from a blow that would kill them and knock a fun personality out of the game. Should the GM give in to the temptation to cheat? And if the GM is truly in control of the world, and making his or her rolls in secret—is it really cheating at all?

There are several schools of thought on the matter. One side says that the dice are there to assist the story, not determine it—if a GM needs to occasionally alter or totally fabricate some die rolls for the sake of making an encounter a perfect challenge for the players without killing them, then he’s just doing his job. Others say that it’s the randomness which creates the realism and sense of danger, and that PCs who believe the GM won’t let them die lose half the fun. And a third notes that GMs who clearly cheat or have too many coincidences—the party’s powerful new items always getting stolen by sticky-fingered halflings, or villains being saved by miracle rolls when a player comes up with an unexpectedly effective strategy—undermine the players’ enjoyment, and subtly encourage the players to cheat as well.

Where you fall on the spectrum is a personal call, but if you do decide to fudge rolls for the sake of the game, it’s best done in secret, and as infrequently as possible. And only—only—if it results in more fun for everyone.