Find someone who’s been there, done that and can help you figure it out…

Everyone that runs games took their own route to becoming a gamemaster. While some folks (grognards back in the day but also new gamers even today) read the books and dive right in to run games, most of us had to see how games were run by starting out as players. It can be intimidating to take that first step into running, and one of the things that can help is mentoring.

I’ve talked many times of how I had to be gently but firmly pushed into running games back in the mid 2000’s. That wouldn’t have happened if one of the other GMs in my group hadn’t insisted that I had what it took, I just needed to try. Now, he did this primarily out of self-interest because he likes games and wants to make sure he has good GMs around him, but he honestly believed that I could be a good GM based on what he knew of me as a player. He was my first GM mentor.

So, what is a mentor? Simply, they are an experienced and trusted advisor that offers guidance as you attempt to learn and master whatever subject they’re mentoring you for. While this can be a formal relationship like with work and school stuff, with gaming it is often something a bit more casual. It’s reaching out to an experienced GM to ask advice on an upcoming campaign or how to deal with a particular problem your game is having. Mostly it’s having a sounding board you can trust with your ideas, questions, and concerns.

While you can and should regularly ask your players for feedback, for the type of advice I’m talking about, it should really be someone outside of the game. Even for the most shared narrative game, or even the most prep-light GM, having someone not playing in that game offers an outside perspective that can be invaluable when trying to address whatever thing you need help with.

I’ve sought this kind of guidance several times over my years as a GM. Originally it was because I wasn’t very confident in my skills and wanted to make sure someone I trusted also thought my ideas would work. More recently, it’s usually looking for words of wisdom or tips and tricks from people who already have experience with the system I’m trying for the first time, or to offer advice on a particular style of game I’m running.

I’ve also had the pleasure of serving as someone else’s sounding board for their game. It’s very exciting getting to hear all of their ideas and offer constructive feedback that helps build up their confidence as a GM and prepare them for things they might not have otherwise thought of. Every time I help someone like this, I look forward to hearing how the game went and whether what we talked about helped or not.

My primary advice to all GMs, no matter your skill or experience level, is to seek out that mentoring resource.
My primary advice to all GMs, no matter your skill or experience level, is to seek out that mentoring resource. On a community level, there are a ton of gamer communities out there where you can ask questions and get feedback on your ideas but having a single person or a couple of people you trust to listen to you and your thoughts can be much more personal and much more fulfilling for what you might need for your games.

On the other end of that, to all GMs, no matter your skill or experience level, be ready and willing to help out your fellow GMs when they need someone they can go to bounce their ideas off of. It can take some time to develop the right skills at being able to offer truly helpful constructive feedback, but it’s a good skill to have. You’ll also be surprised at how much it will help your own games when you start thinking about some of these things your fellow GM brings up.

We here at Gnome Stew offer a ton of GMing advice and there are many, many more resources out there, but there is something special to be said for having a friend you can go to and just talk about the art and mastery of running games.