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GMing Milestones: How Many Are There?

This idea isn’t fully formed yet, but lately I’ve been doing some thinking about GMing milestones. The thing that’s most interesting to me is that I see quite a few that cross genre, system and stylistic boundaries, and therefore apply to all GMs.

So what’s a GMing milestone? Parts of one of Dictionary.com [1]‘s definitions fit perfectly: An important event, the advancement of knowledge in a field and a turning point.

Game Mastering Milestones

In no particular order, here are all of the milestones I can think of right now — some good, some bad. I’m sure I missed some, and I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

Reader-Submitted Milestones

I’ve hit 11 out of the 16 on my original list, but I’ve missed some big ones. For example, I’ve never written what I would consider to be a complete adventure (I tend to sketch them out, and improv the details) — that’s huge, and it’s a gap in my experience I need to fill at some point.

The other thing that jumps out at me is that the number of milestones you’ve passed as a GM necessarily correlates with how many years you’ve been running games, and vice versa. You could probably knock out my whole list in a couple of months if you set out to do just that — but you wouldn’t really have all that much GMing experience.

What do you think of this list so far? How about of the concept of GMing milestones in general? Which milestones have been important to you — and which ones have you missed?

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#1 Comment By Gospog On April 15, 2007 @ 5:45 am

– First time you’ve gotten sincere applause from your Players at the end of a game.

– First time you scare a PC (in-game) badly.

– Every time one of your Players becomes a GM in their own right.

#2 Comment By Ishmayl On April 15, 2007 @ 8:28 am

A sad one:

– First time a player quits after deciding the game just isn’t for him.

#3 Comment By Telas On April 15, 2007 @ 9:28 am

– First time you kill a character. (It’s just like they say; the subsequent ones are much easier.)

– First time you actually run a campaign, and not just a series of adventures.

– First time the adventure goes off-script, and you handle it so smoothly that the players don’t notice.

– First time you look up, and all the players are truly focused on the game – leaning forwards and hanging on your words. There is no greater compliment.

– First time you break off from the rules, simply because it makes for a better game. (This one doesn’t seem so big until much later.)

#4 Comment By Telas On April 15, 2007 @ 9:31 am

Crud. I followed the “comments” link, and missed all the original milestones.

Sorry for the misinterpretation of what you were looking for, and all the duplicates.

#5 Comment By Jonas On April 15, 2007 @ 10:23 am

– First time you get an adventure or article published in a fanzie.

#6 Comment By Scot Newbury On April 15, 2007 @ 10:46 am

– The first time you actually complete a campaign.

I know this is one I have yet to achieve, adventures yes but that one over-arching campaign plot line completion continues to allude me.

Gotta stop adding interesting things to the story as we go. 🙂

#7 Comment By Martin On April 15, 2007 @ 1:57 pm

Thanks for the additions, everyone! I added all of the non-duplicates, with one exception:

(Gospog) First time you scare a PC (in-game) badly.

Did you mean player, not PC?

#8 Comment By Gospog On April 15, 2007 @ 3:22 pm

I actually meant a little bit of both, but I guess I more mean the Player, yes. I guess it’s when you make the Player afraid FOR his Character.

The first time, at least… 😉

#9 Comment By Dylan Zimmerman On April 15, 2007 @ 5:50 pm

“• Having a TPK in your game.”

Not only that, but handling a TPK with class and grace. I’ve killed all my player characters before, but they’ve never felt good about it afterwards. I think if you can make your players feel like their characters’ deaths were both tragic and necessary, you’ve crossed a GMing threshold.

#10 Comment By Ishmayl On April 15, 2007 @ 8:17 pm

Ooh, neat! I’ve been published in an article now! 🙂

#11 Comment By Walt C On April 16, 2007 @ 2:01 am

These are related to “Divergence from the rules:”

-Designing new rules for an existing system

-Designing a completely homebrew rule system

-Incorporating some rules from one system into another (Drift)

This one doesn’t happen to every GM, but I think it’s a milestone:

-The realization that you enjoy GMing more than playing (the opposite can also be a milestone)

And one that I’ve faced in the past and fairly recently:

-migrating a campaign from one rules system to another

Additional ones:

-Starting a campaign at a different power level than what is standard for the rule system

-Coming to terms with your limitations, especially the fact that you can’t please everyone all of the time

Walt C

#12 Comment By RedBullBear On April 16, 2007 @ 4:47 am

• Running your first game.
• Having a TPK in your game.
• GMing for a large group.
• Running a convention event.
• Learning a new system.
• Your first major shift in GMing style.
• Kicking out a player.
• Getting burned out on GMing.
• Explicitly discussing a social contract with your group.
• Making your first huge game-related mistake.
• Finishing a campaign.
• GMing for your second group.
• First PC death in one of your games.
• Winging an entire session
Getting applause from your players at the end of a gaming session.
• When one of your players becomes a GM.
• The first time one of your players quits the game.
• Winging part of an adventure so well that your players don’t notice that you’re improvising.
• The first time that all of your players are 100% focused on the game.
• Diverging from the rules to make the game more fun.

Yeah, I’m old.

New Suggestions:

– Used Yahoo or other online group resource to manage your game
– Created your own documented setting handbook
– Made Player handouts
– Sketched out all the ‘episodes’ for your campaign ‘season’ before the first gaming session was played

#13 Comment By froidhiver On April 16, 2007 @ 7:46 am

my two pennies:

– gaming as a GM for 12 hours+ in one session
– killing a PC because of the player (and your temper)
– first time players ask you for a campaign
– playing a scenario a second time (different group of course)
– first time a player ask you to help him create his first campaign (used as reference)
– first custom character sheet
– first movie/book rippoff as scenario
– first returning custom vilain

#14 Comment By Walt C On April 16, 2007 @ 9:13 am

I forgot a biggie…

The first time you fudged a dice roll.

Walt C

#15 Comment By longcoat000 On April 16, 2007 @ 9:57 am

Some of these might be more general “RPG” milestones than GMing milestones:

First time you choose to hang out with someone not because they’re a good person, but because they game well.

First time you make a house rule.

First time your players move from speaking in third-person to first-person.

First time you make up a piece of gaming slang.

First time your gaming slang is picked up and used by people outside your group.

First time you have people outside your gaming group asking to join your game.

First time you realize that you may have too many sets of dice.

First time you give someone a blank stare when they ask why you need so many dice.

First time you buy graph paper.

First time you pull an all-nighter.

First time you spend a holiday gaming.

First time you re-use a scenario with the same gaming group.

First time you sit down and create a game world.

First time you make a player cry (good or bad).

First friendship ruined over a gaming disagreement.

First friendship made through gaming.

First time you accept a bribe.

First time you use an illegal copy of a gaming book.

First time you punish PCs for defeating your monsters by sending more mosters after them.

First time you adjudicate a wish.

First recap.

First time you buy a supplement.

First time you buy a book or supplement for a gameworld or system you have no intention of running for the fluff.

First time you decide not to buy a new game because your opinion that the rules are broken.

First time you contact an RPG writer/publisher to clarify a rule.

First time you post to an RPG forum or website.

First time you assign XP based on how a group solved a problem, not just what the book says.

First time you break other plans in order to game.

First time you drink while gaming (for those of us who have been playing since Jr. High…)

First time you try gaming outdoors.

First time you attend a Con.

First time you make notes in your gaming book.

First time you buy a gaming supplement you know is bad just because it was published.

First time you say, “I’m not paying $X for this crap!” when a new supplement for your preferred gaming system or game world comes out.

First time your child or significant other joins your gaming group.

First time you run one of your parents through an adventure.

First rejection letter from a fanzine.

First time someone in you have to explain a character’s absence when a player passes away.

First time you use the “cloud of purple smoke” to explain a character’s absence when the player couldn’t make it.

#16 Comment By longcoat000 On April 16, 2007 @ 9:59 am


First time you decide not to buy a new game because it’s your opinion that the rules are broken.

#17 Comment By Martin On April 26, 2007 @ 9:15 am

List updated — thanks for the many new suggestions!