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Step Out Of Your Comfort Zone

My greatest mistakes and achievements as a gamemaster seem to occur more frequently in stituations outside of my gaming norm. For example, when I GM at a convention I notice that I have to focus more on reading the player’s motivation, because often that person and I have just met. When I run a new system I tend to push myself harder on understanding the rules better, because I am not familiar enough with how the game plays to know which rules are going to come up frequently during play. Being in strange new gaming “territory” not only increases my focus on the game, but it gives me something to compare my regular games to so that I can improve upon the skills that I regularly use when GMing.

If you are happy with your current game, RPG system, or group of players you do not have to ditch them to stretch your gaming muscles in new ways. The purpose of trying a new system, or playing with a new group from time-to-time should never be done for the purpose of replacing something that works (if it does not work you have another issue entirely).

The purpose of doing something different is to establish different experiences that you may reference when GMing your regular game. I arrange events at my local game shop that are open to the public for the purpose of challenging myself as a GM. I am preparing to run one or two events where the players will bring in characters from games that fell apart for whatever reason, and we will convert those characters into Fudge characters. I will then run an adventure that I have prepared with no idea what kind of PCs will be playing in it. This could be seen as GM lunacy, and I do risk running a very bad event, but regardless of the outcome I know that I will learn something as a GM by challenging myself in this way.

Yes I am using the Fudge system, one of my favorites [1], but I’ve never used it in this way before. I have never tried to run a game where the characters Green Lantern, Gandalf, and Hello Kitty all arrive at the last minute unannounced and expect to be entertained. I am also planning games with systems that I have never GMed before, or even played for that matter, because experiencing these new games will help me understand what I like and dislike with my regular games.

Our brains are great at two things: noticing changes, and running routines. If you have been using the same system, playing with the same players, and playing the same setting for a long period of time you have established some routines. Great! Nothing is wrong with that, but you might also be taking some aspects of your game for granted without even realizing it. By stepping out of your comfort zone and breaking aways from your routine you might learn of ways to improve that same routine once you return to it.

To sum up I once had a Kung Fu instructor who would stay late to observe the beginner’s class despite his shift being over. Curious I asked why he did so. Was he looking for mistakes and wanted to make sure the junior instructors corrected bad habits early? I was a bit surprised when he responded with “I learn a lot from the students who don’t know the practice yet. They show me different ways of doing things that I have taken for granted.” He did not ditch his years of physcial conditioning and training in order to adopt what he had observed, but he did question his way of doing things in a very productive manner. He was learning through observation what someone does naturally as opposed to what someone does after conditioning. This made him a better instructor because he understood what a beginner would do versus what an experienced student would do in the same situation.

So take a break from your routine and push yourself with a new GMing challenge. You can always return to your regular game, but you might return better prepared for it!

That is my opinion on the matter. What is yours? Do you take on new GMing challenges, or do you prefer building upon your established game? Leave your comments below to share with others. And remember that the GM is a player too. Have fun with it!

5 Comments (Open | Close)

5 Comments To "Step Out Of Your Comfort Zone"

#1 Comment By Wild Joker On September 3, 2009 @ 10:36 am

Simply taking over the DM Screen can stretch your gaming muscles. My current gaming group has been together for several years playing D&D. We have three excellent DMs that have rotated duties back and forth between several campaigns. Because of this, I haven’t DM’d a game for, well, years.

Recently I’ve taken over one of the campaigns from a DM that moved and left the group. Just reviewing the rules and preparing for the games has been a stretch of some unused gaming muscles. It is amazing how many rules I’d forgotten or neglected over the years, simply because I didn’t need them. I never played a rogue so I didn’t need to know about sneak attack rules, for example; likewise the Paladin’s special abilities. I had to completely re-learn rules such as spell resistance because that’s the DM’s worry, not necessarily the players’.

I could go on and on, but suffice it to say this: an easy way to stretch the gaming muscles, bone up on the rules, and reinvigorate your gaming self is to sit behind that Screen and kill…I mean, challenge some PCs.

#2 Comment By Patrick Benson On September 3, 2009 @ 5:04 pm

[6] – You are absolutely right that players will expand upon their RPG experiences by GMing. The difference between a player’s role and the GM’s role is usually significant with most games that I have played. Even trying new games and playing with different groups is a great way to break your routine without GMing.

Yet, I find that many GMs can easily fall into a routine that is harder to spot. They GM a great game, start to burn out, play for a little bit, and then go back to GMing whatever they had started to burn out on. That break from GMing almosts masks that they are just repeating the same events over and over.

Of course not all GMs have this happen, but I believe that it happens to enough of us that changing things up every now and then is a good thing to do.

#3 Comment By retrothomas On September 4, 2009 @ 5:14 am

Great article with an excellent point, Pat.

I run 4th Ed. D&D for my group and have just started learning Burning Wheel on my own. Doing so showed me that learning a new system brings you beyond your comfort zone and opens your mind to new ideas and ways of approaching both your existing game and RPGs as a whole. That kind of investigation can take you to surprising and rewarding places in your hobby.

I’ve come to feel that the concept of pushing myself as a GM is important in building my skills and increasing how engaged my players are in the game. Trying new approaches, plot ideas and prep strategies have helped me refine and improve my approach and make a more enjoyable experience for our group. I was considering running a game on D&D game day for this reason. I’d probably a bit nervous doing it but I’m sure I’d experience some new and different types of players and would learn some useful things doing it.

I would propose that there’s a flip side to this too: players should be willing to try something new and step out of their comfort zones as well. Even though our gaming has developed into a routine, a positive attitude and open mind from my players helps me feel more excited about the game and trying other systems out for fun as well. As a GM I don’t like to feel like I have to do one particular thing all the time or feel stagnant.

#4 Comment By Zig On September 4, 2009 @ 7:55 am

[6] – A good point.

I also find the converse to be true.

For years I have been running a second edition D&D game for my players. Haven’t had any luck getting someone else to run a game for a while.

Just recently though I found a Meetup group that does gaming of all sorts (save video games) and I have gotten to be a player in two 4th edition D&D games. Finding myself on the other side of the screen has been a real eye opener for me.

One of the things I have noticed is just because to me, the DM, I can see a clear solution to a problem or situation doesn’t mean the players will have no problem coming up with a solution. Now that I am making decisions for my character from the players’ side of the screen I’m gaining a new appreciation that it can, at times, be difficult being a player and deciding upon actions to take.

I think learning that and some other things as a player will make a better DM when I run my own house game.

Additionally, I find playing with a different and experienced DM leads to me picking up some new tricks and learning a good deal from someone else’s style of running a game.

#5 Comment By Kurt “Telas” Schneider On September 4, 2009 @ 8:24 am

Good article, Patrick.

At a grappling seminar, an instructor asked, “Who is going to be the better fighter, the one who wins all his matches, or the one who loses all his? The one who loses, because he learns something new every time.”

Don’t be afraid to get in over your head occasionally, especially if you let the players know. Most of the time, they won’t even see your mistakes.