Do you find that you run one or two RPGs more than any other? I certainly do — I default to running D&D.
But some of my best gaming experiences have come from stepping outside of my GMing comfort zone, even if only for a little while.
This isn’t a new idea — getting out of your comfort zone is a good idea in other aspects of your life, too — but it might be one that you haven’t considered from a GMing standpoint.
And there’s not much to it: All you need to do is make a deliberate choice to do one or more of the following.
You can try any of these ideas as one-shots, or you can talk them over with your group and tackle one for several sessions.
Run a game you’ve never run before Even if the rules aren’t all that different — trying out d20 Modern when you’re used to D&D, for example — there will still be challenges that’ll stretch your GMing skills.
Try a new genre. Always play fantasy? Try sci-fi, or horror, or something else entirely.
Run a limited-scope game. The traditional RPG model is the decade-long campaign where the PCs go from being well-armed peasants to epic adventurers — break with tradition. Primetime Adventures is an indie game with a deliberately limited scope: You play a “season” of several episodes, and you know when the season is going to end.
Throw out a cherished expectation. Do you run games where PCs almost never die? Run a one-shot of Call of Cthulhu, and let the players know that their characters are likely to die by the end of the evening. They’ll play the game differently — and you’ll run it differently, too.
Apply the 20% rule. I wrote about the 20% rule — 20% of what goes into your next game should be different from your previous games — in my very first post here on TT, and it’s a great guideline. It’s also a fairly low-impact way to step outside your comfort zone.
GM a game in a new situation. Run a game at a con, or for a different group — you can even just run the same game in a different venue (like at someone else’s house).
Run a really crazy one-shot. One of the best sessions I’ve ever run was Pagan Publishing’s “In Media Res,” a Call of Cthulhu scenario in which the PCs are all escaped convicts. One of them is mute, and starts the game with someone else’s severed tongue in his mouth; another is like to shoot one of the other PCs within the first few minutes; and all of them have fucked-up flashbacks during the course of the game. It was wildly different than our usual fare, and we had a blast.
The thing to remember about all of these ideas is this: You don’t have to stay outside your comfort zone (it’s okay to come back quickly — I can almost guarantee you’ll have learned something useful), and as long as you tried a one-shot, even if you hate every minute of it, it’s only one session.
I went out for a couple of beers with my friend Don the other night, and a lot of these ideas came up in our conversation. We’ve both been GMing for a long time, and we have fairly different comfort zones.
What really struck me about the conversation, though, was when he brought up how challenging it was to run our Stargate campaign. He wrote every adventure like a TV episode, using the three-act model, and although that was frustrating for him at times, it was also an excellent challenge — and one that broadened his GMing skills.
There’s nothing wrong with having a GMing comfort zone (we all do) — but there is something wrong with never stepping outside it, with never challenging yourself to broaden your GMing horizons (and expose your players to something new at the same time).
What’s your comfort zone? In what ways have you crossed this boundary in your own GMing — and what did you learn from it?