List your own faults as a GM. That probably doesn’t sound like very good advice. Heck, it probably doesn’t even sound like a fun way to spend a Saturday afternoon — which it’s not.
But it is good advice.
Maybe not fun, but good advice. Here’s why.
It’s possible to be good at something without giving it much thought, if you’re both a genius and a prodigy in that area. This doesn’t happen very often, and it doesn’t apply to most of us.
It’s also possible to become good at something the “traditional” way: through hard work, practice and a willingness to learn. That’s pretty much what I’m getting at with Martin’s Maxims for GMs: Focus on learning and having fun, and you’ll continue to learn and have fun.
This post is Martin’s Maxims with teeth. That’s not to say that it’s negative, just that it focuses on doing something that, when you get right down to it, most people don’t like to do: Enumerate your own faults.
I’ve got a number of faults as a GM, and I’ve been doing it for 17 years. Every GM has faults, and knowing what they are is crucial to becoming a better GM.
Figuring out what your faults are can be tough, though, because your players won’t always tell you about them. I explored that problem in Getting Player Feedback, and received some great responses.
The best approach is to figure out what you’re bad at yourself, and here’s where the teeth come in: My challenge to you is to think about your faults and weaknesses as a GM, and then write them down.
My Faults as a GM
I have trouble building adventures. Specifically, I tend to focus on building the wrong aspects of my adventures — small stuff rather than the big picture, for example. Start Small touches on this, in a roundabout way.
I tend to procrastinate. “Pressure makes diamonds,” and so forth. This one is awfully general, but it impacts my GMing.
My enthusiasm for prep is sometimes very low. One of TT’s most popular posts, I’d Rather Rake Leaves Than Do Prep, is about this topic.
At times I’m so detail-oriented that I get bogged down. This ties into my first fault, but also stands on its own.
I’m prone to hoarding my best ideas. Lead With the Cool Stuff addresses this problem.
I’m often unwilling to prod my players along, when prodding is needed. Another post, The Bones in the Soup tackles this fault as it relates to my most recent game.
Knowing all that, should you still read Treasure Tables? Absolutely! Wouldn’t you rather know that I know I’m not a perfect GM, and know that I’m interested in becoming a better GM, when you read my posts? If I were in your shoes, I certainly would. Sharing knowledge about GMing, and engaging in intelligent, open discussion about various aspects of this craft, are both big parts of what Treasure Tables is about.
I’m comfortable speaking with authority on GMing for three main reasons: I have a lot of experience doing it, I’m passionate about it, and I’m always looking for ways to improve. Every GM has things to learn, but it’s easy to leave them by the wayside and keep doing things the way that you’ve always done them.
There are two more components to this process. The first is this: Once you’ve written down your list of faults as a GM, don’t get discouraged! Think of it this way: Which is worse, having faults and ignoring them, or having faults — which every GM does — and using your knowledge of them to get better at something you love?
And that’s the second component: Once you have your list in hand, work on it. How you tackle the things on your list is up to you, and will depend a lot on what they are. One good way to start is to share it so that you can get advice from other GMs, either here or elsewhere. (I know the one I’m going to have the most trouble with is number two, procrastination!)
I invite you to share your own list in the comments, and to provide feedback on my list and the others that get posted here. If you start a thread about this on a messageboard, or on your own blog (etc.), let us know in the comments so we can join in that conversation.
Are you up to the challenge? (I hope so, because I’m going to feel pretty weird if this post fades away with no comments!)
Edit: In the comments, CJ made two points that I think are absolutely vital to keep in mind when using the “naughty list” approach.
One of CJ’s points was that when you work on improving your GMing, any improvement will make the game more fun — and fuel further improvement. His second point I’ll quote verbatim:
Most people (and groups) will do a far better job of improving if they focus on one thing at a time—or two, tops. If you have 3 things on your list, you’ll get far better results improving them serially, than you will if you try to improve all three over the same time.
I wish I’d included both of these in my original post — thanks, CJ!