Barking Alien’s GM Challenge: What are you good at?

Barking Alien has posted a list of questions for Game Masters to challenge them to ponder what their strengths and weaknesses are.

Here’s my attempt to answer the questionnaire myself. I encourage any of my readers to do the same:

What Genres, Settings, Or Games In General Do You GM Best?
Which Ones Do You Think You  Totally Rock?

My Top Five:

  1. Gonzo/Comedic Fantasy: especially with Dungeon World
  2. Pulp Fantasy: D&D in the style of Conan or Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser
  3. Pulp Action Horror: Hellboy-esque (punching Lovecraftian monsters in the “face”)
  4. Surreal Horror: Silent Hill-esque (exploration of really creepy haunted places)
  5. Space Opera (more Buck Rogers than Star Trek)

My Players have expressed that the most fun that they’ve ever had were in my comedic games using the Dungeon World system. Somehow my creativity has no limits and I can put the characters into the most funny and memorable situations.


Which Games Could You Use To Work On?
That Is, If Your Group Wants To Play One Of These Games, You Yourself Would Probably Recommend A Different GM.

My Bottom Three:

  1. Post-Apocalypse: I love the genre a lot but every game that I’ve run in this style has crashed and burned horribly. I can’t figure out exactly WHY this doesn’t work. People lose interest or things go WAY off the rails. Usually one character murders another, or at least tries to.
  2. Dark Heresy (or gritty, Noir sci-fi). My players always got on each others’ nerves, in-game and at the table. These campaigns promptly fell apart and had some of the most awkward, friendship-straining moments in memory.
  3. Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay: similarly to Dark Heresy, the grim, filthy and dreary setting gets to people and these games also fall apart with a disappointing whimper.

My problem is handling dark setting and managing the players’ expectations or feelings about helpless situations. Nobody, it seems can fully separate their own emotions from their characters. Perhaps because I always make things awful. I’m just not all that good balancing that fine line of gritty and just plain boringly awful and depressing. No one seems to like feeling hopeless. Go figure.


What Elements Of Gamemastering Do You Do Best?
What Aspects Do You Nail More Often Than Not?

My Top Five:

  1. Creating an immersive atmosphere or mood
  2. Presenting memorable encounters or notable enemies (especially scary ones)
  3. Ensuring that everyone at the table is invested, interested and involved
  4. Making fair and even-handed rulings
  5. Keeping things moving along at a steady pace

I always seem to perfectly nail a creepy or eerie atmosphere. My descriptions tend to stay brief but full of character. I set the scene in my head and try very hard to share it with my players: while trying to avoid boring them.

I also  think that I’m appreciated for going out of my way to try to accommodate everyone’s needs at the table. Or at least trying to. Rarely have players felt that I was antagonistic or trying to get them (although some have felt that way at the start based on past experiences with other Game Masters).


Which Elements Are Still A Work In Progress?
Name Some Things That You Don’t Do As Well As You’d Like.

My Bottom Three:

  1. Roleplaying NPCs: I just don’t do many voices and can’t seem to stare players straight in the eye. Too often I just give up and explain what the character says in third person.
  2. Balancing encounters: I’ll set up a fight that I *think* will be short but ends up dragging on and on. I try to handwave things to speed up the pace, but it always feels cheap to the players.
  3. Handling PvP: that is, dealing with players getting on each others’ nerves. I try to mediate or solve things but I just can’t: I freeze up and try to intervene far too late and far too softly. I just end up making things worse.

I have some big things to work on. I could devote an entire post to my greatest failure as a Game Master: when I tried to let the players collaboratively create the setting and gave them far too much freedom in handing world-building and character agency. Trying to give everyone everything that they want leads to pure disaster, trust me.

Self Confidence is a biggie. I really need to work on that a bit more; in gaming and in other areas of my life.

Well, that was brief but to the point, I hope! Nice self-reflection there. Thanks Barking Alien!

Here are the answers from some fellow gaming bloggers:

I recently got some good advice courtesy of Venger Satanis from his book How to Game Master Like a F***ing Boss. Check it out.

One Reply to “Barking Alien’s GM Challenge: What are you good at?”

  1. Knowing your shortcomings, problem areas, and sticking points is a great place to start. Just work on one thing at a time to avoid being overwhelmed. Nice post, man. Thanks for the mention!

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