[GMing] Let Go Of Your Ego

Posted: June 6, 2011 by pointyman2000 in Advice, Articles, Roleplaying Games

I’ve been thinking about differences in the GMs that I’ve played under, from the horrific to the awesome, and I’m trying to figure out what it is that good GMs possess that other GMs need to work on.  After a bit of introspection, I think that many GMs could stand to improve a bit by letting go of their ego.  Many of the bad games I’ve played in tend to caused by GMs who have giant egos.

That said, here are a few tips that might help GMs re-orient themselves to being able to focus on GMing as a means of generating an entertaining experience with their players.

  1. Let go of your need to win – Winning isn’t everything, and winning is especially hollow when you’re the GM.  Take a moment to think about it.  You’re a participant in an activity whose objective is to provide all the participants with a good time.  Your role is to help facilitate things by presenting imaginary situations and characters in this activity to complement those made by your players.  If you override that by prioritizing your need to “win” by eliminating your players, then you’re no longer working towards the original objective of the activity.
  2. Let go of your need to be right – The story of your game isn’t completely yours.  You are not the author, and therefore you cannot dictate the actions of your players.  What you perceive to be the “correct” path that the story will take will most likely not come to pass, so don’t torture yourself with this need to be right.  While having a story is good, forcing a story upon your players is nothing more than holding them hostage while you dictate a narrative to their faces.
  3. Let go of your need to be superior – GMing is a noble endeavour, but it doesn’t make you “better” than your players.  There’s no elitism to be had when ultimately you sit on the same table with your players, and eat the same snacks.  You are not entitled to anything.  Remember that without your players, you have no game.  Everyone is equal in this activity.
  4. Let go of your comfort zone – Doing well in one type of game is one thing, but don’t let it get in the way of trying things differently, or experimenting.  Stagnation is mediocrity, and the lack of courage to go out and try something new because you’re afraid of sullying your reputation as “THE D&D dungeon master” or the most capable “Horror” guy is a sure ticket to losing out on further progress.  Open yourself to the possibility of going beyond patterns and borders that you’ve drawn around yourself because it’s safe and familiar.
In many ways, the biggest hurdle to overcome when one starts GMing is the self.  By slowly learning to let go of these sacred cows, one will be able to dedicate oneself to providing an entertaining experience for all the participants, without relying on passive-aggressive competition or belittling others with an (admittedly) unfair advantage of having infinite resources as a GM.
  1. Stargazer says:

    I agree with you 100%, Jay. The best way to become a crappy GM is to let your ego take over. As soon as you realize it’s not “your” game is the moment you become a better GM.

  2. Nils says:

    Interestingly, I never had any of those problems. My two main weaknesses as GMs were not being able to come up with good names, and with letting the players act TOO freely. In my TORG games, the players decided to go for vacations in Greece, instead of saving the world. They reconsidered when they realized that, yes, I was going to actually let the evil guys win, but I probably could have fixed the situation with more drive.

    Of course, I am probably unaware of additional issues, but then nobody pointed them out to me in over 15 yers of GMing.

    Man, I miss RPGs…. I want to run a good campaign again!

  3. Well said. Very, VERY well said.

  4. Von says:

    Yep! I can get behind these. One of the reasons I’m taking an interest in the OSR is because it’ll force me out of the ‘novelist’ mould that years of running WoD have bound me in and the ‘runs a really good horror game’ perception that my long-term players have of me.

  5. elitistjerk says:

    Ironically, it takes a huge ego to assume the mantle of a GM.

  6. (^_^)b

    As a player, I approve of this message.

    Though to be fair, the same can be said of players, but GMs make the most impact. A player’s behavior can be mitigated somehow but when the GM is the problem… oh well.

  7. Dyson Logos says:

    I refuse to let go of my need to win. But winning an RPG isn’t about killing or beating the players, it is about having a fun game for all.

  8. Anthony says:

    Very good points. I think the other quality that makes for a good GM is the same quality that makes for a good everything. They’re looking for a way to improve. All of the best GMs I’ve played under, were all seeking a way to make themselves better at GMing. Sure, it meant mistakes happened at times, but by and large it meant the game just got better as things went along. It was good times.

  9. […] [GMing] Let Go Of Your Ego from Life and Times of a Philippine Gamer (philgamer.wordpress.com) […]

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