Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Accentuating the Art of GMing

I've been giving a lot of thought lately to the fine and subtle art of GMing, something I haven't done in a while. When I was first getting into gaming and running games as a teenager, I gave a lot of thought to this, of course. Books like The Campaign Sourcebook and Catacomb Guide and Creative Campaigning were my bread and butter. I'd analyze movies from a GMing perspective, paying attention to pacing and characterization of the "NPCs" in the story. When out for a scenic drive or on vacation, I'd do my best to memorize and encapsulate the sights I was seeing for later regurgitation in games.

Eventually I guess I got to a point where I felt like I didn't need to do this anymore. I had developed my own style, my own habits. I could GM in my sleep.

But now I'm coming back around to the idea of GMing as a lifelong learning opportunity. One of my favorite new blogs recently posted about this subject, wondering if the "art of GMing" is a thing of the past. I can't really comment one way or the other; I've always been a bit of an insular gamer, and really don't have enough experience with other peoples' styles to make an informed opinion. But the post reinforced some thoughts I'd already been having regarding immersion and the GM's role in facilitating it.

So, like the gym rat who creates a list of exercises to target certain muscle groups, I have decided that I'm going to target certain areas of my GMing style that I feel have gone to seed or could simply use a bit of sharpening up.

As a teenager I used to be pretty good at mimicry. I can still bust out a few decent impressions (my Kermit the Frog is so accurate it gives people the willies, and my Sean Connery is second to none), but I'm talking more about the ability to do regional accents, like this kid:

When Des and I play Pendragon, we speak with our American accents. But I would love to be able to throw in a Welsh lilt or a bit of Yorkshire dialect to distinguish characters from outside Logres. And being able to do a range of accents similar to those demonstrated in the video above would mean I'd never lack for running a modern-day or 20th-century game (or character).

Time to visit the library and look into accent technique books for actors, I guess.

The Sensory Experience
The ability to describe surroundings using all five senses is the mark of a mindful and capable GM. I try my best to remember to do this, but sometimes it's all too easy to default to "pleasant summer day" and leave it at that. Risus Monkey just posted a fantastic technique for jogging the GM's descriptive mind during gameplay. Essentially a descriptive rubric, the chart both organizes one's thoughts before the game and helps remind one of the sensory atmosphere one is trying to evoke during actual play, when it's all too easy to forget and fall back on old standards. I can't wait to try this out during my next Pendragon session.

This is one I've only relatively recently started thinking about, and it's the arena where I'm most anxious to up my game. I'm fine with describing how NPCs look: hair color, eye color, build, demeanor, and so forth. But I'm woefully inadequate when it comes to describing how they dress. And clothes do make the man, after all.

I have to credit Des with bringing this to my attention. "What's he wearing?" is a common question at our game table, and initially I found myself scrambling to come up with a satisfactory response ("Uh...clothes?"). I'm a bit more apt to be able to answer the question nowadays, but I've still got a long way to go in the arena of coming up with not only ways to envision an NPC's outfit, but also describe it.

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