There will probably always be more players than Game Masters (GMs) in our hobby. I’m ok with that. But you know, it would be great if more players and even non-players were willing to run some games. It is a lot of fun, and really it seems like everyone has a hard time finding people to run games. Unfortunately there is a very good reason for this: fear.
Anyone getting into running a game for the first time will have some fears to face, and unfortunately a lot of those fears are justified. If you run a bad game, players will NOT want to play with you again. If you mess up the rules, you get called out on it at some point. If a player messes up on something, they will hold it against you on some level. And how your first session goes will also affect how you see yourself as a gamer and a game master.
Being Nervous About Running A Game
I remember when I was trying to get my wife to run a game for me. I bought a DnD starter set with a pregenerated adventure and everything. She was super nervous, and we only played out the first scene in which my character nearly died fighting 2 goblins before he even got a turn. So she had one goblin run off and the other one decided to join me as a second party member.
It was a fun scene all things considered, and I had no problems picking up another character sheet if my first character died. But ever since that encounter she seemed to be even more nervous about running games then she’d been before she started.
I am not a very observant guy, especially outside of games. But I can tell when I hear my wife respond with “As a new DM, I just really feel bad about that,” whenever someone complains about something another GM did. And I haven’t been able to get her to run another adventure since.
Now maybe it’s because this has affected me in a bit of a personal way, but I honestly believe that we as players are largely responsible for creating and empowering bad GMs. More importantly, we are responsible for ruining the potentially good ones! Not solely responsible, mind you, but we are definitely not carrying our weight.
Feedback and Affirmation
First of all, everyone that runs a game is hungry for feedback. EVERYONE. And we generally prefer positive feedback, especially when it comes to something we can improve on. Everyone knows that saying something bad hits us harder than saying something good, right? Like how you need 5 compliments to balance every insult?
Now I know that GMs make mistakes, and sometimes they are horrible mistakes that they should never EVER repeat if they want anyone to enjoy playing with them. And it is important to make your GM aware of this mistake, or she/he will keep making that mistake over and over again. But bringing it up with angry yells, or worse telling lots of other people in hopes that it will eventually get back to the GM, these methods only tell the GM that they should not run games.
What Can Players Do
Here are a couple of suggestions on how to communicate effectively with your GM so that they will run a better game, rather than a worse game or no game at all, next time. First, try to state the actual problem and not just “I was really upset with how this scene went” or something similarly vague. If you don’t know what it was about a scene that you didn’t like, talk it out with the GM until you figure it out.
Second, have a solution in mind whenever you can. This is key to make it sound like you are trying to be helpful rather than just grumbling or complaining. If you tell your GM that you hate when your character died, they might just try to prevent character death in the future by lowering the difficulty to where the game isn’t interesting. But if you clarify that you were upset that they died by a trap without any warning and advise that if they gave you a hint at the consequences ahead of time so that you could make an informed opinion about the risks of sticking your hand in the cookie jar…well now they know that you just don’t like to be blindsided.
Third, make sure the GM knows that you really want to play with them. This covers a multitude of sins and insecurities. If you start off your communication by complimenting something they did good, and then end with the fact that you are really wanting to play with them again, then whatever criticism is sandwiched in the middle is going to be much easier to swallow.
Looking for Tips
I know that there are a lot of resources out there for people that want to GM a game, even outside of official materials. Lots of websites, blogs, vlogs, and podcasts exist to help GMs try new things and discuss interesting ideas. I know of very few resources for being a better player. Certainly I don’t know of anything online that is primarily dedicated to improving players. This is probably because we tend to think of it as the GM’s job to make better players.
If anyone does know of a good player resource, please let me know. In the meantime, try to remember that we as players are also very responsible for making better GMs. There are always more players that GMs, and we could use more good ones!