Mastering as Game Master: Improvisational Comedy Episode.006

Tonight the air is crisp and cool in your lungs, a soft breeze brushing over your skin as you overlook the Kalaron Valley from the last crest of the mountains.  It has been an exhausting trip as you’ve cut your way through narrow passes, battled dozens of giants, and fought hypothermia in hopes of finding the sunken temple of Pharaoh Lashum somewhere within the valley.  Although the king of the country begged you to travel south to rescue his beloved daughter who is surely dead by now, your journey north to claim possession  of the *sigh* Super Cool Mighty Stick of Power  surely will be worth her sacrifice.

I’m an excellent liar.  Too good, really, as often my friends stop and wonder if that fantastic story I just told was half true or not a bit.  Although my skill as a liar is never used to harm or cheat anyone, I do frequently use that skill.  And yes, I call it a skill because it is something that demands practice and development before it can be done.  Mom always insisted that I would never be able to use that ability with anything practical, but I beg to differ.  It is brilliantly helpful as a GM.

To anyone who has been a GM before, you know that basically no story you have written out will unfold as you wrote it.  It never happens because players are unpredictable.  Some do it on accident, others do it out of spite of knowing you want them to go a certain direction.  Although there are plenty of tricks at being a GM that will allow you to keep your players right where you want them to go, sometimes the situation gets so out of control that you are simply going to have to make up what is happening on-the-fly.  This is called lying.


Yes, you as a GM are a liar.  Your job is to give the players an Effect from their Cause of whatever they did.  Did the character see the villain go down the right alley?  You told them they did not (when in fact they rolled the secret target number).  You told them the dragon successfully rolled a critical on the party’s wizard (when in fact you rolled a 1).

Oh what’s that?  You have never done that before as a GM?  Well then, you would be lying.  See how easy it is?

The ability to lie requires you to think on your feet….FAST.  You have to come up with a story that is believable, and depending on the lifespan of the lie, you also have to have a great memory to remember what you have lied about up to that point.  Those with bad memories and think slowly will never be good liars (or GMs).  And this skill’s challenge increases if your players are intelligent and not gullible.

This skill takes time to develop.  Being a good GM means that you have taken the time to work on and improve this ability to a level where you can theoretically have a conversation with someone in which you have no idea what they are talking about.  For example, have you ever had someone try talking to you about a subject that is over your head and difficult to comprehend?  How do you handle it?  Most people will simply nod their head and say “Uh huh” when they pause between sentences.  This is an opportunity to work on those skills.

Let’s say for argument sake someone asked you,”Wow did you catch last night’s baseball game?  There was a crazy play in the 8th when Cecil didn’t tag up on a pop fly but got away with scoring.”  Instead of simply saying,”Oh I don’t like baseball,” trying to convince the person you are at least mildly interested in what they are saying,  Perhaps try,”Yeah I remember a game where the coach was livid over a bad call and threw something out in the field.  Knocked a player out cold.”  Just thinking off the top of your head, you know they’re talking about a sport, which all sports have some kind of a coach, and in every sport there is always arguing of some kind over rules and such (basically my old role playing group was a sport).  It’s purely and convincing others you know what they are talking about.  You don’t have to have a deep conversation with the person, just enough to satisfy them that what they said was received and understood.

The concept may just sound alien and for some it will be impossible to work on because of personalities or behaviors or even phobias.  It can boil down to trying this out with your closest friends whom you feel most comfortable around.

I once GMed a player who enjoyed using a chaotic dice when playing.  It really allowed him to play chaotically, but, more importantly, he forced him to come up with behaviors and make decisions off the cuff.  If you’re lucky enough to get the night off from being a GM in order to play, give yourself those opportunities to practice on playing truly chaotic.

If you are attending classes, drama classes can really work on any hesitation you might have with coming up with things to say off the top of your head.  Make sure you try improv anytime the chance comes up because it will help you think on your feet more.  It might not come overnight, but it WILL come with practice.

One final piece of advice on being able to improv your way through a role playing game:  be more lenient to your players’ choices in the game.  Go into each game with the understanding that they have their own thoughts, intelligence, beliefs, and fears.  Feel free to leave hints and give them tastes of what you have planned for them, but don’t feel your story is ruined.  Always keep your written notes for future moments because they will come up again.  Tell yourself that you came up with that story and you can come up with another.  Feed off the players’ choices and decisions like was discussed in a previous post and find the story that is waiting to be told.  If your mind is completely blank, take a bathroom break.  Take your time and think of a movie or book you’ve seen that might relate to the direction the players are wishing to go and throw it in there.  Who cares if it’s not original?  TRUE original content is hard to come by as everything is influenced by something in the past subconsciously or consciously.  The important thing is to have fun and enjoy the game.

This concludes the 6-part series on improving to be a better Game Master.  I hope that through it all there was at least one thing that you were able to take from it and use for your own.  Look for other mini-series collections in the future right here.

Until next time, lie about your dice roll as much as you can get away with.  Thanks for stopping by.



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