The Continual Improvement Mindset

Even… you know… the Amber Pope has to work at things to get better. If he can do it…

I’ve mentioned elsewhere on this blog that I have been running games for something like 30 years now.  Several years after I started, I became a teenager.  Those of you that are older reading this, I am sure you know what I’m going to tell you.  Those years were wonderful.  I was the greatest GM on the planet.  All you had to do was ask me, and I would happily tell you about how awesome I was at running games, and the amazing worldbuilding activities I was working on for D&D, Mechwarrior, Shadowrun, and anything else I was touching at the time.

It wasn’t until much later, until I was in my 30’s actually, that I discovered that there were GM’s better than me.  As I played in their games, I was captivated.  I eventually married my favorite of them.  They tended to be able to do something I couldn’t do well.  They were able to react to what I did, even if it went outside the parameters of the adventure/campaign, without breaking the narrative or the immersion of the story.

I tried mimicking them, but I never seemed to be able to figure out how they did it well and I started to get really frustrated.  Around that time, I started discovering resources for GM’s online.  YouTube videos, websites with articles, even books.  I began exploring and noting things that I could practice and work on.  At the time, I was mainly focused on Dungeons & Dragons and Shadowrun, but the vast majority of the resources I discovered over the years, while often couched in the language of those games (particularly D&D), are equally applicable to GMing as a whole.

Some of the things I found helpful (in no particular order or chronology) were:

  • How to be a Great Game Master, by Guy Sclanders (YouTube) (Website)
  • The various Kobold Guides by Kobold Press (The ones on Adventures, Campaigns, and Worldbuilding are particularly good)
  • I started with the first version, but The Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master by Michael E. Shea  (His other publications are good too)
  • Your Best Game Ever by Monte Cook. One word, gang: Pacing.
  • The Alexandrian (Another incredibly useful advice blog)
  • Monte Cook Games’ own blog on Gaming Better
  • Koan Mandala’s Blog offers many good things to think about as well as well as an excellent list of other Cypher resources here.

My late wife enjoyed painting.  The woman who taught her is still a good friend.  She was self-taught as well.  One of the things her friend tried to get her to understand was that you cannot improve without trying and making mistakes.  But the mistakes, in art, are often things that add flavor.  They make it more human.  Sometimes, you take them out anyway (erasing, sanding away the acrylic and starting over, whatever…) but they are nothing to be ashamed of because art is human too.  Storytelling is art of a different sort.  The only way to get better at it is to learn something new, and then try it, practice it.  Occasionally you fail (or perceive that you do).  Then, it is good to have a sounding board to discuss it.  Your players, if you set it up that way, can be a fantastic sounding board.  So can other GM’s.

But the aim here is not perfection.  It is continual improvement.  I am always looking for things to teach or inform me how to be better at my craft.  Why?  Because I am passionate about it.  Because one of my joys in life is the collaborative storytelling that comes with role-playing games.  Seeing a story grow organically between a group of people to become a powerful and moving epic is a really powerful thing for me.  And like other hobbies, I want to invest time and effort into developing my skills, both for my own sake and that of my players.

If you are like me, hopefully there are some resources above that can get you started looking.  Don’t stop there.  The gaming community is vast and varied.  As I have said for years, “Truth is where you find it.”  You never know where your next great idea is going to come from, so keep yourself open and receptive.  Happy gaming!

  • Josh Walles

Now on DriveThruRPG, from Angel’s Citadel… A brand new, original setting for the Cypher System! The Hope’s Horizon Starter Kit requires the Revised Cypher System Rulebook from Monte Cook Games.

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