The ABCs of GMing is an ongoing series about the different skills and ideas needed to run a successful tabletop game.
I’ve mentioned in previous articles that GMs are responsible for the pacing of any game. The GM is the one writing the story, creating the cast of supporting characters (NPCs), and is responsible for the forward progress of the players (even with the inevitable shenanigans that they will cause).
There are many skills GMs should bring to the table to accomplish these tasks. In this case though, it isn’t a skill worth mentioning, but rather a trait:
With every game session, the GM needs to bring energy to the table.
An attentive, active GM keeps players invested in the game and interested in the story. If the GM is lackadaisical, slow, and not terribly active, players can get turned off and bored. GMs need to be ready for every game, and they need to ensure they are giving players the quality session they deserve. While this may seem like a simple task, or something easily accomplished, it does take some self-awareness to accomplish. Your energy level is more important to the game than the energy level of your players. Since the GM is ultimately the person pushing the game along, the GM needs to be on top of his or her game to make sure everything is running well. If the GM suffers due to lack of energy, it can drag the whole game down and lessen the experience for everyone.
Get Some Sleep
As cliche as it sounds, GMs need their sleep. Walking into a session with a handful of eager, excited, caffeinated gamers can take a lot out of a person. This situation can be exasperated for games that carry for many hours or late into the night. Even if you don’t feel tired, a lack of sleep can affect your judgment, lessen your creativity, cause you to lose focus, slow down your brain, and send your system into overload.
Make sure you get all the sleep you need the night before. Besides, with all the preparation you’ve done in the few days leading up to your session (working on plotlines, tying into back stories, making new NPCs, etc.), don’t you deserve a good night’s rest? If you’re going to spend all that time with preparation and legwork before the game, you should make it worth your while and ensure you give everything you can when it comes to the presentation itself.
Keep Yourself Active
When you’re sitting at a table for hours, rolling dice, drinking caffeinated beverages, and eating all manner of junk food that shouldn’t really be going into your body, keeping a high energy level can be tough. Physical activity is a good idea for everyone, but even small steps while playing can help. When you’re feeling a little slow, stand up and walk around. You can use the act of walking around the table as part of your session, from adding dramatic effect to your storytelling, to giving your players a more personal interaction. If you have options on where you meet for your game, pick a place that is more conducive to the act of walking around. If that isn’t your style, consider at least taking a break here and there to stretch the legs.
Another idea could be using a place that has a whiteboard on the wall. That gives the GM a handy tool for running a game, as well as an excuse to be active.
Standing desks are also a plus. Once you’re standing at a desk working with your notes, it will feel more natural to walk around your players as you tell your take.
While many tabletop players get into the hobby in their teens, many of us continue that into adulthood. As such with adults, many of us may occasionally enjoy an adult beverage. The argument here isn’t to say drinking while playing your tabletop is wrong, but to understand you have to know your limits. Alcohol will dull your senses and cloud your thinking – that’s a fact. Keep that in mind when you start tapping into the booze during your game. It may seem like a double-standard to hold the GM to a different level of sobriety, but the game moves at your pace. If you’re getting a little buzzed and start getting distracted or slurring your words, that’ll definitely slow the game down, regardless of the condition of your players. You have to make sure your moderation is practiced. Give careful attention to your own ability to run your game, and know when to draw your limits.
Know When To Call It
As much as our hardcore gamer hearts would love to pull off a 31-hour gaming marathon session, we’re only human. There will be times when, as much as you want to keep going, your body will start to shut down. Be aware of the moment you become less effective as a GM due to fatigue. Even if it seems earlier than usual, stretching yourself out will deteriorate your game quality. At the first sign of getting tired, halt your game at the next break in the action. Your players may want to keep pushing on, but it’s better to give your players a quality experience. Besides, every player loves a cliffhanger.
Next time, I’ll be talking about Focus, and what that takes. (Wait, what was I talking about?) In the meantime, feel free to tell us about your own suggestions on energy on our forums!