When you say it bluntly, GM attention equals obstacles towards the goal, it seems obvious. However, while it is blatantly true, sometimes it feels like it is so easily understood that we actually miss it altogether. Also, while Attention = Obstacles, it also seems that the lack of attention equals the lack of obstacles in return. Today I want to talk about this, and what it can mean for your game.
Slipping Through The Cracks
Let's be honest with ourselves. As a GM you have a large responsibility. You have 4-6 players; each with their own characters that have their own wants, goals, and desires; and it is your job to keep all of this in line and run the rest of the world at the same time. Sure, we have lots of little tricks to help us with this. We only name the NPCs that it is important to name. We don't trouble ourselves with what is going on in places so far 'off screen' that they are unlikely to matter for a long time to come. Even with that though, there is still a lot to track. Sure, our players can and should help with this, but ultimately it is your responsibility to know what is up. Because of this, and because of just how much there is to track and keep in the front of your mind, it is inevitable that some details are going to slip through the cracks. The problem is, sometimes those details then become a rather big deal later on down the road.
And Then Things Were Quiet For 15 Years...
I have this problem in my L5R game right now. One of the PCs set himself in charge of a gang in a dangerous part of the city the game takes place in. However, I also had 4 other PCs all doing things and didn't want to devote 50% of every session just to the various gang violence and fight going on in this area. So, things were quiet. Sure, there was some initial noise. The new leader - and gang - had to establish themselves. But aside from that, it was quiet. It slipped through the cracks. Now though, from time skips and other things in game, it's been about 15 years and that dangerous section of the city has been quiet all that time. Weird no?
So now, because it didn't have my attention and thus there weren't obstacles/challenges thrown in the way, I'm left with a fairly large task. I need to figure out why it was quiet for fifteen years and since now that that gang is a bigger part of the game and is coming under attention, I need an even better reason as for why the quiet times are coming to an end. Sure, I can do both. But it is extra work that a bit more attention could've solved earlier.
How Much Is Too Much
Stories aside, the main point I wanted to make in this article is to point out that as the GM you need to be aware of what you are paying attention to and to what you are not paying attention to. What is slipping through the cracks on you? How much attention do you give to the things going on now? How much do you give to the little side things? This is a fine balancing act to make though. Too much attention, too many challenges, and a side diversion can become the focus of the game. Too little, and something with the potential to be something very awesome and memorable gets left by the wayside.
While giving your attention you also need to weigh your challenges. Are you hitting too hard? Too gently? How much of the PCs attention is this going to require? And keep in mind that more PC attention has a tendency to then demand more GM attention as well.
The way to handle all this? Simple. Be honest with yourself. Understand that you can't track everything all the time. Understand that you will need notes for some things. Most importantly, understand that some things - no matter how cool or how much you want to do stuff with them - are going to fall through the cracks. Understand all this, be up front and honest with your players about it, and make the best of what you have.
In the end, that is all you can do.