One of the easiest ways to get better at being a GM is simply to play in a game - or watch games that are streamed - and pay attention to the GM and how they run their game. This is true for those of us with decades of experience, and it is true for those who have never run a game before. It can be used to learn how to run a specific system. It can be used for how to run specific scenarios. It can also be used for just general ideas for how to run. Today I want to talk about why some of the best advice you could ever find for GMing is going on all around you.
Everyone's Game Is Different
One of the truths about games you'll find when you play with a few different GMs is that everyone runs their games differently. Even the same GM can run two campaigns differently with a change in the players, but those differences are a bit more subtle. The big thing to take from this is that there is no wrong way to run a game, just so long as the people playing it are having fun.
No wrong way to run a game? Everyone runs their game different? That sounds like a lot of different things you can learn from watching other GMs now doesn't it?
What Do You Really Like About Those Games?
When watching other GMs do their thing, what is it that you really like about their games? Matt Mercer is famous for his NPCs. He does voices, mannerisms, and really sinks into every character. It helps that Matt is a professional actor, but you can still learn a lot abut how to make unique NPCs by watching Matt play.
Matt Coleville is really good at setting up interesting encounters and sessions designed to test and poke. Listening to his campaign diaries, you can see a lot about how he approaches things for his sessions and how he is going in with a plan - and will gladly tell you how it plays out.
Some GMs are really good at building combat encounters, running the NPC opposition, and really bringing the full fury of the 'bad guys' into play.
Other GMs are really good at giving their players crowning moments of awesome, and things seem to align beautifully to spotlight a character just as they do something cool.
Some GMs aren't great at anything, but they're good at everything and they can juggle between the various types of encounters and scenarios with expert dexterity.
Break Down How They Do It
Once you've identified what you really like about how a GM does something, try to figure out how they do it. If the GM is a friend of yours, or someone who runs a game you're in, you can just ask them. Trust me, if you go to your GM and go "Hey, I really like how you make all your NPCs unique. How do you do that? Got any tips?" they'll be very likely to jump into conversation with you about it. Everyone likes being appreciated, and this shows genuine appreciation in them as a GM and their game.
If the GM runs an online game like Critical Role or the Chain of Acheron, odds are they have all sorts of little snippets easily found online where they talk about their games and how they do things.
Remember It's Going to be Rough The First Few Times
Remember that it's going to be a bit rough the first few times you try to do this. You're doing new things, and trying new approaches. You aren't going to drop voices and mannerisms into your NPCs for the first time and be on par with Matt Mercer (he is a professional voice actor, remember?) so don't think you will. And your first attempts at making 'creative' encounters could have mixed results.
Learning something, is agreeing to suck at it for a bit.
Put It Into Action
And that's it. You identify the thing, figure out how it works, and put it into action in your own game. Give it a few attempts. Do you like it? It's possible what you like in other people's games doesn't feel right in your own. Do your players like it?
That last question can be important. It is easy to think something isn't working as you're learning it and fumbling with it. From the outside it might be working just fine.
So give something new a chance. It might be just the thing your game needs to go to the next level.