A set of answers to this challenge: 13 GM Exercises
1. Your players arrive in an abandoned city – the first thing they do is enter a home,
asking what’s left of the pantry. What do you say to them?
As you enter the house, [party member at the front of the marching order] nearly puts their foot
through a rotten floorboard with a resounding *crack*. Something moves suddenly in the shadows-
as it springs up and bolts away, you realize that it's only a deer.
There's not much left inside- whoever abandoned this place seems to have had time to pack their
things up before they left. There's no food or valuables left in the place, and most of the furniture is
either gone or heavily decayed.
2. Your players want to talk to a city magistrate about an unpopular idea of theirs.
In order to catch the magistrate off-guard, they approach early in the morning. What state do they find
the magistrate in?
You make your way to the magistrate's home as the city lamplighters are extinguishing the lamps
for the day. After a few minutes waiting on the doorstep, you're greeted by a plump young man with
an apologetic look.
"I'm terribly sorry, but he's... indisposed at the moment. Why don't you come in and wait for him?"
He ushers you in to a formal parlor. "Would you like some tea? Pastries?"
As you sip tea and exchange pleasantries, you hear the sound of someone coming down the stairs.
"Dear gods, who is hammering on the door at this hour?" Your quarry shuffles into the room, wearing
a dressing gown and slippers and looking very hungover. He sits down and pours himself some tea,
rubbing his temples. "You people again. What is it that you want?"
3. During character creation, a player mentions that they want a naturally blue-haired character.
Not for any particular reason, you were envisioning your campaign setting without this possibility.
How do you respond?
"Well, people who were exposed to wild magic or ancient artifacts sometimes have mutations.
Were you planning to play a sorcerer?"
4. Read the following entry for a “point of interest”, and then refine how you would present it
in a game in some way.
Hidden within a secluded forest glade is a ruined shrine of ancient granite, vines of ivy peeking through
the cracked stone pillars. The shrine was built by ash dwarves, and like most such shrines, it is guarded
by a salamander.
Within the shrine is a pool of simmering water. Characters who drink here receive the
benefits of the fire shield spell for the rest of the day.
As you enter the glade, the scent of sulfur mixes with that of pine resin. The air feels warmer, offering
a welcome respite from the northern winter. There's no snow on the ground here, just bare stone and
unseasonable patches of low-growing plants.
A statue of rough-hewn granite stands over a pool of water, arms outstretched. It's been eroded by
lichen and frost, but you can make out a beard.
The water in the pool is visibly steaming, and there's some strange type of pond scum floating on the
surface, creating a pattern like a multicoloured bull's-eye.
A creature surfaces from the spring- a long, narrow head with empty eye sockets, and feathery gills
that glow like lava. It opens its mouth, showing rows of teeth like obsidian chips as it hisses.
5. Your players enter a dungeon you have prepared, and leave after being spooked by the monsters
within. In truth, they are more than powerful enough to overcome the threats of the dungeon,
and well-equipped to do so. One of the players asks you, “Do you think we’re ready for this dungeon?”
How do you answer?
" I don't throw threats at my players that they can't get around one way or another."
6. One of your players has a spell, speak with insects. They use it to speak with a spider,
at which point another player points out that it shouldn’t work. The first player is obviously
disappointed, and looks to you hopefully for you to overrule the other player.
You don’t remember the actual details of how the spell works, but your rulebook is handy if you
need to look it up. What do you do?
"Actually, the spell works on any arthropod. The wizards who created it weren't exactly experts on
biology- they called anything with an exoskeleton an insect."
General: I love to do lavish descriptions, to the point that I worry it sometimes bogs down the overall
pace of the game. Call it Tolkien syndrome.
Side note: #1 is based on something that actually happened to me while exploring an abandoned barn
I came across while hiking.
#3- I've had to work new species into my settings to accommodate a character that someone already
came to the table with- it's the only reason the shadar-kai, who I'm not particularly fond of, exist in
my Starsail setting. If I can find a way to slot it in, you're welcome to play it.
#4- The chance to work some of my real-life knowledge of geology into a game is too good to pass up.
I'll sometimes change the appearance of a monster to throw players who've read the Monster Manual
#6- I don't mind making slight tweaks to the Rules As Published to keep the game from slowing to a
crawl as someone digs out the rulebook.
Part II: Your job is to see if you agree or disagree with the responses, and try to articulate why you
agree or disagree. Compare and contrast with your own, original answers, if helpful, or don’t, if not.
7. (response to 1) “There’s nothing in the pantry.”
I don't agree with this one- it doesn't offer any clues as to why the place is abandoned, or give the PCs
a helpful resource to work with.
8. (response to 2) “The magistrate – only a petty official who has temporarily taken over this post,
by the way – isn’t even tired – he’s an early morning sort of gentleman.
Despite the early hour, the dawn’s rays still barely tickling over the hills, he looks well put-together.
Not a hair is out of place on his head, and his sharply kept mustache suggests a morning ritual of
wax-infused grooming. The man is already making steady headway into a stack of tidy paperwork
as you arrive. You’re in luck, however – he seems to be in a good mood, which may make him more
amenable to your suggestion than normal.”
This is more or less the polar opposite of my response, but I think it works well. I ran with the
assumption that the PCs have already met the magistrate- the question didn't mention whether or not
9. (response to 3) “Sure you can have blue hair! I hope you don’t mind if nobody else does though
– I didn’t really originally picture that sort of hair, and I’ve got so much else to juggle that I probably
won’t add a whole lot of world responsiveness to blue hair. It’ll just be an aesthetic thing to help you
better picture your character, not much beyond that.”
Not a huge fan of this- I like to find ways to make the player characters fit in well with the lore of
the setting, even if I have to improvise said lore.
10. (response to 4) “The point of interest should be more direct, short and to the point.
I don’t want to mention other shrines, since they’ll come up when they come up, and players can make
the connection about salamanders being normal if they want to.
Since it’s for a game, the phrases don’t have to be grammatically correct or complete sentences –
they just need to convey information. For a play-by-post game, I also want the keywords to stand out,
so I will bold them:”
An ash dwarf shrine. 1 salamander stands guard outside. Simmering pool of fire shield
(1 day duration) inside.
I generally use more atmospheric descriptions, but I agree with this person about not directly telling
the players more than their characters would know.
This looks more like my notes than my narration. Since it's a play-by-post game, comparing it to my
narration behind the screen seems like apples and oranges.
11. (response to 5) “Who knows? Haha.”
This really isn't helpful- I'll give my players a slight out-of-game nudge if I think it's needed.
12. (response to 6) “I would look it up in the book, and if it’s a regular question, I would add a
sticky-note to that page so I could find it faster, to show my players what the rules say.
Knowing the rules and when to look them up is important, and I want to lead by example.”
Again, this isn't how I run a game, but I don't see a problem with it. I tend to lean more towards the
"rulings, not rules" school of GMing, but I'm aware that not everyone enjoys that style of play.
13. Imagine, briefly, that the responses in 7 through 12 all came from the same GM,
within the same campaign. Are there patterns that emerge about how this GM runs?
Would you want the GM to be more consistent and predictable about anything?
Does examining this hypothetical GM change how you thought about your own tendencies,
and your own patterns? Would you want to learn anything from this hypothetical GM, or not? Why?
This GM seems like someone who runs a very orderly table. I feel like they could probably help me
sharpen up my knowledge of the Official Rules.
One bit of constructive criticism I'd give them is to be more willing to roll with player suggestions-
sometimes just saying "sure, let's go with that" can make the story more engaging for everyone involved.
Reading these responses made me really notice how Literary I tend to get with my descriptions.