How to Become a Better Game Master According to Science


So you’ve got a collection of guides for game masters, a playlist’s worth of GM tips from Geek & Sundry, and a group of players who are happy to be your test subjects. In order to become a great GM, all you have to do is clock in ten thousand hours* of practicing those techniques in order to become great at gamemastering, right?

Not so fast.

According to the research, simply reading a book, watching a video, or listening to a podcast and giving those concepts a try isn’t going to make you better. Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool details the process, as backed up by data, of how to get good at just about anything. You have to apply your newfound knowledge with practice, but you have to practice the right way.

If you just do something repetitively for a long time, you’re not actually likely to become an expert at it. You need to try, fail, recalibrate, and try again. In this book, the authors discuss the method that’s proven to work for the world’s top athletes, musicians, surgeons, chess grandmasters, and more: it’s called deliberate practice, and it’s designed to help you create stronger mental representations.

Mental representations (or ways of thinking about something) are what separate the good GMs from the great ones. Well-developed mental representations enable GMs to juggle multiple considerations such as plot twists, NPCs, and pacing in their heads all at once: they’ve trained themselves to be consciously thinking of those all those things and more at the right times during game. Mental representations also give GMs a model for predicting how different rulings or story choices will play out at the table, and for making the right call when presented with the players’ unexpected plans or unanticipated dice rolls.

Here’s what the authors of Peak say you have to do in order to practice deliberately and forge those mental representations.

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