Running With Class

When it comes to running games, I’ve found myself thinking about the process in terms of teaching. That’s no surprise, really, since I’m studying to be a teacher currently. And while some may shudder at the thought of the gaming table turning into a classroom, I think that there are valuable lessons (har) that can be learned from comparing the two.

This is the start of an ongoing series on this subject. There’s a lot of information to explore here, and I figure it’s going to take more than a few articles to cover it all properly. To begin with, we’ll cover some of the similarities between teaching and GMing as an overview.

GM As Teacher

This is a role that GMs find themselves in, often whether they want to or not. The GM is commonly the person at the game table who knows the game system best (though this is not always the case), and the GM is in charge of final rules decisions. The system knowledge side of things is emphasized even more when the system is new to the whole group. I found this to be the case when beginning character creation in my Eclipse Phase game. I had to be able to deliver setting knowledge, system knowledge, and the process of character creation to my group in a way that made sense to everyone. Teachers (are supposed to) do the same thing.

GM As Facilitator

During any given game session, the GM acts in many different roles, but almost all of them are designed to facilitate the play of the game. If there is a rules question, it’s the GM’s job to answer it. If there is conflict to meditate, that’s the GM’s job as well. Keeping the story moving, providing colorful descriptions, and playing memorable NPCs are all things that the GM must do, as well. Sometimes these thing go as planned, and sometimes the GM has to wing it. As well, the GM must be aware of, and adapt to the different play styles of the people at the table.

All of these examples mirror what goes on in a classroom. Teachers work to facilitate the learning process, and they use a variety of tools to do so. Students, like players, have a variety of learning styles. A good teacher will make sure that they cater to the strengths of their students, while helping them work on their weaknesses.

GM As Lesson Planner

As I was working through some of my coursework, I had a whole section based around the writing of lesson plans. It struck me that the process of lesson planning is very similar to the process of adventure writing, or at least, it can be. Lesson plans are very formulaic. There’s a lot of room for variation within them, but you always have to fill out the appropriate fields with the appropriate information, at least when they’re being graded. Adventures can be the same way. If you have a template that works for you, you can design a great number of adventures that fit within that template. The only problem is sticking to that template once class starts.

Many experienced teachers have told me that, post college, you never fill out long-form lesson plans. In fact, some simply have notes about what they intend to accomplish in the classroom that day. Adventure writing is no different. Sure, you might have a great template to follow, but when you’ve only got a small amount of time to prep (because, let’s face it, most of us aren’t professional GMs… and if anyone wants one, let me know, my rates are good) you do what you can. Teachers are the same way. Finding a long-form lesson plan or adventure template and learning it is useful, but you’ll likely not use it every day.

GM As Councilor

It’s a role that few teachers ask for, but it’s one that comes up anyway: that of helping students with outside-the-classroom problems. If you’re a good, caring GM, you might find yourself in this position as well. For some groups, this might look a lot like the GM mediating between the out-of-game conflict between two players. For others, it might actually be the GM, as an “authority figure” being the person that someone goes to for advice. It might not be personal advice, but the GM should be prepared to help people with their problems.

GM As Fun Engineer

Sometimes, things get boring. “Oh, we’re fighting Orcs again?” “Oh, we’re going to talk about the nominative case again?” This area is linked to the GM As Facilitator piece above, but it’s worth its own area, I think. There are times when the GM just has to bring the fun. The same is true for a teacher. Find what the players think is fun and exciting, and bring that, big-time. Or, for a teacher, package the information in a way that engages the students.

Sometimes, though, people just get burned out. Too much of one session, or too much work on a single topic means that the players/students will need a change of pace. This might mean running a one-off adventure, or saying “the hell with it” and playing board games for a night. For a teacher, it might mean playing a game in class, rather than the lesson. Don’t abuse this possibility, but be aware that it exists for a reason.

Moving Forward

I’ve covered all of these topics in (relatively) brief fashion. All of them can have more said about them, though. Look for more articles in this series in the coming weeks. And, if you have other parallels that you see that I didn’t draw in this post, let me know, and I’ll add them to the list.


-Keep Gaming

Part idiot. Part old man. All geek. Unrelenting font of ideas, both good and bad. Co-owner of Exploding Rogue Studios, and on Twitter as TheOtherTracy.

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About TheOtherTracy

Unrelenting font of ideas, both good and bad. Co-owner of Exploding Rogue Studios, and on Twitter as TheOtherTracy.
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