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Ontario Pathfinder Society | 5-Foot-Theatre: The New GM Nudge
5-Foot-Theatre: The New GM Nudge

5-Foot-Theatre: The New GM Nudge


I will take the Ringthough I do not know the way.’

-Frodo, The Fellowship of the Ring


Remember the “bad-old-days” of role playing games? It was a time before the internet, and players had very few ways to connect with each other. Things were so bad that an RPG enthusiast could go years between sessions. Alone with their polyhedral dice, rulebooks, and fading hopes – players from those grim times wondered when or even if they’d ever play again…

Enter the era of the World Wide Web, and soon afterwards, Pathfinder Society organized play! The ability to connect online, to have reliable venues, and to access quality players and GMs changed everything. But with success came new challenges; having a tonne of new players is awesome – but without GMs, the show can’t go on.

There are many reasons why players are shy about stepping-up to GM. Below, you’ll find a few common anxieties and a few ideas about how to deal with them. Moreover, you’ll find a list of the surprising and fun rewards that being a PFS GM provides.


The Concerns

“I’m just dropping in.”

PFS is designed to encourage drop-in play. Some players participate very sporadically and that’s cool. In such a case, GMing might not seem to be a logical next-step – so no pressure! However, as players change their schedules to accommodate PFS into their weekly routine, perhaps it’s a good indicator that they’re shifting from “drop-in” to “regular”. When players experience this change, the idea of GMing might cross their mind. If so, there’s probably good reason for it.


“I don’t know all the rules.”

This is a common fear among players who are thinking about becoming a GM. The average PFS table is filled with rule experts who seem to know everything from core combat mechanics down to the minutiae of the latest source-book archetypes. GMing for players so well-versed in the rules can be intimidating. The reality is, you don’t need to know every rule. The only requirement is that you’re willing to learn as you go along. Remember, your Paizo account is updated every time you GM. It’s important to note that the system is based on how many tables you run, not on how many rules you know. Experience is the best teacher.

The players at the table (many of them, GMs) are there to support you, not to judge you. The people you’re GMing for are grateful for the chance to play, so never fear! You’re surrounded by friends – so keep calm and GM on. By the way, for more information about the rewards of GMing and the “GM Star” system, please see the Guide to Organized play. All you need to get your first Star is 10 tables of experience!


The Perks

Impacting the community

Going from full-time player to part-time GM offers considerable rewards. Nearly every player sitting at an RPG table has thought to themselves, “I might have run this a bit differently”. Players are creative problem-solvers by nature, as such, they may see ways to refine the gaming experience that other GMs haven’t yet considered. Such a refinement could be anything from how maps are drawn, to how in-game puzzles are presented. Every player has their own ideas on how to improve a scenario. Becoming a GM gives players agency to make their vision a reality. By demonstrating your own methods and approaches to GMing, you add vital new techniques to the community’s mix. One player may see your innovations and refine them further, thereby making the entire community a better place to play. By becoming a GM, you have the potential to make an immediate, positive, and long-term impact on the gaming community.


Becoming a better player

By becoming a GM, you will begin to learn about the usual “shape” a PFS scenario takes. Knowing the bits and pieces that comprise most PFS scenarios can help you manage your time at the table. This can lead to smoother games where less time is misspent on in-game diversions that, although fun, may drag the game out, forcing the GM to skip interesting details and perhaps even the optional encounter. Knowing how things work from the GM side of the table can help improve your insights as a player. These insights contribute to improving overall table etiquette and helps to avoid the “rush at the end of the session” syndrome.


Becoming a better GM

Perhaps you’re a long-time GM of a home game and you enjoy something a little more “sandbox” in scope. That’s fine of course, but having more tools in your GM belt is always a good thing. Running a PFS scenario will improve your home game. Being a PFS GM focuses your creative energy and makes you consider how to allocate resources (time, maps, role-playing encounters, etc). It can certainly happen that home game GMs don’t know what they’re missing until they step-up to run a PFS scenario. Once they know what’s missing (perhaps a lack of charisma-based skill checks, perhaps an efficient method of running speedy/accurate combat encounters, etc.), they can incorporate their new knowledge into their own long-term games. PFS scenarios are tightly written and can be more challenging to run than a home game, but as the expression goes, iron sharpens iron.


Some practical benefits

GMs get chronicles for the scenarios they’ve run, so having “Chronicle-babies” (characters that level up through GMing) is a way to help some of your more fragile characters get through those early levels of the game. This isn’t for everyone, but it’s nice to have the option.

Another practical benefit is the possibility of attending conventions as a GM. If you’re selected to GM at such an event, the entrance fee is usually waived in exchange for your contribution. Conventions are some of the coolest venues you can find. Between sessions you can enjoy the costumes, games, and other offerings at the Con. Also, GM incentives such as GM boons make a sweet deal even sweeter. Such boons are awarded to those who GM at conventions. There are a dizzying array of boons, but many deal with special access to races that would otherwise not be PFS legal. Other boons offer special access to treasure, while still others allow for special items that add flavourful and sometimes crucial abilities a character would otherwise not have access to. GMing at a Con offers much in return.


The Ultimate Payoff

The real benefit of being a GM is that you acquire a more complete view of what PFS really is. You become a valued and necessary ally in the unending quest for better gaming. You gain the camaraderie and respect of everyone in the community, too. This contribution gives your fellow GMs an opportunity to move from behind the GM screen and back to the player’s side of the table every now and then. Everyone needs a break, and by volunteering to run a game, you help other GMs recharge their gaming-batteries so that they can offer more great experiences for you and your fellow gamers. By stepping-up, you stave off the horrors of the bad-old-days and ensure that everyone who wants to play, gets to play. And for that, new GMs get everyone’s thanks and respect. So if GMing has crossed your mind, let your store-coordinator or Venture-Officer know. It’s the first step in your journey to even better gaming for all.

Blaise is a Toronto area writer and gamer. "...an excessive min/maxer is missing the point of the game. Reducing a character to a list of combat modifiers and dice rolls is not role-playing." -AD&D 2nd Edition DMG page 30 When you think about it, if the Hobbits were optimized it would have kinda ruined the Lord of the Rings.


  1. gwarne

    gwarne - May 26, 2014, 7:04 pm

    Inspiring article, Blaise – – and beautifully written!

    I can’t wait to start running scenarios. Having had that experience of wanting to play and being unable to find a game, I really want to be able to run games myself. And being the GM is also a ton of fun. You get to see more of the possibilities than the players do. It’s fun seeing how the players approach the situations.

  2. Blaise

    Blaise - May 26, 2014, 8:02 pm


    Thanks for the comment. I’m eager to get a chance to play at your table. I’m sure you’ll love the thrill of GMing! Can hardly wait. 🙂

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