Stand and Deliver

The Game Master is a story teller. As such, he needs to be one of the key focal points of the game session. Think of him as the Ring Master at a circus. Even if he is not one of the performers, his job is to direct the attention and focus of the audience. When was the last time you saw a Ring Master that sat quietly in the corner or behind a partition? Never. He is always standing boldly in the center of the action, unless of course he is stepping aside so that the audience can give their attention to a performer, which is where he directs there attention.

As a Game Master it is important that you be able to direct the flow of the adventure, and thus the attention of the participants. This is especially true in a convention environment where there is limited time and ample distraction. Of course there are those games, usually more laid back games at home among seasoned players who know one another and who have exceptional role playing skills, where the players are engaged enough and motivated enough that they can work together and keep things flowing smoothly without much direction. In those rare cases the best thing a Game Master can do is keep a loose hand on the tiller and let the river flow where it may. You never want to get in the players’ way when there is good role playing going on. However, those games are few and far between. Most games need direction and inspiration and a leader with charisma and vision.

The Game Master needs to maintain a high energy level and a sustained presence at the game table in order to direct the players. One simple, yet under used, method of achieving this is for the Game Master to stand up and forgo the use of a chair. Standing affords several advantages. First, it makes you taller than everyone else. Just like how CEOs and other corporate executives always have smaller shorter chairs for their office guests than they have behind there desks, being the tallest one in the room immediately creates the subconscious impression in everyone else’s mind that you are the leader. It makes it easier for everyone to see you, for everyone to focus on you, and for you to direct the proceedings.

Second, standing causes the major blood vessels in your legs to constrict, which forces more blood into your upper body and brain. This helps you to fight fatigue, maintain focus and mental alertness. The GM sets the tone for the rest of the players. If the GM is sluggish and sedentary, the players will be too. If you want players that are energetic and motivated, the GM needs to be energetic and motivated. Even in a case where the players are full of energy themselves, with out a GM who can match there intensity, their enthusiasm will quickly derail the game without proper direction. They will ride roughshod over the adventure and before long the game will devolve into horseplay and buffoonery. A lot of people may not mind a game like that, but I’m writing this more for the people to whom the game is important and not just an excuse to get together, have fun and goof off. For those people, having a good GM is not really necessary, just having good friends is enough for a good time.

Third, standing promotes movement. Movement draws attention, denotes action and inspires motivation. An engaging speaker uses his whole body to communicate. Too much movement can be distracting and overwhelming, but just enough movement helps to convey emotion and holds the attention of the audience. Think about motivational speakers, including preachers, you have seen on TV or in person. Which ones were more engaging? The ones that stood still behind a lectern, or the ones that used their whole body and the whole stage to communicate their message. Even if you had no interest in there message, I bet you found the ones that moved around easier to not fall asleep through. None of them, even the bad ones, would even think of remaining seated to conduct their session.

Some game sessions can last a long time, so remaining standing for the entire game may not be realistic. What I like to do at a convention is to keep my chair nearby, but only sit down when the players are deeply engaged in role play and won’t require my direction for a few minutes. This allows me to step aside and give the spotlight to their role playing and affords me a few minutes to rest. When I need to get their attention again to move the story along, I stand back up. Eventually this becomes a conditioned response. The players see you stand and immediately they know to give you there attention. Just like when the lunch ladies would condition the children to quiet down when they flashed the room lights back in elementary school.

Standing is a good way for a Game Master to remain alert and motivated, maintain the attention and focus of the players, and provides good visibility between he and the players so that he can use his whole body to communicate, not just his voice. Give standing a try and see how it affects your game, and your own attitude.

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