I want to improve my Game Master skills - so I analyze what went well during session, synthesize findings, formulate advice and even put reminders on my GM screen. Then when doing next session review I find that the advice would be very useful If I would notice it and pay attention to it.

Some examples that I'm trying to internalize right now are

  • "Remember Fiction First" - running FATE with habits from more mechanically minded systems
  • "Goal, means, stakes, roll, outcome" - procedure of calling and resolving tests - to replace starting with roll and divining what it meant afterwards
  • "Interact with character aspects" - another getting-into-FATE reminder

One of the issues I see is that I have a lot of practice in running the game so I have established habits and run at least in some part on autopilot.

Running the game requires a lot of attention, mental effort and concentration so how to break through them with important reminders without derailing the game too much?

What techniques can I use?

  • \$\begingroup\$ Possible duplicate: rpg.stackexchange.com/q/99597/62294 \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 8 at 12:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ Does the Q&A Thomas linked help? If not could you give a concrete example? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 8 at 14:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ What exactly are those “important matters” you need to remind yourself about? Why don’t the reminders on GM’s screen work for you? I think I kinda have a vague idea of what your problem is (you have some habit that you’re trying to break?) but clarifying it would help a lot \$\endgroup\$
    – AnnaAG
    Commented Jun 8 at 15:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ Added some examples to content of the question \$\endgroup\$
    – AGrzes
    Commented Jun 8 at 18:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ As for linked question - it may be related - but I feel the focus of that question and answers was on remembering details while I'm asking more about reminding about some general principles. Any suggestions how to re-formulate question / title to better reflect that? \$\endgroup\$
    – AGrzes
    Commented Jun 8 at 18:49

3 Answers 3


Try to change just one habit per session.

Like you, I've had to un-learn old habits when I started running new systems or realised that something I was doing was actually counter-productive - though in my case, I started with second edition Paranoia and then moved to crunchier systems, so the habits I had to un-learn were more to do with learning to use that crunch effectively and not intentionally applying Murphy's law to everything the PCs do. Still, the principle is the same: I had old habits that I needed to change.

I struggled at first. As you've observed, GMing takes your full concentration, making it very easy to overlook things you were meaning to do and make adjudications automatically without thinking about the metagame consequences, and there were so many little things I needed to change that I couldn't remember all of them.

So... I stopped trying to remember all of them. Instead, I focused on just one thing I wanted to change at a time. Each week, as part of psyching myself up for the session I was about to run, I would pick one specific thing I'd gotten wrong last session or which I'd been wanting to improve, and tried to fix that thing in my head. Something like "Don't assume failing a roll means failing to perform" or "NPCs should generally act in good faith if they've nothing to lose by doing so." Anything would work, as long as it was specific and concrete. Keeping one simple, concrete, and easy-to-apply reminder in your head is a lot easier than a giant nebulous idea like "I need to change my entire philosophy of GMing."

I didn't always succeed in applying my planned change to a session, of course - some sessions I'd simply forget, other sessions simply didn't come up - but even when I didn't, having just one concrete change in mind made it a lot easier for me to note it during the session post-mortem, and helped fix it in my head for next time. And of course, whenever I did succeed succeed in applying a change to a session consistently, I'd pick a new specific thing to change for the next time. After all, habits are easier to break when they've been broken before, and eventually breaking them becomes your newer, better habit.

Tl;dr: Changing a little at a time takes longer than changing all at once, but it's a lot more achievable. Just give yourself time. You'll get there eventually.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Good advice! Also nice to hear someone else started with Paranoia (though in my case it was, I think, third edition). \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 9 at 5:39
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @GuybrushMcKenzie Starting my GMing career with Paranoia was the best mistake I ever made! It's a great system to make beginner's mistakes in, and it teaches the valuable lesson that a lot of popular GMing advice that's presented as universally true isn't. \$\endgroup\$
    – GMJoe
    Commented Jun 9 at 22:16

Ask your players for help

You already posted the main ideas to your DM screen, but as you say, even then in the heat of the action it is easy to forget. No time to look at that DM screen.

However, you are not the only person at the table that can try and remember those principles. You might forget, so ask your players to help.

  • Ask them to remind you, when you ask for resolving a test by rolling something, if you already went through setting goals, means and stakes.
  • Ask them to point out character aspects to you that might affect a situation.
  • Ask them to remind you of "Fiction first" when they catch you talking about what is happening only in games mechanics terms.

It's probably a good idea to not ask them of too many things at once, or they too will forget. Pick one of them that is most important to you first, and once they are in a habit of reminding you of that, or you start doing it automatically, and the reminders are not needed any more, ask for another one.

Asking the players to help out running tasks that they can do too is a generally useful DM trick to lessen the DM's load, and this one certainly is something they can help with in many regards.

Especially if some of them already have experience with FATE, they might be able to more easily pick up on and point out if you do something that doesn't fit. And even if they, like you, are new to it, they typically have a lot less other things to take care of, and you all can help each other learn together.


Tell your players what's in it for them.

As the GM it may seem odd to you to bring your players into the business of "rules enforcement". That's your job, right? But in this case what you want to do is better conform to an external set of guidelines; it doesn't particularly violate your authority to ask other people to help you run your game the way you want to.

Conveniently, Fate offers several built-in hooks that mean that when your players are helping you to work along with the guidelines, they're also seeing benefits for themselves.

I'm not going to give you a script to read to your players or anything; instead, I'm going to direct the bulk of the remainder of this answer to your players, and you can convey it to them as you'd like.

How Players Get Fate Points

Everybody loves Fate Points! They save your bad rolls and make your good rolls great. Wouldn't it be great if you could get... more Fate Points?

What if every time things got worse because of one of your character's Aspects, you got a Fate Point? Well, great news, that's called a compel and it's something your GM wants to do more of.

What if you had an idea of how things could get worse because of one of your character's Aspects or a scene Aspect, and if your GM agreed with you, you got a Fate Point? You're going to love this thing called compelling your own character. (And, just between us, as long as it's not a PvP scenario, you can bring it up for other characters too.)

Okay, but maybe you're worried about getting complacent and you'd like it to be on a timer. Like, instead of their infinite passive supply, the GM put one Fate Point per player in a little dish in front of them and you only had a limited time before they'd all go away? I see you're already familiar with the scene pool. Whenever your GM launches into something that sounds like it'll tie your characters up for a while and they don't have the scene pool in front of them, ask them "hey, is this a scene?"

(Yes, seriously have the little dish. A little physical prop of some kind to hold the fate points in the scene pool is a great signifier and as long as it's unique in some way it's hard to forget what it's for.

While we're on the topic of physical props, have a look at a similar topic on ways to remind yourself of the available aspects during play.)

How Players Spend Fate Points

There's something in the way of just spending Fate Points whenever you want. You have to point them at an Aspect, and that Aspect has to make sense in the story as something that would help you do better.

Though this is following improv rules, which are basically - as long as you believe in what you're saying, it's good. Like, honestly believe, not just hope to get a bonus nobody calls you on. You want other people excited to believe in what you're saying, not wavering because it's obvious you're trying to pull a fast one. (And it's always more obvious than you think it's going to be.)

The thing about improv, though, is that it works better the more there is to work with. When you're going to do something and all you know is your own character, you have much less to work with than when you know the whole scene - the time, the place, the task, the things, the people.

So when you the player are about to roll those dice, pause for a moment and ask yourself "what do I know"? Every roll you're going to make is set up in a scene (or if not in a capital-S-for-game-mechanics Scene, at least in the story), so if you don't know the story, ask your GM to fill you in, and maybe fill in some of it from your end. You're trying to Create an Advantage of a Souped-Up Landspeeder for the upcoming Spacers' Cup? Secretly at night? Openly during the day? Hurriedly on the morning of? The more you know about the circumstances surrounding the roll, the more places there are to aim Fate Points at - and the more ways there are for Fate Points to get bounced at you.


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