Game Session Management Techniques

Last Saturday was my monthly game day. Myself, Haldaar and one other fellow put together a game day at a local game store. We run 4-6 tables of “Living Arcanis,” in four hour slots. Almost every time, my table finishes first. Haaldaar and I discussed my running speed Saturday evening and the conversation went like this:

Haaldaar: “Wow, you run your tables very fast.”

Trask: “Sure, I just use classroom management techniques to keep the players moving.”

Haaldaar: ” You should blog about it.”

Sometimes you cannot see the forest for the trees. Inspired, I decided to post some of the techniques I use to keep a game moving and manage the players.

I should mention an item about my background. I used to be an English teacher in Japan. I contacted one of those “teach abroad” companies you see in the back of a student newspaper and spent two years living in Japan. We received basic teacher training and then they threw us into a classroom. I taught 20-30 one hour classes per week. Two years of handling students did give me some skill in managing a classroom.

Until Haaldaar mentioned it, I did not realize I was managing the game table like it was a classroom. After teaching that many classes, it is automatic. Since most people will never teach a class, I thought I should post a few of the techniques that keep my game moving.

Even though these techniques allow me to run a “fast” game, that should not be your goal. Running a FUN game is the only worth goal a DM should target. Speed is merely one factor of a good game, so do not sacrifice fun for fast.

Here are my best table managment techniques. I did not come up with them. Most teachers learn them in teacher training, but I will adapt them a bit to the gaming environment.

1. Be prepared. An unprepared DM will kill a game faster than anthrax. Fumbling around trying to create encounters on the fly is not fun for your players. You volunteered to run the game, so take some responsibility. Treat is like a job and give it your best effort.

2. Never stop. Unless the players are fighting, talking to NPCs or scheming, you (the DM) should be interacting with them. Just like a radio station, do not let “dead air” creep onto your game table. Silence leads to boredom, which leads to “Star Wars” vs. “Star Trek” discussions instead of gaming.

3. Volunteer players. Everybody at the table needs to play, not just because it is a “good idea.” It is necessary to make the game work. To paraphrase “Starship Troopers” “Everbody plays, nobody quits.” Rookie gamers tend to be intimidated by the rule-speak and cameraderie of veteran players. By forcing them to answer a specific question, you bring them out of their shell. Some players are quiet by disposition. Quiet is not bad, but it leads to self-exclusion from the game. Force them to contribute and then they will start doing it on their own accord.

4. Time matters in combat. In most games, a combat round is a few seconds. I have been at tables with tactical geeks spend ten minutes trying to optimize their attack or create some elaborate strategy. Depending on the game, a single combat round can take between 1-15 minutes, sometimes more. If a player’s turn comes up and he is not ready then that is his problem. If the player does not have an action ready for his turn, skip them. Do that once or twice and I guarantee they will have a plan for the next round.

5. Stage the environment. Create a physical environment that is gaming-friendly. Get rid of the televisions, kids or anything else that is distracting. I know there are limitations to this, but anything you do is a step in the right direction.

6. You are in charge, act like it. Do not become a swaggering tin-plated dictator with delusions of godhood, but do exercise some authority.

All that said the most important thing is to have FUN. A GM is a guide, teacher and gamer all at the same time. It is a difficult role, but I believe it is more rewarding than actually playing.

I hope you find some of my teaching/GMing tips useful. Drop me a comment if you have any thoughts, complaints or suggestions.

Trask, the Last Tyromancer



Trask is a long-time gamer, world traveler and history buff. He hopes that his scribblings will both inform and advance gaming as a hobby.

One thought on “Game Session Management Techniques

  • December 17, 2008 at 3:42 pm

    Aside from it being very much a D&D centric post that even has to consider such things as ‘encounters’ and other such dinosauric gaming conventions, this is good advice.

    As for your tactics geeks, here’s what you do to deal with them: Next time they wax annoyingly long about tactics, smile and nod. Then, at an unrelated time and place, like while they’re taking a leak in the mens room or walking their dog, sneak up on them and ambush them with boffer weapons and beat them silly until they cry uncle.

    Then ask them how much time they had to consider their tactical moves and whether they’ll be wasting any more time at the table getting things ‘just right.’ I guarantee that one way or another they won’t bother you again.

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