Diary of a Stream GM Newb

A few weeks back I ran my very first streamed one-shot as a game master, #iHunt: Under the Influence, in support of The Trevor Project. Prior to, I had streamed as a player on a handful of one-shots and a season of Clockwork Vines. And of course I have been a GM for *mumble mumble* years at this point. So while I was familiar with the individual elements, this was my first time combining them in front of an audience. Add in that this was for charity (“what if we tank our goal?!”) and with folx I had watched play actual plays before and respected tremendously (“what if I run a shitty game?!”) and it’s safe to say I was just a touch nervous (cut to scene of me crying and breathing into a paper bag).

Despite my nerves, the game and the event went off well. There were a few tech hiccups, mostly to do with it being around -40C on the day where I am and my internet connection not responding well to that type of cold. My nerves did get the better of me for a bit, but eventually I settled down and we played an enjoyable session of #iHunt: The RPG. If I had to grade myself (I don’t, while at the same time I’m me, so I do) I would give myself a solid B minus. I’ve thought a lot about the session in the two weeks since and I wanted to hit some points that have come to mind since my actual lay debut. These are in no particular order, and I’m writing them out both to help me make plans for improvement and possibly be of help to anyone planning to take their first step into stream GMing.

I was not ready! – More accurately, I hadn’t prepared in the right way. Because #iHunt has a large investigative/discovery aspect to it, I ended up over-preparing for investigation and under-preparing for, well, everything else. Because we had a simply luxurious four hour slot (as opposed to a two or three hour slot, which is common) I tricked myself into thinking we would have time for that. But I hadn’t taken into account the time needed to introduce everyone, talk about how the game works for the audience, talk about donations, introduce the setting and characters, and so on. Add in the aforementioned tech issues and that four hours wilted down to three, maybe even two and a half.

Going forward I will remember two things: 1) things happen so plan to have less time and be pleasantly surprised when you get more; 2) balance action and investigation better.

Remember why I have two ears but one mouth –  Even though the game is available to watch on YouTube at this point, I have yet to go in and do my proper postmortem watch through, so this may or may not actually be an issue. But in my recollection I feel like I was talking way more than I needed, when I could have thrown it to the players. Definitely a symptom of nerves for me, I will tend to over explain things. But if I’m talking then the players aren’t. It’s vastly to my benefit as a GM that, if I talk, I ask questions more often than I make statements so the players can tell me what’s important about the game I’ve presented. In running one-shots in general, and especially for a streamed game, I also think it’s important everyone at the table gets their time to shine. For me, that means working to cut my presence down to the bare minimum so the players can take the stage as often as possible. So on two fronts, gameplay and performance, it’s better if I can keep my yakety-yak in check. Noted for next time, with the caveat that I will actually check the game tape to see if reality matches my memory.

It’s all about the Pentiums, baby! – There’s your Weird Al reference for the day. But streaming as a GM definitely highlighted for me the tech hurdles I need to overcome in order to do this regularly. Now, as I said, some of my issues were weather related; if our service provider didn’t use materials that work into the -40C range, there isn’t a lot I can do about that. But no question I need to improve my set-up here as well. As I also want to host streamed games as well as run more of them, tech improvements are going to be a huge priority in the coming year. No real lesson to learn here, other than get the best (read: dependable) tech you can, when you can, if you plan to do anything in the actual play environment. And I can’t speak for anyone else, but hoo-boy does it feel embarrassing to crash out of your own streamed game. Everyone was supportive about it, but as someone with a theatre background and specifically in stage management and technical theatre, it feels bad to let the cast down with stuff like that. So I’m going to fix it so I don’t, just as soon as I can!

Those are a few things top of mind for myself, after my first streamed one-shot as a GM. As I said previously, I haven’t watched the VOD yet so I am going solely off of my memory of the day. I plan to watch the recording soon. Ish. Definitely soonish. Soonesque? Soon. When I do I will likely have some more things to talk about and I’ll either update this post or (more likely) write a Part Deux.

In any case, I hope me rambling about my experience helps you a little bit, if you’re thinking about dipping your toe into stream GMing. My players were excellent, Jason at It’s Probably OK is an amazing host (and you should check out the rest of the stuff on the channel), I had a bunch of fun doing this, and I am definitely doing it again. If you saw the show and have comments or questions, please drop them in the comments or reply to the Tweet that will go out. If you haven’t seen the show, please hit the link and check it out, let us know what you think. Take care!