Right- or Left-Brained GMing?
Welcome back to the Zurn blog! In today's post we are going to ask you the question: are you a right-brained or left-brained GM? Depending on your answer to this, we will investigate some of the ways that you can round out your gaming experience for your players.
Now, it should be said early in this post that humans use both sides of their brain: there is no such thing as a fully left-brained or right-brained game master. But most people tend to focus on or prefer one side to the other, so their skills tend to be higher in one over the other. This post is intended to round out and improve your use of the other side of your brain, to make your sessions more approachable to different types of players.
I. Left-Brained GMs: Intricacy
A "left-brained" person tends to be stronger on logic and math. These GMs can be easily spotted: combat tends to be more central to the campaign than the roleplaying elements of characterization, voices, etc. Descriptions of places tend to be shorter, and a left-brained GM might rely more on visual aids to remove the need to give in-depth descriptions with vibrancy.
You will also find that, generally, the plot of the campaign tends to be more intricate when designed by left-brained people, as the logical mindset is tantalized by intricate webs of connections between different elements of the campaign, especially where the actions of the players are involved. The fear is that the campaign can also get dry: everything comes down to intricacy and math, that it lacks the vibrance that it could otherwise have.
I tend to be more left-brained for most of my campaigns, and this has advantages. Combat encounters tend to be more balanced, and you can have a lot of fun working consequences (both good and bad) into the story due to the seemingly small decisions that the players made in the first few sessions.
II. Right-Brained GMs: Memorable Characters
A "right-brained" person tends to be stronger in art and creativity. It's not uncommon for a right-brained GM to draw their NPCs, bringing them to life so that people can see exactly what they look like. They will also give vivid and vibrant descriptions of persons, places, and actions taken in combat.
Playing under a right-brained GM is an exciting thing, because math and rules tend to bend to the imaginative, creative, and (at times) physics-defying, sometimes referred to as "The Rule of Cool" (i.e., "if it's cool, it works" theory, commonly used in Hollywood and TV shows).
The fear for right-brained GMs is that they will have interesting encounters that will be disjointed. This has its own appeal (the Firefly tv show does this for most of its single season), as it gives you a flavor for an area, and allows players to get a feel for what the city/region/world is like.
III. Merging the Two
So with the knowledge that both of these approaches to GMing will appeal to different types of players, what can we do to improve the enjoyment of our games and the quality of our sessions for our players? The easiest way to do it is to simply have players that approach the game with the same mind - if you love combat, politics, and other left-brained elements of the game, you can just recruit players who love that. But what if you live in an area where your pool of players is limited (or you've been with the gaming group for years and have no interest in disbanding or reconstructing the group to fit one campaign idea), how do you merge these two ways of thinking in your prep? A few ideas.
First, befriend someone who provides the other perspective. In my case, my wife is very right-brained, and I tend to be more left-brained. She also has 5+ years of roleplay experience, so when she gives me ideas for an NPC, a scenario, a trap or puzzle, etc., she's doing it from the perspective of a roleplayer (which is helpful), but also as a right-brained roleplayer. I find this useful, so I tend to bring in her thoughts on campaigns that she is not playing a character in. For the campaigns she is in, I tend to bring in other people to run ideas past.
Second, Reddit has great ideas. I've found so many immersive, aesthetic ideas from comment threads on Reddit (I know - people like to hate on social media, but seriously: the people in the RPG community on Reddit have great ideas and you should check them out). The same goes for YouTube (even in the comment section) and other sources: if you choose your channels carefully, you'll find great ideas for how to make your campaigns better. And this works the other way too: there are probably even more left-brained people in these places than right-brained people, so if you're a right-brained person you'll find plenty of help here. More on which YouTube channels to follow in a future post.
Third, read books. Books (clarification: good books) can provide immersive settings, vibrant characters, and a host of ideas for descriptions of characters that you can use as the building blocks for describing your story. And if you read books that your friends don't read, they won't be thinking, "Hey: I know this character." They'll just be thinking, "Oooo: cool description. I will remember this character when he/she comes up again."
And this works the other way too: good books can give right-brained people intricate plots, detailed character backgrounds, and creative ways to introduce both. So regardless of whether you are right-brained or left-brained this is a useful tool. To some extent tv shows and movies can do the same thing (even B-grade movies: more on that in a future post), but I tend to find books are better as you get to read the descriptions - you don't just see the image in front of you on the screen.
This is a shorter post, but I think it's a good one to remember. You think a certain way as the game master, and some of your players will think the same way, so making the game meaningful and enjoyable to them will be easy. But when you start thinking another way and bring in useful aids to inform and assist you in presenting that perspective to your players, you'll find that more of your players around the table will enjoy the game more. And that's really cool to see.
Until next time,