Seize the GM
Seize the GM
Episode 138: Taking, Giving and Analyzing Advice

Main Topic

Even as folks become more proficient in running games, there is always room for improvement.  There is a kind of strange kind of situation that seems to be unique to gaming when it comes to giving and receiving feedback.  But stick a pin in that and we’ll cycle back to that in just a bit. Think about taking, giving, and reviewing that advice as a Session Zero in medias res. 

We want to craft the best experience not just for our players but for ourselves as well so we need to give and receive feedback.  We need to hear what our players liked, what frustrated them, and what they missed.  As storytellers, we need to communicate to our players in turn.  Let them know our shortcomings, what we like to run, what parts of the mechanics may frustrate us, what drives us mad when running games, and how they can make it harder to communicate with them. (I am gonna take a wild guess here that about half of the storytellers out there hate kibbitzing)

By getting and giving advice, we’re able to iterate and improve. If you talk to five folks at a table you’re going to get about a million ideas and suggestions on how to improve the game. What do you do? How do you prevent the suggestion deluge and get useful data points?

You’ll need to be specific, yet open ended when you query your players.  “So what did you think of the game?” is a lousy question.  You’ll get feedback from dice to the snacks.  But if you ask “What did you think of the antagonist introduction?”  or “What did you think about the speed of the combat?”  “Did you prefer the puzzle section or the kobold rush?” you’re going to get a lot more useful information.  And from here, you can deploy the GM tool of the “yes, and?” question.  It allows you to distill and refine those data points your players are providing into useful suggestions. Another strategy is to talk to the players about what they want to see for their characters moving forward. This provides you feedback about the balance of the game and level of personal investment. 

However there are a few pitfalls when listening to player feedback and they’re two sides of the same coin: Listening to everything and accepting it as truth; and listening to nothing and believing your players are wrong.  Both are dangerous.  Honest advice is just opinions and thoughts.  If you take everything as truth and try to integrate it all, you will lose your own “voice” within your game.  If you take everything as an attack, you can become resentful and running a game becomes adversarial rather than collaborative. Even when you are running a classic TTRPG where there is a singular GM and a plethora of players, the collaborative aspect means including the players as well. 

On the flip side, how do you offer advice to your players? As above, specifics are important.  Granted you don’t want to give away your story, but informing a player that spending their skill points in forgery may not be a good idea or immediately helpful since they’re going to be underground ala Indianna Jones could be helpful.  It’s also important that you offer advice in a constructive manner – a manner that doesn’t insult or attack the player.  The “suggestion sammich” is a decent way to offer critique or advice.  You mention something they’re doing awesome and offer a few details there as to what that’s adding to the game.  Then you bring up something they may need to focus on/improve.  Then you follow up with something awesome that they do.  If you can tie that into the thing they need to improve and say that they could be even awesomer may help.

Hard and fast rule here, Storytellers!  DO NOT INSULT YOUR PLAYERS.  You’ll end up with tears and an empty table.

Good communication skills are key here. Do you talk to your player one on one? How do you address the group?  Do you communicate better written?  You need to take ALL that into account.

Now remember that unique situation that we mentioned at the start of this episode?  This seems to happen most often with TTRPG and it’s the bane of players and GMs everywhere.  It’s the “Auteur Player.”  or at least that’s what I call them.  They’re the player who sees themselves as the bestest player and GM who ever lived.  The auteur player frequently gives unwanted and unsolicited advice, usually in a condescending and arrogant manner.  They usually take great offense if you decline or disagree with whatever they’ve brought up.  If you encounter a player like this, it is imperative that you put a stop to this behavior immediately.  If they refuse, don’t be afraid to boot them from the game. I have seen these players derail and eventually destroy a game.  It’s better to remove a bad player than have all the work that you and your players put into a campaign go up in flames.

Stat Blocks


The Oracle of the Dors

The wind rolled through the rocks creating an almost whispering quality to it. Creeping through the ever narrowing creak was getting more difficult. The dark overcast sky wasn’t this way when you started going into the passage. It was almost a cave between two cliffs on the mountains of Dor. As it gets tighter all light gets blocked out and you are feeling your way in the dark. 

Going around a bend there is blinding light coming from ahead. So bright you are unable to see as you stumble forward and out of the cave. The soft moss underfoot dampens your footfalls. After a few minutes your eyes adjust and before you a grotto manifests. Sitting on a stone bench on the opposite side of the grotto is a young man. 

Between the pair of you is a small pool of water about 2 strides across. The surface is perfectly smooth like a mirror even though you can see several hand sized fish swimming in it. As you look at the man you see that he has cataracts of the thickest white. He is dressed as a simple peasant. Spread before him you see a small pile of bones. Before you can open your mouth to ask him anything he waves you to silence and picks up the bones. 

Tossing them out onto the pool where they rattle and come to a pattern on the surface without sinking into the water. He reaches out feeling each one, when his fingers leave the bone they start to sink into the water. 

“ I see why you are here adventurer and no I can not see what Fate has in store for you today. Though you will be making your way back here very soon.” 

He then waves you off to leave for the Oracle of the Dors as spoken.


Serpentine Order of Foresight, aka The Seer’s Guild

I know that it is overdone and overwrought, but sometimes you really should just ask an Oracle for advice. It’s a tried and true method for a reason. The Seer’s Guild has outposts in nearly every major settlement so you shouldn’t need to look far. The prices have gone way down since the soothsayers from the West showed up for competition, so you can get a good deal right now! They are always wanting to get new subjects…. Clients … however you want to think about it. 

Do I know about their history? I mean, we all have heard the legend of Pythia right? How a great serpent bit her and in the throes of pain, she unlocked the oracular sight able to see into the future. It’s good copy, sure, but it may as well be true. Yeah, there was really a Pythia and yeah, she was definitely the first Oracle. I don’t really want to worry you too much about the rest of it. I know the farm is on the line and with your kid on the wa….

Yeah. I have heard those rumors too. Yeah, I know they are getting louder right now. The Duke really doesn’t like the Guild much, so I think it is just that he is …. Look here! There is nothing to prove that any Oracle had anything to do with that! It was horrible that the young lord died like that! No, I mean, what … are you saying that a Seer could have stopped the famine last year? How would we know if they don’t tell us … That’s CRAZY! You can’t possibly… 

No, ma’am. Of course not. Yes, ma’am, we know what… who you are. Yes ma… I mean, no ma’am of course we support our local Seers and the Guild. Yes, ma’am, of course you are here for a reason right now. With us. Here. 


How to Use The Serpentine Order in Game:

Whether these Seers actually have oracular abilities is entirely up to you, and your campaign world, but they have a power and influence built on their reputation. They have created a mystique that reinforces the power they wield meaning you can have them behind any number of nefarious schemes, economic collapses, or wholesale kingdom ruining. 


consigliere noun con·​sig·​li·​e·​re | \ kōn-(ˌ)sil-ˈye-re  , -ˈyer-ē; kän-(ˌ)si-glē-ˈye-rā  , -rē, -ˈyer \

Definition of consigliere

: a person who serves as an adviser or counselor to the leader of a criminal organization

History and Etymology for consigliere

Italian, from consiglio advice, counsel, from Latin consilium — more at COUNSEL

First Known Use of consigliere

1963, in the meaning defined above

Look-up Popularity

Top 2% of words

Closing remarks 

Zendead – Mutant Year Zero by Free League Publishing. A really cool RPG set in a Post Apoc world of your design. 

Joules – Infinite Monkey Cage – Combine Science and Comedy.  Never has learning about science and learning itself been so funny

Guard-a-Manger – Dark Side of the 90s. A Vice docuseries recounting major moments and events in the 1990s. A period of time that is crucial to understanding my outlook on life, the universe, and roleplaying everything as well as still reverberating in pop culture today. It is from Vice and available on Hulu and, I think, elsewhere. 

Music is courtesy of Sim on Twitter you can find him at @TheSimulacrae

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And Thanks to Merriam-Webster  and Online Etymology Dictionary for our Lexicon segment

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