Recall Knowledge – GM Style Afterthoughts

Every week, Recall Knowledge recaps the Know Direction content of the past week, a preview of the Know Direction content of the week to come, and the director of operations, Ryan Costello, thoughts on the state of the network.

Had a great time chatting GM stuff with Perram and Luis in the latest episode of Know Direction. I also really enjoyed putting together the banner image, and might use it as a conceptual template for future episode banners, but that’s besides the point.

Perram’s suggested this topic in the past, although he didn’t call it GM Style. He’s pitched it as talking about how to prepare for a session without prep. In the past my reply has been “that’s how people who prep see not prepping”. Because honestly, how I GM is hardly about anything I do. It’s entirely about who I am. And how I am.

I’ve mentioned in the past that I was a C and D student in high school. I should have failed 7th grade, but my dad -who’s like a character you forget has an epic Diplomacy score until they roll a 40 like it’s nothing- convinced them that failing 7th grade French immersion is the equivalent of passing the 7th grade English program, and I moved on to 8th grade English program.

The reason I did so poorly at school, and the reason I was shocked to learn that I wasn’t just an idiot, is all the things GMs like Perram do for fun. A lot of absorbing what they’ve read and internalizing it.

More power to them, of course, but I wasn’t sure how to handle how I prep to GM as a topic beyond “I show up” but short of “here’s how my brain works, and how that relates to GMing.” So I went with the latter.

You could call what I do either no prep or constant prep. I never sit down and put any thought to paper, but I spend a lot of spontaneous thoughts on campaign and session prep. That doesn’t just apply to GMing. Leading up to this episode, on a bike ride with my girls, part of my brain mined my memory for pertinent anecdotes like the Reggie Watts auxiliary brain theory (both as an explanation for what my brain was doing and an example of what my brain was doing). While preparing supper and watching some Scrubs, I rehearsed phrasing and transitions. And, less productively, in the time since the episode, I’ve thought of more and different ways I could have explained myself.

A few won’t go to waste, since I have this space to share them.

Perram made the point that improvising a 1e monster is hard, which baffles me. Not that someone would find it hard, but that he expresses it as a universal truth when I’m sitting right there.  I can improvise a 1e monster when I need to, but the thing I got cut off from saying and never circled back to is that I still use Bestiaries.

If the players show an interest in investigating a plot thread, I may know ultimately where that thread leads, and I know that between here and there something entertaining should happen. I just only vaguely know what that something entertaining will be. Luckily, not being weighed down with pre-existing expectations, I am free to figure out what.

If the party’s had a lot of combats lately, I throw a wacky NPC at them for some roleplaying. If they recently leveled and are itching to use their new abilities, I go with combat. So if they’re in a town and want to follow up on a plot thread to the south, through marshy land, I bust out the Bestiary or a site like Archives of Nethys or d20pfsrd and use the many handy tools to find a creature that fits the region and their level.

Usually in researching my options I’ll be inspired by one of them, and that dictates whether this is a one-off encounter, a new subplot, or a plot point encounter. The pressure of needing that encounter on the fly gets my brain working and focused in ways that reading ahead of time does not.

Secondly, Perram and Luis concluded that they rarely run a prewritten adventure as written. And honestly, that sounds awful to me. If running a prewritten adventure is at the bottom of things I enjoy as a GM, running a prewritten adventure and not using the adventure as written bottoms out and falls outside of things I enjoy as a GM. The idea that I am beholden to someone else’s words and ideas and I’m not even using them, is the worst of both worlds to me.

Fortunately, there’s only so many of me (just the one, last I counted). What I enjoy as a GM is different from others, and there’s a deep pool of published adventures for people who enjoy them, and no rules that you have to run them that way. Just like there’s no rule that you can’t run them as written, or that you need them at all.

Different people game for different reasons and in different ways. At its core, it’s for fun. And I have the most fun when I’m not running something written, even by me.

Last episode left me itching to return to the Behind The Screens blog, even if the typical article was “here’s GMing advice often toted as universal, and here’s the issues with applying it universally”. I enjoyed writing Behind The Screens, I just never carved a space for it in my schedule and wrote too many of them at the last minute. But it’s on my mind enough right now that I might be able to create a backlog and return Behind The Screens to the Know Direction content rotation.

Speaking of network content, here’s a recap of what you might have missed last week from the Know Direction Network:

Recap of April 19th to 23rd

What happened last week on and

Monday, April 19th


Recall Knowledge – Jessica Redekop: Staff Member

By Ryan Costello

Hey, Jessica Redekop went from Know Direction actual play cast member to Know Direction Network staff member! Yay!

Tuesday, April 20th


Digital Divination 028 – Virtual Table Tops

John and Ron went over their experiences and opinions of the Virtual Tabletops they’ve used.


Burst of Insight—Just Rewards
By Andrew Marlowe

Andrew reminds GMs that players tend towards actions that reward XP and Hero Points, and GMs have final say on what rewards XP and Hero Points.

Wednesday, April 21st


Know Direction Live – GM Style with Luis Loza

As much as we love having Luis on as a Paizo developer to talk about the latest Lost Omens hardcover, it was fun having him on as a KD GM to talk GMing things.


Game Design Unboxed 13: LOTS

In this podcast I learned that the blocks in Tetris are called tetrominos. I learned that because Zach Connells’ LOTS is a competitive tower building tabletop game with tetromino blocks.


Groundbreaking – Adjudicating Magical Water Sports
By Randal Meyer

I confess, I expected way more water sports from this article. And I don’t care for sports! But you name an article Adjudicating Magical Water Sports and you pique my interest. It ended up being a fun cross section of energy spells and how elements interact. Just not as much water skiing as I expected.

Thursday, April 22nd


Know Direction 248 – GM Style with Luis Loza

Thanks to listener and Patron Jaina B for the question that kicked off the episode, “What really defines a GMs style anyway?” One of my favourite things about this episode is how many questions from Discord we worked into the conversation, and informed the conversation as a result. So thanks everybody!


Something Creates! – An Organization pt.1
Written by Andrew Sturtevant

Andrew reclaims his normal spot to talk about organizations. I love a good organization in my campaigns, and I feel they play a larger role in Starfinder than Pathfinder. I’m looking forward to seeing the organization Andrew founds.

Friday, April 23rd


Intrepid Heroes 058 – Hall of Mirrors

I don’t envy GM Ron or the Intrepid Heroes players having to play a scene that is confusing to the characters in a way that is clear to the listeners.  


Bend the Knee Heightened – Hideous Laughter Style
By Loren Sieg

The Hideous Laughter Podcast is one of the most popular Pathfinder actual play podcasts out there right now, and it was fun to collaborate with them. Coincidentally, the topic of this BTK was “define your style as a player or GM,” which was actually supposed to be Hero’s Shade’s prompt from a couple of weeks ago. A small logistical error on my part serendipitously gave us our theme for this week!

Preview of April 26th to April 30th

This is back to Block 1 of our 2-block schedule.

Monday, April 26th 


Recall Knowledge – GM Style Afterthoughts

I followed up on my thoughts on how I GM from last week’s Know Direction.

Tuesday, April 27th


Legend Lore 025 – Sorcerer Class Feature

Loren and Luis cover the Core Rulebook’s most famous spontaneous cast in the latest Legend Lore class feature.


Fox’s Cunning by Dustin Knight

Dustin offers expert insight and helpful tools to enhance your game.

Wednesday, April 28th


Geek Together

I posted the following in the Geek Together chat channel in the Know Direction Discord Server:

“This is a Geek Together week. I considered following up on last Know Direction’s talk of improv, no prep GMing by running a theatre of the mind one shot, rotating in audience members as players. What’s the interest level in something like that?”

If there’s interest, that’s the topic. If not, we’ll Geek Together in another way.


Presenting – Gamers Making Games:  Jessica Redekop

John talks with the latest Know Direction staff member, recorded just before we floated the idea of becoming a staff member by Jessica.


Guidance by Alex Augunas

Alex shares his thoughts and comments on topics getting attention in the RPG gaming community.

Thursday, April 29th


Valiant episode 16

Luis mentioned that for a few episodes starting with this one, he improvises everything as the Valiant heroes zagged when all his notes said “Zig”.


Investing In by Rob Pontious

Rob shares what he loves about the RPGs he’s been playing lately, and why you should check them out.

Friday, April 30th


Geek Together

Whatever we record Wednesday shows up today.


Monstrous Physique by Luis Loza

Luis makes monsters!


Now you know,

Ryan Costello


Ryan Costello

What started as one gamer wanting to talk about his love of a game grew into a podcast network. Ryan founded what would become the Know Direction Podcast network with Jason "Jay" Dubsky, his friend and fellow 3.5 enthusiast. They and their game group moved on to Pathfinder, and the Know Direction podcast network was born. Now married and a father, Ryan continues to serve the network as the director of logistics and co-host of Upshift podcast, dedicated to the Essence20 RPG system he writes for and helped design. You can find out more about Ryan and the history of the network in this episode of Presenting: