Before I get into the basics for the new Game Masters out there, let me start off by congratulating you on taking the helm and stepping-up as the GM (short for Game Master, just in case you didn’t know). Of all the players sitting around a tabletop role-playing game, the Game Master is the most important. Nothing happens without a GM to run the game.
As the Game Master you are responsible for creating most of the story your players will interact with, portraying all of the Non-Player Characters (often written in the short-hand “NPC”) both friendly and hostile, and handling a the bulk of the in game logistics. You literally become the portal from our world into the realm the players are gaming in. This is an awesome way to express one’s self and effect others thoughts, emotions, have fun and tell an engaging story with your friends that they actively got to take a part in.
To quote Uncle Ben-
“With great power comes great responsibility.”
So that quote actually comes from Voltaire originally, but it’s more fun as a Spider-man quote. This quote rings true when it comes to the GM running the game, because we do have the power to really make or break our players gaming experience, but I digress back to Game Master tips now.
OK my budding Game Masters you’ve got your dice, some players, and the desire so what is next?
One of the first rules I like to follow is simplicity. I absolutely hate complexity for it’s own sake. Rarely does it enhance the gaming experience. It just becomes an exercise in mental masturbation. Which is a complete waste of time and energy in my opinion.
One the best pieces of advice I can give to new GMs is to start small and work your way out. This is one of my favorite techniques for building adventures, campaigns, and even worlds. Never make more work for yourself than is necessary. For instance if your adventuring party is going to spend the early part of their career in a particular place like a- village, planet, dungeon, spaceship, or whatever DO Not burden yourself with things that they aren’t likely to encounter for months in real time.
I have two reasons for this-
1) During gaming your players are going to think of things that you haven’t, which could make all that extra work you did irreverent.
2) It’s easier if you change your mind and decide to move in a different direction later. You won’t feel your stuck using material just because you’ve already put time and effort into writing it. Trust me this happens more often than you’d think.
Those two tips along with the checklist below is a good start for anyone just cutting their teeth as a GM, but don’t fret you can check-out the last Game Master Tips article I did- Here, not to mention we are just getting started. We will be doing a ton of posts like this to help you our fellow gamers out.
Game Master Tips- Pre-Game Checklist!
- Pick a system that you want to GM and your players want to play.
- Get familiar with the rules before the first session.
- Inform your players about any restrictions you are placing on character creation.
- Give your players any details that are relevant to the campaign and/or world you are about to run. (This could be: technology, magic levels, if types of races/classes aren’t available, the local political landscape where they’ll be starting-out, etc.)
- If you are brand new to being the Game Master look over everyone’s character sheet so there aren’t any nasty surprises coming your way. (You might want to even get a copy of each of the player’s character sheets for your own records. This can be helpful no matter what your experience is as a GM.)
- Have prepared material before you sit down to start gaming. (Doesn’t matter if it’s your own original material or a published module. If it is a published adventure do yourself and your players a favor and read it before running it for them- I’ve experienced a GM ineptly reading dialogue and it ain’t pretty…)
First and foremost it’s a game and we all do it to have fun, so don’t worry about messing up or doing a good job. Everyone makes mistakes and improves with practice. So just “Keep Calm and Keep on GMing”.
I’m usually stuck GMing so I’m thrilled to have someone else take the reigns for a bit so I can recharge my creative juices. I was recently asked for some Game Master tips from a new GM over on our Nerdarchy YouTube Channel–
"I was chosen to DM for our group after years of not playing. I have found myself attempting to use modules and by the end of the night I had to create several interactions out of thin air when the players wanted to interact with intelligent Npc's. Do you have any advice? Am I ruining the game by adding interactions that aren't in the book/module?"
So I thought this was a great question. This new Game Master is on the right track by allowing his players to interact with the gaming world in ways he didn’t expect. My suggestion to him was to keep doing it and jot down notes about those NPC’s. He or his players enjoyed those interactions then by all means, keep re-using those NPC’s to add flavor and depth to his gaming world. This brings us right around to the video I did with some of my fellow Nerdachists-
Nerdarchy Role-Playing Games Discussion Panel: Great Game Masters Say Yes!
Just remember being a Game Master is just as much art as it is science. There isn’t really a right way or wrong way to do it. Different players and groups enjoy different play styles. Our group for instance has always enjoyed an even mix of role-playing, power-gaming, and tactical combat. While others may lean towards one area of gaming or another there isn’t really a right or wrong answer.
We’ve literally had players come to the gaming table as a form of therapy. I don’t know if that’s the most clinical approach or not, but it seems to work for them.