Hello lovely people! I hope you all had a wonderful weekend. Today I’m going to talk about the wonderful world of GMing. For those of you that don’t know, GM stands for game master. This title is given to the person in tabletop role-playing games, or RPGs, that runs the whole shebang. When I started GMing, I was kind of just thrown into the mix and had no idea what I was doing. Thus, this is the quick and dirty beginner’s guide to being a GM.
Step 1: Pick your game. There are tons of universes and game systems to choose from, and choosing the right one to fit your own style and the style of your players is key. Some systems are easier to get started in than others, and some universes are easier to approach than others. My advice is to talk to your future gamers and see what setting they would like to play. Here are some of my suggestions:
Fantasy – if your players want to play a traditional fantasy setting, I would suggest playing the old standby, Dungeons and Dragons. The newest installment of this system has premade characters as well as adventures to make newbies comfortable. However, it is also highly customizable and easy to manipulate if the GM or characters wish. This system is ideal for GMs that like involved stories as well as killing monsters.
Science Fiction – As much as I would love to suggest my favorite RPG universe Warhammer 40K, I can’t with good conscience suggest it for new players because it is a fairly advance style of gameplay and universe. If you want to play a sci-fi universe, I would suggest the Star wars RPG. This system is easy to pick up and a universe that most people are at least a little familiar with. There are premade characters and settings available for the game system as well which makes it easier for new GMs and gamers. This game is ideal for people that like fast-paced game play and interpersonal intrigue.
Horror – This is a tricky one because it’s not a very popular genre, but Call of Cthulhu is a great place to start. This game provides fewer premade settings and no premade characters, but the horror aspect of the game is well thought out and definitely creepy. This system is great for people who like getting creeped out and don’t mind their characters dying in the game.
Step 2: Learn as much as you can about the game. The easiest way, in my opinion, to do that is to Google the game system and read the Wikipedia page. Then, buy the book. Most systems have a book specifically for GMing, but even if there isn’t a book just for the GM there is always an introductory book. Once you have the book, read the whole thing. It may get tedious and annoying, and you definitely won’t remember every bit of it, but you will get a really great feel for the game. This is important because different games require different types of GMs. (For example, a survival horror GM needs to scare the characters and one way to do that is to be barely cooperative with the players while a D&D GM needs to be fully cooperative with the players.)It will also probably help to inspire you if you are creating your own story. The other vital reason that you need to learn about the game and not just GMing the game is that your players will be looking to you for answers. When they create their characters and when they play you need to be the reigning authority on rules. Of course, GMing is a collaborative process and listening to your players is important, but they will also be coming to you for answers when they get stuck.
Step 3: Plan out your game timeline. At this point in your prep you need to figure out when you’ll actually be playing. Is this going to be a weekly game? A one shot? Do you need to meet up once just to make your characters and introduce the setting? If you’re playing with new gamers I would suggest devoting an entire meeting to setup and general troubleshooting. You can even run a mini-campaign to help your gamers get a feel for their characters and the setting. The timeline also helps you figure out how much time you have to prepare and how deeply you need to delve into the game. If you plan a one-shot campaign you don’t need to have as in-depth a plan for the game as a multi-week campaign, obviously. Also if you are busy outside of the game, maybe planning to meet biweekly or once a month would be better because you would have more time to prepare.
Step 4: Plan out your actual game. This can be as simple as picking the ‘boss’ monster that your players will be fighting and a series of stronger and stronger minions to get them there. Or it can be as complex as a fully realized dungeon with multiple outcomes based on the players’ choices. Each gaming system has its own ‘rules’ for the ideal game, but feel free to play around with them. It also helps to know your gamers and find out what they like. Always remember, however, to remain flexible. Gameplay will rarely go exactly as you plan, but allowing yourself to be fluid will make it much more enjoyable for both you and your players. It is also important to plan out various tiers of difficulty. If your players are killing everything too easily it will become boring, but if the characters are dying too easily the game will end too quickly. Even in a survival horror game, the main draw is the suspense of almost dying not the dying itself.
Step 5: Gather your supplies. It is important to be fully prepared for the game. I suggest making sure you have: lots and lots of dice that pertain to the game system you are using, the rulebook on hand, an empty notebook and lo of pens and pencils, extra character sheets, and extra paper and pens. It is always better to be over-prepared.
Step 6: Play the game. The main advice I have for this stage is to remember that you’re doing this to have fun, and the players are most likely your friends. This can be hard because you probably spent a lot of time on your campaign and it might flop with your players, but it’s always important to remember that it is just a game. Also, I suggest having food readily available. Most campaigns take a couple hours and having something to munch on makes the gaps between a player’s turn much more enjoyable.
Step 7: Evaluate and adapt. This is especially important in long campaigns. Adapting your story to fit your characters will make the game go smoother and be much more fun for everyone involved. However, I think it is also important for one-shot campaigns because evaluating your game can make the next one-shot you do even better. For a first time GM it might also be useful to get feedback from your players especially if they are RPG veterans. When I was first starting out I got the best advice from my players. They provide a useful perspective on the game that you can use to make future games better.
Step 8: Plan your next campaign! Be it the next campaign in the series or the next one-shot, once you GM once you will inevitably want to do it again.