You have decided that you want to run your first game as a gamemaster (GM) or perhaps you have been trying, but things don’t seem to be going as smoothly as you thought. Maybe you struggle with how to choose a roleplaying game system for your next game. Or you just don’t know which game system to start with in the first place. Well, no need to worry, because The DM Doctor will get things turned around.
“So You Think You Can GM?” is a new blog series I am running (vlogs to come in the future). I will be jumping in to help new and old GMs alike to bring out the best of each and every game. This is the main reason I started this blog. Though this series targets Dungeons and Dragons and The Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, the advice will branch over to other systems.
First thing’s first: So you think you can GM? Really? You? Of course YOU! Well, frankly, yes you can. Anybody can. Being a GM isn’t about being the most knowledgeable, or having vast amounts of experience, or even being incredibly creative. There are a lot of things that go into being a GM, but anyone willing to try can make the jump.
Now that we have the most important question answered about being a GM, let’s get to what you really need to know.
#1 – The SYSTEM
For most of you, you will probably already know which system you are playing. Feel free to skip to item #2 (The RULES). For the rest of you, here are some important things to look for in choosing a system:
1.Cost- Some Roleplaying Game Systems will set you back more than other. If you aren’t sure what to play, I suggest choosing a game that can be covered in as few books as possible. This will help for grasping the rules, but more importantly the cost.
There is no point spending hundreds of dollars up front if you do not plan to stick with the game for some time. Some games like The Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, The Hero System, and The White Wolf Games (World of Darkness, Vampire, etc.) can be run with just the core rulebook (though other books will help).
Dungeons and Dragons can be run with just the player’s handbook, but it is commonly thought of as a 2-3 book system (Player’s Handbook, Dungeon Master’s Guide, Monster Manual). If you go this route, I suggest getting your group to pool together for a bundle of the three to share. You can also find use books everywhere, and the savings can be very significant.
Something else to consider is the Beginner Boxes. D&D and Pathfinder (among others) often times will have a “lite” (kinda like software) version of the game. These beginner boxes will have everything thing you need to get comfortable with the game, but will not contain all the normal pieces needed.
Beginner boxes can be a great start for a group that is entirely new to the system (or RPGs in general). Some local libraries will also carry the books (bet some of you didn’t know that). If your library carries some, I suggest you check them out first (or a couple times). If you and your group like the system, go purchase the ones you need.
2.Availability- This comes in a couple of parts. The first thing to consider is if this game is still in print. Though the old editions or games that have been discontinued will be cheaper, I recommend that you pick up a game that is currently in print (preferably the newest edition). That way, if you enjoy the system, there will be plenty of options for your games.
Also, if you run into any issues, there will be plenty of support and followers that you can ask for guidance.
The second part of availability comes down to ease of access to the content. Sometimes a game can be so new that there is very little out to purchase. If the new system is being made by a small or new company, they may not continue the product for long.
Yes, I know, this sounds like I am pulling people away and hurting the small companies, but I am looking out for the new players. If you have played at least one other system, I do suggest that you branch out and try some of these lesser known systems. They are often times innovative and bring something new and fresh just in and of themselves.
3.Learning Curve- Most modern systems have gone the extra mile to make sure that new players can easily pick up their system and get started. Sticking to the newer editions of games is a sure-fire way to make sure that getting started is easy.
If you start looking at the books and you feel overwhelmed and it is like reading a foreign language, then stop. Go try to find players (either from an online community, social media, or your local gaming store) and ask if you can join a session. Plan to get there early to meet with one of the players (preferably the game master). I encourage you to play (if they agree) and not just watch.
Watching can be boring, and by playing you will stand a better chance of grasping the basic rules. Or you can send me an e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org and I will get you sorted out (even if I have to go pick up a copy of the system).
#2- The RULES
You have your system picked out, but there are tons and tons of pages to go through. It can seem daunting but do not fret. Yes, at some point you will need to read everything (or most of everything), but the books are filled with extras and variable that you can gloss over until it becomes important (such as someone wants to put a spell on their character sheet you are not familiar with). So first off, let’s take a look at some of the basics you need to know before you run your first game.
1.Character Building- Even if you are the GM, you need to have an understanding of how to make characters. Making NPCs is essentially the same process, but more importantly, your players will need your guidance (if they are as new as or newer than you). Start from the beginning and work your way through the creation process.
Most games will have sample characters (especially beginner boxes) or you can find characters other have made online. Use these as guidelines for how a character sheet should look. You can play around later and make your own adjustments, but sticking to the normal rules will be best.
2.Encounters and Interactions- It is good to understand at least the basics. If you take The Pathfinder Roleplaying Game or Dungeons and Dragons, the basics of combat are Initiatives, Attack Rolls, Armor Class, Difficulty Class (namely for spell-casting and skills), and Saving Throws. You will need to be familiar with movement rules.
Things like Attacks of Opportunity, hazards, traps, terrain, can be overlooked for brand new groups. Announce to your players when you add these rules back into the game and give them a brief description and some examples.
Encounters (even non-battle encounters) can be fairly in-depth and complex. Just take your time, break things up, and incorporate the rest of the rules as you begin to feel more comfortable with the system. Often times, just a session or two is all it takes to obtain the skill set needed.
In the future, you will find “Tactical Training” on this website. I will go over basic tactics, rules, and more advanced tactics. If you would like to see that information sooner, let me know.
3.Tables- The first two items are what you should be familiar with before you start the game. I would go through the rulebooks and tab the tables you find in the books. You don’t need to have them memorized, but having them labeled and accessible will help the game run smoothly and quickly. Many games will also have “GM Screens”. These screens will have quick reference rules and tables for some of the most likely to occur scenarios in your game.
That’s not too bad, right? We easily cut-down you reading material by 75% before your first game. Just remember to keep integrating everything as time goes by. If something comes up and you don’t know the rules for it, see if you can just skip it, or give everyone a quick and easy rule to use for that session. Write down what the ruling was that you needed, and then go to the books or ask for help later, but before your next session. Once you know the proper ruling (if there is one), explain what you learned to your group before you jump into your next session.
Trust me, I have played too many systems, with too many groups, using too many different homemade rules, and now even I don’t remember all the proper rules all the time. It is okay. Think of the books as reference guides. Reference them when you need to, but don’t bog down your game time flipping through the books. Save that for between sessions if you can.
#3- The Adventure
Currently (Started July 2017), I am running a pre-made adventure path, Hell’s Rebels for The Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. I’d definitely give it a shot if you want something outside of just hack and slash.>>>>>
Okay, we are nearly done, just two points left. One of those, your adventure. Your group needs something to do. I mean, what is a game with no objective? You can write your own game, that’s fine, but if you are already trying to learn a new system, this is just taking away from time you need to learn the game (including what makes a game). We will get into making your own adventures later, so first off, trying something pre-made.
Some systems will have a starter adventure in the beginning box or as part of one of the books. You can also purchase adventures from the company that makes the game system you are using or ones made by third party publishers. You can find free adventures out on the web (or maybe your library, hint hint). For Pathfinder and D&D adventures, you can also check out the free adventures I make. If you would like something else to suit your needs, let me know by email or the contact form on the right and I would be happy to help.
Picking which adventure to play well, it comes down to two things: Character level and Story. I suggest that you pick adventures with short, fairly straightforward stories that sound compelling to you. If the story summary gets you excited to jump right into the game, then that is the one for you.
You do need to consider the level of the adventure. I recommend starting with a low-level adventure (for D&D and Pathfinder, first to third level is best). Lower level adventures have fewer options and fewer resources to keep track of. Keeping this in mind will help you gradually learn the game. Try not to get bogged down with too much too soon. You have plenty of time to get to the nitty-gritty, deathtrap adventures everyone talks about later.
Start small, and work your way up.
#4- The Most Important Point
Okay, if you follow only one tip from me, this is the tip to follow. Keep your game fun, for everyone! The purpose of the GM is not to beat your players at the game. RPGs have one main key to victory, a group of friends enjoying the game. Some players like to be challenged. Some like mystery. Others like just showing off their acting and improv chops. That’s great.
Your main job as Gamemaster is to be the storyteller. Yes, you control the world and everything in it except for the players. In that respect, you may consider yourself the almighty god of everything. But remember, you are the master of the game. Games exist to have fun. Thus, your job is to ensure that everyone in the group (yourself included) has fun. Now there will be times where things are slow, or maybe someone isn’t enjoying one element of the game that others are. It will happen, and that is okay. You just need to make sure everything is varied and played so that you and your group enjoy the sessions.
If the fun seems to be absent from your game, there is something very important that you need to do. Well, two things actually. First, talk to your players. Secondly, (and most importantly), listen to them. Also, don’t be afraid to let go of the reigns and let someone else have a go at being the gamemaster. There will come times where you enjoy getting to discover the story someone else has created from the viewpoint of your very own character.
But remember: Keep it fun. Rules can be changed. Systems can be changed. There are a plethora of pre-made adventures and endless more available through your own creativity. But if the game isn’t fun, why bother playing?
More GM Tips to come! If you have specific questions, just send me an email. I can’t prescribe exactly what your game or group needs unless you reach out to me. Until next time! (Click here for Part II)
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