Monday, September 12, 2011

You Should GM

"You should run something!"

It's basically my watchword to anybody who roleplays.  I'm not sure if everyone should be a Game Master, but I certainly think everyone should give it a try.  My general recommendation is to try it once, and then try it again if you didn't like it the first time (maybe you had a bad day or a bad player or even a bad group).

But it occurs to me that I rarely give advice.  I'll say a couple of words of encouragement, but going from zero to running the beautiful anarchy of a roleplaying game is tough — a lot of these blogs give tools for running a game, but few of them give new GMs tools for running a game.

So, a couple of recommendations.

• Read this:  Zak's girlfriend talks about running her first game, and it has some good stuff in it.  Especially about winging it when you're a n00b.

• Run for friends.  Friends don't care if you mess up; a poorly-planned game just turns into an excuse to hang out and drink anyway.  And you're probably better at it than you think you are.

• Figure out what you want to run.  This is obvious, but there are a lot of choices.  Will it be funny or horrific?  Do you want to use an established setting or make up your own?  What system do you want to use?

• Determine your stance on those choices.  If you write a horror game, but everybody's having fun while making it goofy, maybe you want to let it go.  Established settings and rulesets are trickier: determine whether you're accepting advice or not.  "That's not how the rules work," or "That's not how that would happen in Synnabar."  You can accept that advice if you'd like, but you're better off saying, "That's not how it works in my game."

• Go with what you know.  Make sure it's a game you want to run.  Don't get pressured into running something.  If you don't know the game that well, but you really want to run it, I suggest ignoring complaints, as per above.

• Familiarize yourself with the rules.  While you can say bollocks to the rules, you should know some basic things.

• Adventure path or sandbox?  If you're just starting, I'd suggest a straightforward plot: find the gem, rescue the princess, something like that.  Consider, however: sandboxes (that is, games taking place in an area that the characters are free to explore, with the plot arising from character decisions) work well because they turn action into reaction.  The players do something, then you react, then they react, and pretty soon the plot builds itself organically.  I talk a little about the sandbox, though you can no doubt find lots of word count around the internet.  Leave a post if you want some good resources.

• Organize all your notes.  Get your notes in order and determine what happens.  If you write the adventure yourself, this is pretty easy because you already know it.  If you're using a prepublished adventure, read the adventure carefully.  A couple of times.

• Prepare to improv.  No plot survives contact with the players.  Come up with a list of random names (maybe the characters talk to a random shopkeep and you have to name him) and some other notes.  I devoted an article to improvising statistics in a few systems, so maybe look at that if it helps you.  Also note that some of you (maybe taking a hint from Mandy, according the article I posted at the top of the page) completely improvise the game.  That's fine.  It's a different feel than planning, but it's certainly not wrong (and if you can pull it off, you just developed the most important skill as a Game Master).

• It's okay if you mess up.  I ran two Imperial City games before I started the "official" version.  Just take the ideas you developed and try again.  Your players are probably your friends, so they won't care.  Even if you say, "Wait a minute, I need to back that up," your players will forgive you.  As in acting, though, it's best to just gloss over a mistake and continue playing.  But either way should be cool.

• Run for a small group.  The average group, more or less, is one Game Master to five players.  Limit yourself to three or less players.  I typically recommend trying a one-on-one session with someone you trust: a sibling, a good friend, or a significant other.

Basically, remember that you're running this for fun, hopefully for people who are your friends.  Prepare what you want to do, but be prepared to improvise.  Don't worry about getting something wrong: roleplaying is freeform enough that the only wrong thing to do involves not having fun (if your players cause that much anxiety, maybe find another group?).

If you forget a rule or skip a part, don't worry about it.  Your players will probably never notice.

And if you're ever really stuck, don't forget Chandler's Law.  Use the time during combat to figure out who these guys happen to be (typically working for some enemy faction, or a new faction if your game is really stagnating).

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