The New Gamemaster

The way that I plan to make real, useful content with this blog (as opposed to the [various] [podcasts] I [produce]) is to rant for several paragraphs about something that I think you would like to know about.

[EDIT something wonky is happening with the theme’s colors. I ignored the theme and went straight to the post editor, hit ctrl+a and made it all one shade of readable gray. So the links are now indiscernible from the rest of the paragraph, so I am going to go through and put brackets around them all.]

First off, I am going to plug the [paizo pathfinder forums] and the [3.5 private sanctuary], then the[ pathfinder core book] as another place that you should go for information and content, especially considering that I plan to use these extensively as brain extensions and high-octane creativity fuel. There are others out there, but this post is not about forums.

Later in this post I do bullet-pointed advice, and that may be what you are looking for. Scroll down.

When you start, you need people who are interested in it. I started with my nerdy younger brother, my best friend (who was trying to get my attention in other ways, at the time – I was, as usual, oblivous), and someone who had specifically wanted to play D&D. When I moved, I started another group that included a bunch of very nerdy people that were already playing all sorts of RPGs on consoles and computers, and each had such a mind for writing and characters that I could hardly keep up with them when they got their hands on the DMing side of things. Both of these groups were good – everyone wanted to be there.

I have played with some people that were only there because they were dating someone in the group, or because they thought, “because I am nerdy, I have to play,” or perhaps “all my friends are doing this stupid game, I suppose I will too.” These people are capable of becoming players in their own right, but if they don’t start enjoying the game after a few sessions, it may be wise to talk to them outside the game about why they are there, and let them know that if they aren’t enjoying it, they should just stop. I mean, this is a game – why waste a precious evening on something you are not enjoying? I don’t enjoy alternate history novels, you don’t enjoy Tabletop Roleplaying Games. No biggie. We’re all people, and people are different. There is no ‘minimum nerd quota’, even though you can take [some tests]. But seriously – you don’t have to be more nerdy than other people, only as nerdy as yourself.

I also know that in order to GM well, you just have to jump in. You may not have a very good grasp on the rules, you may have never played before, you may not have a very good adventure. One way or the other, you just have to plan a time to get together and start rolling. I started with almost zero real experience playing, much less GMing. You may find that you are a terrible GM – that’s okay! You still tried, and you learned something about yourself – and you know where you can improve if you want to continue.

But if you are going to GM, you have to plan, and many people get stuck in the planning phase. I am sort of there right now, partly because of time, and partly because of general discouragement (see previous post). But I know that there are a few things that I have to get in place before I get down and start playing. At the moment, I may be guilty of allowing those to stay where they are for too long. But many people get to the point of wanting every little detail planned out, and every single turn of every combat prepared for, and every gold piece in the hoard having it’s own backstory and really, you just need to calm down and get together what is most important – people and a story.

If you don’t have people (both real people in the meatspace and non-player characters) then you won’t have a story, but you also won’t have a game. You will have a combat engine, and that can be fun, but it is not a role-playing game. You cannot play a role without others to play alongside.

If you don’t have a story but you still think you have an adventure then I am sorry – you are wrong. You are wrong – you have a wargame. There are better systems out there for wargames [expensive] [cheap] [free (computer)], and none of them are pathfinder. Even a very simple story can be used – “The town is plagued, let’s go fix it!” – and all you do is send the PCs to a simple dungeon that is the source of the plague.Or a little more complex – “the town is plagued by werewolves, let’s go fix it!” and you send the PCs to the lair of the werewolves and they all kick some ass and avoid getting turned.And then even more complex –  “The town is plagued by generally nice werewolves and the mayor is one of them, let’s go fix it!” And suddenly they need to avoid outing all the ‘good’ werewolves (including the mayor), but still find the few nasty ones.And then you can go totally over-the-top with a crazy story like – “everyone in the town is a werewolf and they are plagued by a non-native dire werewolf that is looking to expand it’s territory and the mayor is having an affair with the dire werewolf during the days, but he doesn’t realize it because during the day the dire werewolf is the new [popular traveling bard] that everyone simply adores” And now you will have a ton of social encounters that are all going to turn really really nasty in 3 seconds.

Okay, I’ve gone off on a tangent but I think it was a good one. I am going to try to find some advice for people from someone that isn’t me.

I did a quick search for “New GM”  on the paizo boards and and google, and came up with a  few important things for GMs to remember. Many are taken from [this] highly informative thread, an [interview], some guy with a [website], and another forum’s [post] also helped. Most of these are taken from something that looked interesting or on the first page of posts, so there is plenty of gold further back, as well. The advice will be from a page, and things in parentheses are my commentary.

  • Have Fun. (why else would you play?)
  • Always Say Yes. (without breaking the rules, and sometimes even then)
  • Don’t panic
  • Be as prepared as possible.
  • Having a complete understanding of the rules is not necessary (and likely not possible). When a rules decision has to be made, make it quickly, and then research the rule later.
  • Practice. Keep GMing. (You will get better)
  • Get tools. (Core rulbook, dice, adventure modules, etc)Communicate with your players (2 different groups will play 2 different ways, you need to know what your group wants)
    •   discard tools when you don’t need them (battle mat for a social encounter, 50 lbs of books for a 2 hour session)
    •   cheat sheets (random names, random shops, random town descriptions)
  • Get involved in the community. Forums, messageboards, cons, little local gaming clubs are all good.
  • [Steal like an artist.]
  • Don’t forget the Crunch (AC, hit points, etc)
  • Don’t forget the Fluff (voices, clothes style, mannerisms, statues in great hall, etc.)
  • Don’t let combat drag on (people can play wargames and minis games if they want)
  • Learn to shift easily.
  • Don’t try to kill the PCs, but don’t save them from their own folly
  • Let the PCs snatch victory from you (without deus ex machina)
  • The dice are less important than the story.
  • Describe more. Start with big things, then zoom in on little things. (Stop describing if the players interrupt you.)
  • Try to find a GM that knows more than you. (and perhaps…be his apprentice?)
  • Do not let players override rules decisions, or continuously cheat. (watch for an upcoming post: rule 0 and dice fudging)
  • Listening to podcasts can be helpful in the learning of how dialogue works at the table (this is not 100% shameless self-advertisement. It was a real suggestion.)
  • The characters will get more character as you go.
  • Have one (mature) player that knows a little more about the campaign and adventure.
  • Players’ decisions must be real.
  • Have an extra few items about your plot or the world that you do not reveal.
  • If a player looks bored, it is time to do something exciting. (having a ‘camp raid at night’ available is useful – put recurring NPCs in it, too)
  • No plan for a session or adventure survives first contact with the players