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

A week in, and I already want to write a book.

And, while I am really figuring some stuff out,


And I would still really like for you to tell me if/when I am doing something wrong. Please – you can email me ( or use the contact/feedback pages. I will get back to you, probably very soon.

So, my website has been up for a week. Time to talk about it. BUT FIRST – an idea that struck me.

This is put here as an experiment.

This is put here as an experiment.

I realized that so far I had nothing to give anyone coming here to my website, and that was really unfortunate. I think that I will be ready to launch my podcasts very soon (more on that later), but other than my photos (which are low-resolution versions of the originals), my…meandering blog posts that I will surely have, and some interesting links for you to go to on the resources page, I have not given anyone a single reason to come here. SO, I was at work one day with nothing to do but work with my hands and my brain was off on some tangents in a podcast and I thought

“Holy crap. I’m in a very unique position right now. I should write a book about that. And give it away.”

Specifically, I am in the position of ‘about to launch my first podcast’, at the same time that I launch my second and third podcast, at the same time that I launch my blog and website. Also, I was kinda hoping that I could make a brand out of all this stuff and possibly (one day) make a living off of it.

I also have a problem: whenever I start talking to people about my plans to start a website/blog/podcast/etc, I see this expression come over their face. It is an interesting expression – it is one that expresses genuine interest, but not because the subject is inherently interesting – but they are being pulled along in the wake of my interest, and they perhaps are wondering when I am going to stop making such a big wake in the waters of the conversation so we can get back to something that is interesting to more people (more sane people?). So this book will be a very good way to express this stuff to someone (my keyboard, at the moment), and return to normal conversation with all my friends.

My plan is that I will do a series of blog posts, and each of these posts will be another chapter in my upcoming book. If you think you have heard about this somewhere – you probably have. Pat Flynn is a guy that started a blog and an online business. He actually did the exact same thing – you can read his blog and get the exact same content, or you can get his E-book for free. And the best part is the recursion – his E-book is written on the topic of publishing E-books.

My book will likely have a lower production value, especially where the graphics are concerned. But I wanted to be able to give something to people, and what better to give people than a bit of perspective? I will be writing in media res, and I expect the theme to be something along the lines of a note of encouragement. A statement of “hey guys, I know it doesn’t seem to be getting any better, but I can see the end of the road from here!”. I hope that I will be able to break down the confusing parts into something comprehensible, and maybe even inspire some people to start their own podcast.

So, a week. what have I done with this week?

I put up a handful of pages, all those things that you think and see when you go to the websites of other successful internet people. I actually specifically modeled it after these other people. The difference between ‘feedback’ and ‘contact’ still mystifies me – and maybe I should merge them into one page. I think I got way too wordy on my ‘resources’ page, so I made it private until I can change it to something reasonable. Something that I am continually proud of is sitting over on my photography page. I like photos. Especially mine, and especially when they earn me an ‘A’.

I tried out all sorts of different themes, and landed on Parabola by Cryout Creations. At first when I started trying things out, I thought that I had accidentally paid for a theme (something that I absolutely should not be doing right now). But it turns out that they just know what makes people want to give them money. It is robust, it is pretty, I can modify some pretty major things that other free themes just dictate for me, it lets me fiddle with any little setting that I could even think of (and a lot that I didn’t). I think that you should try out their themes and then go give them some money. I do not get paid for what I am saying here. If website ever starts making money, I am going to give some of it to these guys, either by buying some paid themes, or just giving it to them – they just give such good stuff away. I want to show my support, and I would love it if you tried them out on your own website.

I have gotten a whole bunch of plugins, mostly at the direction of Daniel J. Lewis, specifically the 41st episode of the Audacity to Podcast. (this also exemplifies one of the best parts about blogging and podcasting – there is a record of good info just sitting around like low-hanging fruit).

I have gone out and made a bunch of social media pages so they will be ready when it is time to really do that stuff. All the links will be at the end of the blog posts, and I have a StumbleStoryInn on Facebook, Google+, and Twitter. There are other links to other things, and I encourage you to use those links if you like my stuff. Hell – use those links if you don’t like my stuff. Just use the links, please.

I need to change a few things: there are a few colors that I don’t like, but my more graphically-oriented wife is not in the room at the moment. My header is certainly going to change. I like the photo that it is taken from, but it has absolutely nothing to do with apprentices, games, podcasts, stories, and only a little bit with nerds (it is japanese 6-1, by the way). I need to figure out how to turn off pointless information about the lack of commentary at the bottom of most pages. I am considering a column of useful stuff on the left side, but not sure.

Ok, this has gone on for a while, so I will wrap up after this: If you happen to come to my site right now, you would think that I am about to go to LibSyn and start my media hosting stuff. A problem happened, though – Amanda’s car died. This means that the small amount of leeway in my budget just disappeared overnight. Unless someone donates money to me, or I find a bunch of money in a briefcase in the alley out back – My plans for the podcast are to continue editing and making episodes ready, but posting them might be an interesting trick right at the moment.

Thanks for reading.


But I am figuring it out.

But while I am figuring it out – please tell me what I am doing wrong. I don’t have a lot of self-awareness and I often don’t realize that people want me to do something. Telling me directly is the best way. Email me:

I really appreciate it and if you are in Ohio, it would be really easy for me to follow through on a promise to give you a cookie (or other little pastry of your choice).

This is the first ‘real’ post that I am putting on the website, and this is the first time that I have actually built a website (or…started building a website. most of my sub-pages say ‘under construction’ right at the moment). Currently I am using WordPress, with the free theme “ilisa” [update: parabola. it is amazing]. I don’t know whether or not I will be keeping this theme around, but I like the look of it when I have no images, like right now, but I’m not sure I am going to like it with images (putting a header in makes it overlap the title of the website – first real problem I found with it).

First off, if you came here from a search engine, or a link on some sort of forum or social media…THANK YOU for visiting my website! I have no idea how much traffic to expect, or who to expect it from. If you are reading this post then either you are in the archives (thanks for looking through them!), or it has been less than a month since my website went up. Which means that you are special – my google analytics probably shows you, individually. You are that blip, and I will cherish that blip – you just coming here helps me to say “See! I am doing something that someone else thought it would be cool to look at!”, and seriously, I appreciate that – it is really easy to think that I am just screaming into the void here.

This image is mostly here as an experiment.

BUT If you are one of my friends that I have bugged and begged to come and check out my website/podcast/etc then THANK YOU for actually doing that. I really appreciate it, and I am going to make a cookie (or some other little pastry) just for you. I would love it if you would tell people about this website, or even better: if you would tell someone about one particular page on my website. If you send people to one of these particular pages, then they will probably stick around for a little bit longer, which helps me to show my awesome stuff to them. You could try sending them to my photo gallery, perhaps one of my ..three.. ..separate.. ..podcasts.., or even just the contact page, so that they can just tell me all the things that they would rather see me doing – I really am open to anything right now. So, the main point of this endeavor is to have a landing page for my podcasts, all three of which I will explain a little bit in a moment. The secondary function is to be able to publish stuff about some of the things that I like to do, like the aforementioned photography, internet stuff in general, social media stuff, and…I don’t know…talk about bonsai trees or something. I will probably complain eventually, as well.

So, the podcasts: The Nerd’s Apprentice: I think that the  Nerd World is a subculture within American and global society that is not very well understood by those outside of it. SO…I am starting the Nerd’s Apprentice as a way to try to help us nerds to be a little more self-aware, and to help those outside of the Nerd World to understand us a little bit more easily. The topics will be on all sorts of things, from tabletop roleplaying, to conventions, to why some nerds like the Sahara desert and some like New Zealand (it has to do with movies). The format will be a somewhat ‘normal’ format for nerdy podcasts I have listened to already – a couple guys sitting in front of the microphone, neither of which is 100% sure if what he is about to say will bring down the rage of the internet. I will be having a few regular co-hosts and hopefully a bunch of interviews. I am the nerd, and many of you are the nerd, but we are all the apprentice (especially those of us who are not nerds) – we all have something about the Nerd World that we don’t know. If you have an episode idea that you would like to hear me talk about, you should email me. The schedule will be once every 2 weeks on Monday morning, opposite the Apprentice Story Teller

The Apprentice Story Teller: I think that storytelling – both its art and its craft – is becoming passe` in my culture (I am American, specifically Midwestern Caucasian). I have a nephew that I know I will need to entertain at some point, and if he is anything like me or my brothers, he won’t just want to play with a football. I want to be able to keep his rapt attention with the things that I can tell him about, and inspire him to tell others a story of his own. The format will be mostly me telling you stories, but also exploring aspects of the Art of Storytelling in a discussion format with other people. I am the apprentice, and I want to record my learning process about this – and to give you the recording, so that you will be able to learn, as well. I am pretty sure that I will take submissions, and if you have an idea for a story that you want told, or if you have something that you would like to submit your own audio for it, I eagerly encourage you to email me about this. The schedule will be once every 2 weeks on Monday morning, opposite the Nerd’s Apprentice.

The Apprentice Game Master: at the time of writing, I have been out of Tabletop Roleplaying for about 2 years. I am getting back into it because of the faith that many of my friends have in my gaming abilities. I decided that this would be a great opportunity to help other people learn how to play the game, especially since I have one new player that will be playing with me. The format is quite specifically against the grain of the normal “actual gameplay” podcasts I have heard (to be fair, I have not heard very many). I am going to harshly edit out everything that doesn’t happen “in-game”, and then chop it up into 15(ish) minute segments. I will do my best to remove dice-rolls, page-turns, tangents about local restaurants, and ten-year-old inside jokes. I think that most of my listeners just don’t care about most of that, and the shorter segments will make it much easier to consume. We are both the apprentice, and I am re-learning how to GM – you could learn with me. The schedule will be 3 days weekly, probably Tues/Wed/Thurs, but I am not set on that. Thanks for reading this whole thing – walls of text are sort of my specialty. And seriously, I want to give you a cookie. You should come over.