I’ve been part of games run by “newbie” GMs, and while most of them have been fun, the ones that ended in disaster (and my word, were they BAD), followed certain patterns. Truth be told, most of the things they did, I’ve seen done by others and it went well for them. Let’s see how I can put this:
- Keep your experiments to a minimum: (None if possible) This is the one I’ve seen the most, it’s their first time running a game and they decide to clutter their game with home rules and homebrew things. Once played with a GM that his first game was using his own homebrew system (didn’t end well). And sure, most of them had various years of experience as players, but being a player and a game master gives you VERY different experiences. My suggestion is to keep it simple your first time, get a feel for the game and GMing it. Find your own GMing style, make sure you develop a loyal player base (this way, when its time to experiment, you’ll have guinea pigs). Once you get a good feel for the game and how to GM it, go ahead and begin experimenting a bit, you never know if you might end up making something that your players will love. One of the biggest problems with experimenting so soon in your GMing career is that many rules might be lost, which brings me to my next point.
- Read the rules: (most of them at least) I’m not telling you to eat up the whole book, but get accustomed to them, get familiarized with them, talk to your players about them. One of the things that can slow down a game to a crawl is having to look up X rule on page “who knows where” every few minutes, just because the GM isn’t too sure about it. Sure, looking up rules will happen, but if you’re a bit familiar with rules, “rule time” will be cut to a minimum.
- Be prepared: Don’t wait for a couple of hours before game time to jot down what your players will be doing. Again, many GMs are able to do this sure, but if you’re new, it will pay off if you give yourself a couple of hours of prep time, to make sure you know where your players are going and where the plot is headed. Furthermore, make sure you have some sort of plot, you don’t want your players playing for over 6 sessions without knowing where “North” is, you get me? You might find players questioning why are they even playing. Try not to wing your game, trust me, your players will give you enough opportunities to wing it, and that skill will grow with practice. I remember one game I ran where the players killed my BBEG the FIRST session… But that’s a story for another time.
- Don’t take yourself for granted: No one is perfect, no game is perfect, no players are perfect, no GM is perfect, PERIOD. Always ask for feedback, trust me, one of the things that will help you out the most as a GM is to ask your players for feedback. When should you ask? After an arch? After the campaign? Try after every session, trust me, this will help you in so many ways, it will help you with NPC building, world building, encounter building. If you can, try to keep a log of all the feedback you get and keep track of your progress, you’ll be glad you did, once you see how far you can come as a game master. Don’t think that just because your players come to every session, you’re doing a great job. There’s always room for improvement my friend. Never be afraid to ask for feedback.
- Don’t take your players for granted: I’ve experienced this one first hand and cringed. If your players liked a small plot hook you had, and they want to explore it even further, let them. You’re on to something here. You did something they enjoyed a lot. Never turn your back on your players desires (unless of course they are out of hand). Remember, your players are people too, and they want to have fun as well, the game is as much yours as it is theirs. Some might argue that its more theirs than yours! There’s nothing sadder than a GM abandoned by his players.
- Learn to say “No”: Sometimes players are greedy… TOO greedy, they want things that their characters should not even have. EVER. Sometimes, even though it might hurt us to, we have to just say no. If they ask for a reason, here are a couple: “For the sake of the game”, “For the sake of balance”, “For the sake of plot”, “For the sake of my mental health”. Seriously , try it.
- Learn to say “Yes”: Sometimes a players wants or needs something to make a character concept work. Sometimes is a little silly thing, like some bamboo goggles from a long forgotten campaign setting, sometimes it might be a racial spell that goes against his character’s race. Just think about it, would allowing that really break the game? Remember, fun over functionality!
- Enjoy what you’re doing: Enjoy what you’re playing, enjoy your plot hook, enjoy your story! PLEASE! If you don’t your players wont! Believe me, it’ll rub off. If you have to take some time to re-think a plot hook or a story arch, do so. If you enjoy what you’re doing, it will rub off as well and more fun will be had by everyone.
I hope these little pieces of advice helps any new aspiring game masters out there. If I remember anymore or experience any more, I might make another entry. For now, remember rule #1 HAVE FUN!
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