I remember the very first time I sat down to play a role playing game, the role of the GM was awe-inspiring. It was (some edition of) Dungeons & Dragons, and my friend was trying to explain to us just how hard of a job GMing was. He pointed to a stack of three books – the Dungeon Master’s Guide, the Player’s Handbook, and the Monster Manual – and said “See those books? I’ve had to memorize ALL of them!”
And any notions of ever being a GM just died right there.
Obviously, I got over that fear. While I don’t doubt that my friend
had in fact memorized, or nearly so, all of the complex rules of D&D, I now know that rote memorization is one of the least important skills for a novice game master. It’s easy to come up with excuses for why someone “can’t” GM a game – no time to prep, it’s intimidating, don’t know the rules well enough, terrible at funny voices – so today I want to explore the three reasons why you, yes YOU, should start running a tabletop roleplaying game today.
Learn Time Management Skills
The first few times I ran a game, I had absolutely no sense of pacing. Exposition scenes dragged on painfully long, minor nitpicky rules would be looked up in the middle of intense scenes, and combat would end up a quick and dirty mess completely devoid of dramatic impact. I cringe to think of how I ran some of those early games! But I also know that I am a better GM for those experiences. Time management at the game table is something that has to be learned through experience, so you need to sit through every cringe-inducing minute, and then show up the next week and do it all over again. If it helps, make notes to yourself immediately after the game – what felt like it worked this week, what do you need to be considerate of next time – and be prepared to make the same mistakes a few times before you begin to feel like you might know how to plot and pace a story.
Learn to be Flexible
Every mention of GMing on Fandible includes a reference to how we like to infamously lay waste to the intrepid GM’s best laid plans. This article is no different. And as one of the Fandible GMs who comes to the table with lots of intricate notes, I’ve definitely had my fair share of plots dashed to pieces by rambunctious players. And the first few times it happened I was absolutely a mess, trying to force people back on what I saw as the “correct” track. Like falling off a horse, you need to dust yourself off and get back in the saddle when your players run roughshod over your meticulous plans. And every time you get back up you’ll be a little more flexible, and a little bit better at predicting what variations might come up in play. It will make you a stronger player as well, either by being more mindful of what your GM may have been planning, or because you’ll suddenly start treating all of your games like a chess match, and you’ll automatically be thinking three moves ahead to come up with a wild and wacky new idea that will make your current GM re-evaluate their ability to be flexible.
Tell a Unique Story
This is my favorite advice to give potential GMs. All of us bring something unique to a game table. This can be something relatively frivolous as being super passionate about an obscure fantasy sub-genre to being a member of a minority group underrepresented in gaming culture. No matter where you fall in that spectrum, I know you have a unique perspective to bring to the gaming table, and the best way to make that shine is by sitting in the GM’s chair. A unique PC can work within the system to highlight the player’s pet cause, but the GM literally shapes a whole world. It’s unprecedented power, and every RPG fan should wield it at least once.
What advice do you give to newbie GMs? What made YOU want to start running RPGs? Tell us in the comments!
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