GMing is one of the most rewarding aspects of roleplaying. It’s also one of the most daunting, particularly for new gamers. Luckily, it’s actually pretty easy to do well.
I’ve been gaming for 30 years and in that time I’ve seen thousands(ish) of gamers take their place for the first time behind the screen. Recently, my youngest son ran me through his first dungeon. Rules, logic and verisimilitude were all thrown aside in the pursuit of fun. We had a great time – I even survived – and it got me thinking about advice for beginning GMs.
If you are a beginning GM, consider the following when planning your first game:
- Remember Rule 0: Everyone at your table is there (hopefully) to have fun. As long as everyone has fun, the game was a success. Everything else is pretty much irrelevant. After all, what’s the point in running a game that follows the rules and module text to the letter, but which no one enjoyed? That doesn’t mean give the PCs an easy ride or deluge them in treasure (unless it’s a trap). Focus on the fun and everything else will come.
- Remember Rule 1: At the table, you are the ultimate arbiter about how the game is run. Use this authority wisely, but don’t be afraid to make rulings and move on. You can always readdress them after the game in the pub with a beer!
- Keep It Simple: For your first adventure, keep it simple. Run an easy dungeon crawl for low-level characters – don’t shoot for a high-level game or one with a Byzantine plot. Keep it as simple as possible and focus on the basics. Basics are fundamental to the game. Once you’ve got those down, you can advance to more complex adventures.
- Accept You’ll Get Stuff “Wrong”: Remember the best GM in the world started out knowing next to nothing about how to run a game. As long as your errors don’t end up with someone losing a character or a major piece of magical equipment, ultimately it doesn’t really matter as long as everyone is having fun (see #0 above).
- Prepare: Be as ready as you can for the game. If you need to read the module three times, do so. Make copious notes, look up relevant rules, spell descriptions and so on and prepare any game aids such as maps, figures and anything else you’ll need. Doing all that before the game is much easier than doing it with your friends waiting.
- Delegate: You don’t need to do everything. Someone else can run initiative, clean off the battle matt and so on. Let them help, so you can focus on running the game.
- If You Need Help, Ask: If you get stuck with a ruling or need some advice about how to handle a situation, simply ask. You can either ask the group, or speak privately with an experienced player or GM. Gaming is a cooperative experience and your friends want you to have a good time – remember that.
- Relax: Relax and enjoy the game. If you are stressed out about running the game, you won’t enjoy the experience. If you don’t enjoy the experience, chances are your players won’t either. More importantly, you won’t want to run another game which is a shame as GMing can be incredibly rewarding.
Help Fellow GMs!
Do you have other advice for a beginning GM? If you do, why not leave it below and help a beginning GM improve his game today!
This post is part of a week-long celebration of my 10-year-old son starting his first campaign for a group of his friends. He’s been slaving away over his dungeon for weeks and hopefully, they all enjoy themselves and become life-long gamers. I also get to play in the campaign, but of course I’m playing the cleric. For other posts in the series, search “beginner” in the search box at the top right of this page.
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