It can be intimidating to try to run a role-playing game, especially if you and your friends are new to the hobby. Here are 5 basic tips for those new to running role-playing games that can help you over the rough patches of starting out. Following these tips will help you to become a better gamemaster no matter what game you play.
Know the Rules and When to Use Them
If you are running a game, then you must know the rules of the game. It seems No one expects perfection. It's OK to have to look something up now and then, but these occurances should be the exception, not the rule. If you want people to commit their time to playing in your game, then it is only common courtesy for you to commit time to mastering the rules.
It is also important to remember that the rules are for playing the game and we play games to have fun. Strict adherance to any ruleset may well limit the fun that you could be having. A good gamemaster knows when to be a stickler for the rules and when to let them slide to make the game more fun.
Keep Things Moving Forward, but Don't Push
Managing the flow of the game can be one of the most difficult tasks a game master must perform. When done well, the game moves from scene to scene with all of the players satisfied with their individual character's actions. When done poorly, the game suffers because players feel pushed through the story and a temporal stutter effect can develop as players try to take actions on events and scenes that have already taken place. There are 3 key steps to ensure that your game will flow smoothly forward without feeling forced.
Describe the environment using every sense that the players can bring to bear given the initial scene.
Ask every player (whether it is an initiative round or not) what their character is doing, then describe the changes to the environment based upon their answers.
Describe the party's exit from the scene and ask to verify the group's marching order.
If you follow these three steps for every scene, then your game should flow easily and keep your players involved.
Be Decisive, but Fair
When you make a ruling for the game, you must consider yourself like a judge. Remember that whatever you rule sets a precident for the game, in other words, if you say that x action has y results, then your players will expect the same results next time. Your decision should resolve the question permenantly and it should come quickly, so as to not delay gameplay, but most importantly it should be fair.
Being fair doesn't mean you have to be easy. However, it does mean that in each scenario there is at least one way, discernable by more than one player, for the group to have a reasonable chance to succeed. That one way might be hard to figure out, require the group to gather multiple allies, or even perhaps require the sacrifice of a life or two, but it should always be available. If your decisions aren't fair, then you will lose your group. Few people like playing with an arbitrary game master, also known as "a dick DM".
Listen to the Players
This can't be overstressed. Listening carefully to your players is one of the quickest ways to become a better gamemaster. Listen to them carefully both during the game, and at start up and quitting times. They will tell you, both directly and indirectly, what they like and what they don't, as well as share strategy, tactics, and monster lore. They will talk about the game and what they think is going on. Many fine sub-plots can be mined from player and character interactions in your campaign, enriching the gameplay experience for all. All you really have to do is listen and give the players what they want.
Prepare for Game Day Challenges
While preparing for your gaming session, also give some thought to interruptions or challenges that might disrupt that perfect moment in your game or just cause you to lose precious gaming time. Here are some examples:
Hunger -- If you know that your game is going to be long enough to need food for your players, then make food plans before the game. Whether it is just ordering pizza or preparing a full meal for everyone, have it done before game time so it can't interrupt the fun.
Thirst -- People will want to drink beverages while they game. Make arrangements to have beverages available or let your players know that drinks are byo. Be prepared as well for the fact that humans spill things; have a towel ready to clean up gaming messes.
Bathroom -- Does it work? Is it clean? Is there toilet paper? Is there a bathroom attendant in a creepy clown suit juggling plungers? Yes should be the answer to the first three of these questions.
Personal Electronics -- Every GM has their own rule about bringing laptops, cell phones, and/or tablets to the gaming table. I say if it is a distraction to the game, it goes. You should develop your own rule and enforce it.
Other Interruptions -- You can't prepare for what you don't know about, but if you do know . . .
If a baby is coming, have extra diapers, wipes, and toys. If a toddler is coming, have a secure play area prepared. If Chuck always drops his glass shattering it, then buy him a plastic cup with his name on it.
You get the idea.
Just a little thought and preparation time can go a long way towards making certain that your gaming time is well-spent and that will mean more fun for everyone. With these 5 tips in hand, you are well on your way to becoming an excellent game master. Click on the picture above this article to go to the Pirate GM's News, which has even more tips and tricks for tabletop GM's.