Whenever you watch any fantasy setting media there are whole teams of writers that brainstorm these ideas. These people are college educated, trained, and have experience coming up with these ideas. Authors spend years coming up with fantasy ideas and the people who stick (have been remembered for over 50 years) are few and far between, and even from those few authors most only come up with one good idea in their life. Even these ideas that are readapted to television and you need more writers and idea people to come up with the filler that’s in between the lines. My point in all if this is that you are not expected to come up with Rogue One or Game of Thrones every time you start a campaign in a paper RPG.
What makes your RPG successful is that it is an organic experience and this is a huge place where I have seen potential GM’s give up. As a GM it’s your job to shape and direct the outcome of the players choices and create an interesting setting, that being said, you may want to put your own spin on the setting around you, or create overarching stories. First off, THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH THAT, second off, this is not a book for you to write. Don’t try to hop straight into the narrative deep end right off the bat. There’s a few different things you need to do before you start trying to perform the DnD version of the Iliad.
- Start small: If you’re a new GM then there’s a chance that at least some of your players are new, if . Putting players into complicated narratives can be frustrating because they don’t know what to do yet. They have to both feel out your blossoming style as a GM and who they are as roleplayers and trust me I still remember when I was there… it was pretty silly some of the stuff we did. By keeping a narrative a little vanilla for a few sessions you let the players establish a lot of exposition that will help them in the long run.
- Focus on the math: As a new GM you can get away with a lot of rules hang ups while players are also trying to learn the rules. Try to incorporate the basics as much as possible especially behind the GM screen. Try to learn the encounter rules and how to implement them in encounters. Try incorporating each type of encounter in the first couple of sessions. Pro tip focus on your story telling by trying to put the rules into the encounters and you’ll get some funny meta jokes as well. This is going to help you out because after you think you know all the rules there is going to be cracks. Doing a mechanical based adventure, at least behind the screen, is going to show you those cracks very quickly… bring page markers.
Choose your style: There is enough psychology in the GM to player relationship that you can write a book about it and honestly I wouldn’t be surprised if there was one actually out there somewhere. That being said you are forming a new relationships and no matter how hard you try there will be a level of meta gaming, even if it’s subconscious. You are going to be directing your party to feel certain ways about things. I can guarantee you that if you have a shop keeper betray and try to kill your party at least one of your players will always be mistrustful of shopkeepers. Keep that stuff in mind for your first few sessions.
- Figure out the kind of party you want and what your players want: Your players will be figuring out what kind of PCs they want to be. This is probably going to partially be something you discuss with your players beforehand, but a part of this is established on the table top. So before you get on the table you’ll know if your game is combat heavy, talking heavy, or even both, but you won’t really know how that forms until you’ve played a bit. There is always a player dynamic that needs to be discovered. As a GM you should encourage the agreed upon role playing dynamic and move forward from there. After that dynamic is formed you can even test it Avengers 1 style.
- Ease everyone into the game: All of these things have been adding up to this final point. These games need to be eased into. New player, old player, new GM or old GM the only way that a group doesn’t need to ease into things is when you have experienced players who are playing a game they know and are transitioning with a seasoned GM. If you are not in that situation or you are a totally green party just remember the Nerd Blog Collective’s thoughts on gaming. Don’t look for verbal approval with your games or anything like that just measure your players reactions to the game and have fun talking about it after the session, or ask them if there’s anything they would like to see in the next session. This is the most important thing though so I’m going to make my last point it’s own big bolded sentence.
Make sure your players know that they should be open and honest if they have any problems they can talk to you about it. There are so many things that players don’t like talking to GMs about from characters they don’t like, to situations that might trigger something about them. A lot of times bad feelings within parties start with these kinds of misunderstandings, and the best way to clear that air is with having that line of open communication. Sometimes that openness is hard to maintain but it can be an adventure saver. Make sure your party knows if they have to bring up something one on one that you are willing to talk and if you are doing something to cause emotional pain for a player always agree to stop. I’ve seen NPCs that have say… their home town was burned to the ground by the bad guy… Now that’s a huge dramatic plot point and can really tug some heartstrings, but if one of your players recently or tragically lost their home to a fire then you can actually hurt your players. I’ve seen this kind of thing happen before and thankfully I wasn’t GMing but it was uncomfortable and there was a bit of a rocky road to get through after that.
The most important thing is that these games are meant to be fun. There’s a level of escapism involved with some players and that’s important too. The main thing though is to keep at it and don’t lose confidence in yourself. The world Always needs new GMs and that is just plain straight a fact so hold that title high, welcome to the nerd collective and as always,
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