Welcome to part one of …Where do I even start? This series will focus mainly on being a Game Master, which is very different than being a player. Not only do you have to craft a campaign, you also need to create a living, breathing world chock full of history and conflict for your players to discover. Beyond that, there’s also the matter of building challenging, but winnable encounters each session for the players to overcome. On top of everything else though, a GM needs to be able to answer questions. A lot of them. Being savvy on the rules and an expert on the world is crucial, especially in a long campaign. All that being said, GMing your first game can be an intimidating process, so I’d like to give you some advice on how to start planning, building, and running your first RPG!
Part One: Planning
This phase is like drawing up an outline for a sketch, or a bibliography for a paper. You don’t need to fill in all of the blanks, just make sure you hit some key points to set your foundation. First you’ll need a hook. Ask yourself, why should the players want to go on this adventure? You can answer this question as creatively as you want, or take something more traditional and make it your own! Flash backs/forwards are a good way to introduce either history within the party or the inevitable outcome if they don’t go together. Starting in the middle of a conflict (verbal or physical) can shock the party into coming together. The important thing to note here is that nothing has a 100% success rate in hooking all of your players. In a recent game that I ran, I used a flash-forward technique to make the players work together toward a common goal, but we weren’t even out of the introduction before a player stated “is this a flashback?” And proceeded to suicide and expedite the process. Don’t feel bad if things don’t work out right away.
A couple of other things you’ll need are and idea for an enemy and a setting. I’d suggest picking your setting first, as most enemy guides will list climates most likely to harbour certain enemy types. For example, mountain goats live on mountains, so if you’re in the tundra they aren’t realistic enemies. Right? It doesn’t have to be an exact layout of where the adventure will be, but a more general, one word example of a possible climate zone. Tropical, desert, tundra, plains, urban and swamp are some good ones.
Now we can pick a big baddie for our campaign. This choice needs to be a bit more specific than the choice of setting, because it is going to affect your smaller conflicts throughout the game. Pick Galactic Bounty Hunter Captain or Orc Cheiftain and your constant enemies are more or less laid out for you. This is the idea of building backwards in order to maintain a cohesive narrative. Now that you have your hook, setting, and enemy selected, we can move on to actually building the campaign.
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