Welcome to the first article Gnome Stew’s Introduction to Game Mastering series. If you’re new to GMing, this series is for you — and even if you’re an old hand, you might pick up a trick or two.
Want to read other articles in this series? Click on the “introduction to game mastering” tag at the end of this article.
In writing this series, I assume you have some familiarity with gaming terms and jargon. If you see a term you don’t know, just hit up Gnome Stew’s RPG Glossary.
The Golden Rule
When it comes to game mastering, there is one rule that will never steer you wrong: the golden rule.
No matter how long you’ve been GMing, or what problems you might run into as you learn more about the craft of being a GM, coming back to this rule will serve you well.
So what is it?
Everyone at the table should have fun.
There are lots of things you need to learn to become a great GM, but to get there (and to enjoy getting there) you need to build on the right foundation. This simple rule is the right foundation.
Why This Rule is Golden
It’s not the only thing you need to know, of course, and it’s not a magic bullet. But every element — literally — of running a good game is based on this rule, and literally every GMing-related problem can be solved in part by considering this rule as you search for a solution.
Let’s break it down into its two components: “fun” and “everyone.”
Having fun is a large part of why we game, and presumably of why you want to be a GM. There are lots of other reasons, too — hanging out with friends, a love of storytelling, the act of roleplaying, and many more — but at the end of the day they all revolve around having fun in some form.
Remembering that will keep you focused on what you do as a GM. When you’re preparing an adventure, make sure what you’re writing sounds like fun; when you’re actually running it, change things on the fly to make what’s happening more fun, play NPCs to the hilt, and otherwise get into it — all because it will make the game more fun.
The more fun your players have, the more fun you’ll have — and vice versa. It’s a feedback loop that leads to great gaming.
As the GM, you’re a player, too. Every game you run should be enjoyable for everyone at the gaming table — fun for all of your players, and fun for you as well.
Everyone has bad sessions, and if you or one of your players doesn’t have fun one night, it doesn’t mean that you’re a failure as a GM. You’re not responsible for how much fun everyone has, but you are responsible for doing your best to make sure everyone has fun — that’s an important distinction.
Keeping everyone’s fun in mind will make you a better GM.
Putting It Into Practice
As you get a few sessions under your belt and hone your GMing skills, you will always benefit from remembering the golden rule of great game mastering: Everyone at the table should have fun.
It’s not rocket science, and there’s no secret to how to use this rule to run better games — just bear it in mind.
It can be easy to forget at times (particularly after you’ve run a session that didn’t go so well), which is why it’s important to keep it handy. (If you need to, write it down on an index card and clip it to the inside of your GMing screen, where you’ll see it at every game.)
That’s all there is to it. Stick to the golden rule, and you’re well on your way to becoming a great game master.