Experience tends to be the defining metric when discussing whether someone is a good or great GM. That precious commodity that’s measured in years, campaigns, or game systems. It’s also something that gamers new to being behind the screen tend to focus on too much. The reality being that within every to-be GM is a great game trying to get out.

I’m a proponent of the gamer lifecycle, a philosophy that gamers — and their tastes — evolve over time and with experience. Now it’s the “gamer lifecycle,” not the “player” or “GM lifecycle,” which is a way of inherently saying that as we mature as gamers, we tend to become GMs as that experience drives us to stretch ourselves and tell our own stories. We all reach that tipping point and take our turn.

If you’re gamer that’s ready to take your first stab at running a game then this article is for you.

Get Over It

A funny comment was made in our own weekly tabletop group regarding a new GM considering running a game: the pressure of running a game with Martin and Don. Okay, sure, we’re awesome (really, we’re not), but at the end of the day it’s all just bullshit. Get over it! Imagine us naked or something (okay, maybe not that), but what’s really going to happen? We’re going to ridicule or mock the GM? No, clearly not.

This is a self-inflicted wound and the only person that can get over it is the new GM. They’re just voices in your head.

Desire Trumps Experience

We’re all familiar with the saying, “where there’s a will, there’s a way.” Or, in other words, a good idea backed with psychotic desire for excellence will trump dull experience any day of the week. Now, all things being equal experience can be the difference-maker. But that’s entirely the point: desire is the element that *doesn’t* make all things equal. It’s the wildcard. I’d rather be in a game with a GM who has a strong vision of their game and desire than one playing by the numbers.

So new GM, if you’ve an idea that you love, are passionate about, then run with it!

Fail Forward

You’re not going to bat 1.000. So with that out of the way, let’s focus on the ones we can win. Take the successes and look to duplicate them but equally important is to take your failures and learn from them as well. The basic litmus test that I advocate is approaching your game in a postmortem with your own players hat on. Would you have enjoyed your game? Solicit feedback from your players; they’ll probably take it easy on you so don’t sweat it. Ultimately what we’re striving for here is to highlight the strengths to repeat and the lows to remediate.

Rinse and repeat for your next game and in a few years you’ll be a graybeard passing along your own advice.

You’re Not Alone

Roleplaying is a team sport. The players at your table are just as invested in your success as you are. Lean on that experience and help. Don’t pretend that you know it all. Be open and explain that you’re new and you’ll need their help. Players want a great game, they’ll help. GMs want to expand and welcome new members into their brotherhood. There’s help at your gaming table and be willing to reach out and take it.

Plus, the advent of the interwebs opens entire new venues to help raise you’re game. I’m not just talking about Gnome Stew or our products, Eureka or Masks, but the blog sphere and forums in general. Whatever problem you’re wrestling with, I guarantee you that someone else has been down that road and can give you advise.

En Passant

Finally, take all of the above and shred it. I’m paid by the word, so don’t sweat it. While there are some good bits there that may resonate you — and on Gnome Stew in general — the reality is that all GMs need to find their own way. As individuals we make our own way in life and learn our own lessons. Here at Gnome Stew we can provide you with the best advice we can but the reality is that not all of it is pertinent to you or your GMing style. Find the bits that speak to you and your developing style.

The reality is that if we all ran games the same way it’d be pretty darn boring. Part of the awesomeness of RPGs are not only different game systems, stories, and players, but also that no two GMs run the same game. That’s our strength, not our weakness. In my mind blogs like Gnome Stew exist not to dispense sage wisdom, but instead to help motivate GMs, young and old alike. The truth is likely somewhere in the middle.

Find your style and embrace it, then take that style and forge your own path.

Heck, in no time you’ll be writing on a GM’s blog like you know what the hell you’re talking about!

Fearless readers, have any tips of your own to share? Shout out below! Also, new GMs stand up and be recognized!

About  Don Mappin

For nearly 30 years RPGs have been a staple of Don’s life — so that means he’s pretty old. Author of a dozen RPG books, Don has worked with companies such as ICE, Last Unicorn Games, Decipher, and AEG. He now spends his time working in IT management, enjoying his family and two children, or gaming.



8 Responses to Your Time Is Now

  1. Roleplaying is a team sport. That needs to be emblazoned on a T-shirt! When the folks gather around the table for their mutual enjoyment (and not just their personal satisfaction), the experience elevates! But yes, reach out to the others around. Most players are “experts” on the rules AS THEY PERTAIN TO THEIR CHARACTERS. What an awesome resource that is. Demonstratet that you’re willing to rely on that expertise and the new GM will build trust with those at the table.

  2. When I wanted to start running a game, my gaming group had two experienced DM’s in it. So, I was really worried about what they would think. I finally realized, though, that 1) they’ve been in the exact same position as me, and 2) they’re my friends! Once I came to that understanding, I had no trouble starting a game, and it’s still going well a year later.

  3. This article could not have had more perfect timing for me. I have been sitting on the GM sidelines for more years than I care to admit, and most of that time I’ve had some ideas for games and environments that I’d like to run, but have been reluctant to dive in and sit in the GM spot. (Part of my excuse has been that of paltry organizational skills, but mostly it’s just been… a lot of things this article addresses.) Actually, I did actually run a game* once, in high school, with two of my friends, and it was one of the more memorable and enjoyable highlights of my high school years. I realize in hindsight that they were going easy on me and mostly just wanted to see where I was going with it, but I think after years of seeing other people run games, I can at least bluff it until I’ve figured out the nuances. (* – Of my own design; looking back it was rather horrible, and I owe them gratitude for enduring it.) Anyway, thanks for the pep talk!

  4. Excellent advice for a newbie GM.

    For years as a gamer, I was absolutely convinced I could never be a GM. The group I used to play with was more focused on the rules and I never felt I knew them well enough to make it work. It took getting into a different group of players who gently pushed and encouraged me into running a game. Having the trust and confidence of your players is an amazing boon to any beginning GM. Eventually their confidence was contagious enough that I started having faith in my own skills as a GM.

  5. Good advice all around. I would add that it is important to let players know that you are a novice GM. With that done, set some ground rules about how you would like the game to run. If you want a more flexible (less rules heavy) game, let your players know. That way those with a different focus are forewarned and will (hopefully) be less likely to challenge you on those points. In addition, don’t be afraid to set limits to help you minimize rules issues or provide you with a narrower focus. For example you may wish to limit players to core rules or the base classes from those rules. Later add “new” elements as you become more comfortable. Also , let players know the mood, tone or atmosphere of the game you want to run, so they know how to add to it and help foster it. Finally, utilize the vast amount of resources out there to help cut down on the prep-time, so you can focus on developing the story and nurturing game-play. Need NPCs—Masks provides excellent ideas for quick allies, acquaintances and foes. Need adventures—run a few published adventures to get your feet wet. But always look for ways to improve and make the game your own.

    Remember that it is in the best interest of others (both GMs and players alike) that you succeed. As a GM, I can assure you that I love it when someone else wants to run a game after I’ve been behind the screen for two years straight. As a player, I can assure you that I want to have fun and help create a good game. I think most would agree.

  6. The best con games I’ve played with new GMs are the ones where the GM said, “I’m pretty new to this.” The vibe at the table changes, everyone relaxes a bit, and we all cut the GM some extra slack. Advertising your experience level is a good idea.

  7. @Martin Ralya – Really? I’m a pretty new GM and I’m interested in maybe running a pickup game at the next con I go to once I get the kinks ironed out of my world and a decent writeup of the homebrew rules I’ve been using (it’s well-playtested, as it was pioneered by my mom and I’ve used it quite a bit in her campaignsa s well as mine, but it’s not published) and I’ve been really scared taht I’m going to say, “I’m new at this” and get laughed out of the room.

    But I guess that’s the point, huh? Of the whole article. That that’s not going to happen – and if it does, it’s probably because they’re idiots rather than you did a bad job.

    I think I’m gonna put some effort into it, give it a shot now.

    GMing has been really fun so far even if I have made a few major major screwups and I don’t think I’m ever going to quit.

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