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So you want to be a GM?

Copyright 2003 WBlackburn

Be sure that this is the right choice for you. Being a GM is lot of work, and you have a critical choice to make:

a) Suck.
b) Succeed.

If you want to suck as a GM, just grab a prewritten adventure in your favorite game system, invite a few friends over, and start gaming. You'll soon find yourself bogged down in rules arguments, character generation, and a storyline that feels forced, at best.... Will anyone want to repeat the experience? Probably not- BUT- this is usually where we all start out- myself included.

Here's what I've learned over the years. I hope it helps you to avoid some of the mistakes I've made along the way. I'll probably need to update this in a few years with things I'm learning today.

How to Succeed as a GM:

Playing the Game

Play for awhile and become comfortable with the rules and at the same time more familiar with your prospective players and with being a player. This means taking notes with an eye towards becoming a GM.

This will give you 3 advantages:

  1. You'll know the rules and how to "beat the system". Some of your players will try to beat the system, and you'll be better prepared to handle it as a GM.
  2. Knowing your players is the key to a successful campaign. You can better design stories and settings and adventures based on your players' likes and dislikes. Happy players means returning players.
  3. The essence of the game is actual play. By playing, you are reminded again of the reason you and others want to play- and how often.

Serving the Players

After some attention to Playing the Game/s, you must repeat the mantra "I GM to Serve" many times over! When it comes right down to it, a GM is a Facilitator of the story that the Players write. This will also make your life so much easier, knowing that you're only partly responsible for a successful game. You can expect during each and every game session to wear several "hats".
  1. Writer/Story Teller
    • Setting: You create the environments in which your players choose to immerse themselves.
    • Background Narrative: An intelligent, intriquing, and evolving world helps maintain suspension of disbelief.
    • Interactive Storyline: Your story must retain flexibility if the players are to act with free will.
    • Improvise New Horizons: Do not devise instructions.
    • Journalist: Keep a log of each session. I use an NPC party-member to do this in character.
    • Advertiser: Create pamphlets, posters, and other handouts of related and unrelated details about your game world. This adds depth.
  2. Rules Arbiter
    • Judge: You decide what the limits of the stated rules are. Remain fair and impartial.
    • Legislator: You write additional rules to "fill in the gaps" Reasonability is key.
  3. Actor
    • All Non-Player Characters: Any character the players interact with must be brought to life.
    • Villian: A special NPC, that must be carefully crafted and voiced to be a worthy opponent.
    • Deity: You are the Voice of the Heavens/Hells. This will test your ability to see situations from a variety of viewpoints.
    • Monster:Playing Animals and Monsters requires skill. Most creatures act on instinct and intuition, not intelligence. Howver, some creatures are more intelligent that the average PC.
  4. Player Coach
    • Motivator: Everyone needs a reason to show up- make it personal and personable.
    • Advisor: Assist and enable your players to become better players.
  5. Artist
    • Create colorful maps.
    • Build and/or paint miniatures with your players.
  6. Host
    • Regardless of location, you are the host for the sessions. Be on tine, and ready to play. Thank your players for attending.
  7. Buyer
    • Expect to purchase the gaming materials the group will be using. Books, miniatures, paper for sheets and maps, a binder, and anything else you and your group need or desire for a great session. You can ask for donations!
  8. Student
    • Seek feedback and insight from your players, to continue to be a better GM.

That's a great deal of effort on the part of any GM. It is reasonable to expect something in return from your players.

GMs Expectations

Every group is different. I expect my players to take responsibility for everything on their character sheets, including: all statistics/scores, equipment, skills/feats, spells/powers, animal friends, etc. If a player doesn't know how to use a skill or what the effect of a spell is, then I assume the character has forgotten how to perform the deed. I keep an extra copy of the Players Handbook available for each session.

I provide links, emails, and a variety of handouts to engage my players attention to our shared game world. I ask that my players take the time to read these and to create their own.

I also expect my players to arrive on time, to be engaged and attentive, and to behave decently towards me and each other.

It's nice to hear a "Thank You" every now and then, too!