Observations From A First-Time Game Master – 10 Tips For Beginner GMs

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0084

  1. Choose Your Players Carefully And Keep The Group Small
  2. Choose Your Game Carefully 
  3. Pick A Friendly Setting 
  4. Do Your Research 
  5. Avoid Over-planning 
  6. Know When To Let It Ride…. 
  7. Know When To End It
  8. Be Organized
  9. Learn From Your Mistakes (Aka Find Your Weaknesses) 
  10. Summarize 

Readers’ Tips Summarized

  1. Great Resource For Campaign Pictures
  2. Breathing Life Into A Lifeless Pantheon
  3. Generate Awesome Sounding Magic Weapon Names

A Brief Word From Johnn

Johnn’s On Holidays–Next Issue Will Be In August 

Well, it was a bit of a bloodbath around here this month, as deadlines, visiting relatives, and lots of overtime at work kept me way behind on my emails and tips writing. I apologize for the slow responses you’ve been receiving.

My holidays begin this week though–thank goodness. I need to catch up on sleep and re-energize the batteries.

I’ve got Issue #85 queued up to be sent in two weeks, and I hope it reaches you OK. You’re welcome to send in your emails, but, even though I’ll be around, I’ll be without computer access and won’t be able to respond until mid- August.

Issue #86 should hit your in-box August 15th-ish, when I’ve got computer and Internet access again.

New Unsubscribe Address

Please note the new unsubscribe address: [email protected]

MyInfo v2.0 Ideas Requested

I received a request from the MyInfo team  Game Master Tool who are busy working on the next version of the free PC-based organizer software that I plugged a couple of issues ago.

They asked me to ask you for ideas on what could be added, changed or improved in v2.0. If you have any feedback, send it on in to me and I’ll forward it to the development team (when I return from holidays): [email protected]

MyInfo Locations Database

Asmor, a Tips subscriber, is using MyInfo to build a locations database called The WorldBook. It’s a collection of generic but unique locations for GMs where entries are listed by topic. For example: Locations >> Lakes >> “The Volcanic Lake.”

Asmor’s website http://www.worldbook.f2s.com explains it in detail. If you’re interested in contributing, send him an e- mail at [email protected]. All contributors will be given credit on the webpage, in the index, and on their contribution(s).

Asmor will also be sharing the file with us for our use– I’ll post updates here in the future. Thanks Asmor.


Johnn Four
[email protected]

Check Out A Free Sample of EZ HERO Magazine

Get support for all your genres from EZ HERO magazine. Sci-fi, fantasy, superhero, action adventure, and more. Characters, advice, gadgets, rules, settings, and props. Get your free sample at Where Did the Termites in my Home Come From?

[Johnn: in particluar, be sure to download the freebie #1 Issue. It has some great gaming articles: Where Did the Termites in my Home Come From?]

Observations From A First-Time Game Master – 10 Tips For Beginner GMs

From Jen Delaney

[Johnn: Jen submitted some tips awhile ago based on her experiences from being a new GM, and she has graciously agreed to let me publish them. I think there is some great advice here for game masters new and old.

I also believe that one can learn a lot from people who are new to a particular activity as they bring in fresh perspectives and methods for doing things. So, even if you’re a jaded old GM, I hope you find a helpful reminder, or even a new trick in this week’s issue. ]

Choose Your Players Carefully And Keep The Group Small

I started small, just my husband and our Storyteller from Vampire. We have a good sized gaming group (5 regulars + 3 ‘maybes’) but I wanted it small. I’m glad I did.

  • Having two players allowed for a LOT of interactive roleplaying both between the PCs and the NPCs. I was able to act out whole scenes that may have otherwise been reduced to “okay, you pay 100 gold and you have a horse” in a large group.
  • Roleplaying between the characters. These two had entire conversations about different subjects and I was able to eavesdrop and take notes on their character development (and come up with a few ideas for later adventures…).
  • The pace was great. I was never dealing so long with one of the characters that the other one felt bored. I realize a really good or really experienced DM could do this with a large group but a new DM may feel overwhelmed.

I chose my husband because he had to be nice to me cause he had to come home with me ;-). And I chose the other person because I thought that he would be easy to play with also. I passed over other members because either I didn’t know them well, or they wouldn’t be interested. But I passed over one person in particular because they know D&D inside and out and is very out-spoken…not argumentative, but I’ve seen him overrun the Storyteller in our other game too many times to be comfortable with him in the group (at the start anyway).

So, if it’s your first time, choose people you will be comfortable with and who are truly interested. It helps if they are forgiving too =).

Choose Your Game Carefully

I chose AD&D 2nd edition because that is my main game of choice. I know it well (not completely, but better than any other system). Also, I chose it because mainly we game Vampire and AD&D is as different from Vampire as you can get. I chose 2nd ed. because I have never played third and don’t know the rules.

Pick A Friendly Setting

I chose the Forgotten Realms setting because I have read lots of books that take place there. I didn’t have to worry about creating a whole new world so I could concentrate more on the story. There are enough open spots there that I could add/change pretty much whatever I wanted. (I switched the location of two cities because it suited my needs better). There are even pre-made NPCs for the Forgotten Realms–I am going to use some of my favorite characters from the books.

Do Your Research

I spent a couple of weeks setting this up before I ran it because I wanted everything to go smoothly and wanted to make sure I had the story down pat. I didn’t want to have to come up with something on the fly (at least nothing major). I knew the locations, the major NPCs, and the options that lay before the characters. I even had the monsters all written out and some printouts to give to the players.

Avoid Over-planning

While the characters weren’t railroaded per se, there was an awful lot of “co-incidence” in their adventure. One of them would say “Maybe we can get work on a caravan” and I had it in my notes that a caravan master would ask them to join on after hearing that they beat some kobolds and goblins off.I realized that I could have let them roleplay it out that they went looking for work on a caravan or something, but I thought it was a good idea to know the area where the party is going to be, rather than just have a few key.

NPCs drawn up that they might run into, or some notices they might see [to hook them into the story]. Let them do a little work (and if it’s important and they miss it then you can force the issue a bit).

Know When To Let It Ride

I was eager to get the adventure started and tried to several times, but the players were talking (in character) and the conversation went on for 15 minutes or longer. When they would stop, I would try to start “So, the day dawns and….” and they would start talking again. The first few times I was a little vexed, but then I just enjoyed it because they were getting “in character” and I learned quite a few things and got some great ideas to use in future adventures.

At other times I was anxious to move the story line along but they were content to talk to the NPCs a little longer…..but sometimes they wanted to move on and the NPC wouldn’t shut up! =P So, just keep a casual eye on your players and take your hints from them. I developed some good unexpected NPCs (and a few of the planned ones were ignored…). Also, some parts of the adventures were missed, but others were explored more.

Know When To End It

I had a lot of adventure planned out and wanted to get to a certain point but we didn’t make it though we played for 8 hours. Everyone was having fun but even fun things can get dull after awhile.One way I handled this was by making several “stopping points” in the adventure (it was also easier for me to organize NPCs, monsters, etc…almost like chapters of a book). After we finished quite a bit, I asked “This is a good stopping point…keep going or stop?” and they continued on for one more ‘chapter’.

If the group just isn’t on top of their game (i.e. they’ve got stuff on their mind, they’re restless, or just not having fun), then you can either continue the game (group consensus) or stop and play Parcheesi or something. I think it’s better just to apologize and save a good adventure for another day rather than trying to force it out when no one will really enjoy it.

Be Organized

I had a lot of info: tables copied from books, pages of ideas, adventure info, and more. I had planned to get a GM Binder but I did not have the time or resources to go out and get the materials I needed before the game. This hurt me quite a bit because I had all the info I needed but it was very hard for me to keep track of it all.

If you’re a first time GM, chances are you may be a little nervous as is; don’t make yourself more so by having to shuffle through books and papers looking for what’s-his- face’s daughter’s dog’s name, etc. My goal is to never have to open a book while I’m GM-ing (I’ll have it all in notes or in the binder).

Learn From Your Mistakes (Aka Find Your Weaknesses)

Thinking back on the session I realized some things. For example, I discovereed that I am horrible with coming up with NPC names on the spot. So, I’m going to make a large table with nothing but names on it that I’ll keep in my GM Binder.I’ll also have a copy of occupations and royalty titles that I will keep handy too.And I will be more organized too! (see #8)


I kept track of the time in a notebook and wrote roughly what happened each day so that I’d know who the PCs met and what they’d done. Later, I wrote a general summary of everything that happened and am using the notes I took from the characters’ conversations to shape the next adventures (one of the characters befriended a girl in the town…maybe I’ll have her show up later…maybe pregnant… etc.)

Like someone famous once said, you won’t know where you’re going until you know where you’ve been. I plan on sending parts of the summary and some other stuff to the players via email.

Copyright 2001 Jen Delaney

Tips From Roleplaying Tips Game Masters

Have a roleplaying tip you’d like to share? E-mail it to [email protected] – thanks!

Great Resource For Campaign Pictures

From Susan Jane

I was cruising Yahoo home page when I saw the “Photos” caption. Seems you’re able to pick photos from a professional image bank (the kind advertising agencies use) and assemble them into an album. There are some limitations, like not being able to reorder photos, but all in all it’s a great way to gather together images for a world or a region, including artifacts and architecture.

I’ve got my new world, Talain, input with captions and text: http://photos.yahoo.com/sjca2

[Johnn: please note, to access SusanJane’s album, you need a Yahoo account & password.]
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Breathing Life Into A Lifeless Pantheon

From Stuart

A fellow DM and myself have been in the process of building a joint campaign setting, but one common problem kept sprouting up. Our players, no matter how hard they tried, had a difficult time picturing and understanding our pantheon of gods.

To fix this, we have begun incorporating the “best” PCs into our pantheon. Players can always identify with characters they have witnessed their friends play if they are truly played well and brought to life. Sadly, since that degree of role-playing was very rare at best, we figured why not use the character even after it has retired or died?

Using our world’s old PCs has served two very useful purposes. First, the players now can identify with the pantheons motivations and ideals, and secondly, ascending PC’s have inspired the players to really focus on consistency when portraying their characters. Characters now enrich our setting, rather than just inhabit it.

One example of a character we ascended was Willow, a female wizard/thief, who began as a very na*ve young lady that adored children, but sought to change her own way of life and make her mark on the world. Willow therefore spent a lot of her time learning about the harsh reality of life and the world around her.

However, as time passed she began to be less and less na*ve, but still held tightly to her deepest loves, she still adored children, so she began sharing her stories with children in hopes that they might help them to avoid a similar disaster, and her undying belief that just as she did, people could change. As a result of her hard work she ascended and is now the goddess of family and home (fertility), she still adores children, but also is the embodiment of change.

While this is a general view of the character, her life was rich, and the character’s motives and personality were very apparent to the group, thus when we now introduce the goddess Willow, our players can think back to what they remember of her, so that their new characters can have a more realistic interaction with her should the character they play worship or study about her.

However, remember that not just heroes ascend into a pantheon, but all types. The best example I can offer is this, we had a character in our group that no matter what happened he always got the worst end of it. The character’s misfortune got to the point that many of our players thought we were out to kill him or just torture him, so we began to “share” our rolls with another person randomly in the group to prove it was just utter dumb luck.

Therefore, when the character finally did die, he ascended to the pantheon as the god of misfortune. Thus, when the players think back about him they understand why the god of misfortune’s worshipers pay respects to him to avert his watchful eye, rather than draw it.

While this method helped in a few ways, there are a few potential pitfalls to be aware of if you decide to apply this approach of pantheon building to your world. First of all, even if a player always plays a great character, don’t just ascend every one of their characters. Always ascending one person’s character is bound to result in bitterness from the rest of your group.

Second, try to make sure that there is a vacancy or absence of a certain character type within the pantheon before ascending a new PC.

Third, all aspects of the character must be vivid, not just one trait. Make sure the character is well rounded and their motivations are known to the group. A great PC is one that you, as a DM, know how he will respond to a situation as does his party members. (Remember, just because you know how the player will have his/her character respond, your NPCs most likely won’t.)

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Generate Awesome Sounding Magic Weapon Names

From John H.

Names hold power. Throughout time, beliefs persist that knowing the true name of someone (or something) provides some control over the named one. Names are descriptive, running from the simple job title to the awe- or fear- inspiring surname sported by heroes and fiends of renown.

While the former are useful, it’s the latter names that I think about when generating treasure hordes or interesting legends. To that end, I put together a few brief tables of synonyms, grouped (loosely) by type. I know that by going through a thesaurus, I could no doubt generate enough terms to last a lifetime of campaigns. As it is, the tables below fit nicely into the back of my Dungeon Master’s Guide and provide enough raw data to formulate my own awe-inspiring weapons (well, the names at least).

As it stands, I’ve no alignment terms due to both not having enough words and in an effort to keep this list fairly generic. While the lists are primarily intended for use as suffixes to weapon, monster, or body part terms (like sword, goblin, or head), some of the words make decent prefixes as well.

For example:

  • Trollsear (flaming troll bane weapon)
  • Rimefang (cold piercing weapon)
  • Heartseeker (enhanced “to hit” weapon — most likely piercing)
  • Stormcaller (electrical weapon)
  • Runeripper (anti-magical or anti-mage slashing weapon)
  • Goblindoom (goblin bane weapon)
  • Elfcutter (elf bane slashing weapon)
  • Headknocker (enhanced “to hit” blunt weapon)
  • Skullcrusher (enhanced “damage” blunt weapon)
  • Flamerend (flaming slashing weapon) OR (cold-based fire bane weapon)
  • Frostbringer (cold weapon)

Here are the charts:

Bane Weapons (d8):

  1. Foe
  2. Death
  3. Bane
  4. Slayer
  5. Fear
  6. Ruin
  7. Doom
  8. End

Fire Weapons (d6):

  1. Flame
  2. Fire
  3. Sear
  4. Heat
  5. Burn
  6. Pyre

Cold Weapons (d6):

  1. Rime
  2. Hoar
  3. Frost
  4. Ice
  5. Chill
  6. Cold

Useful Suffixes (d8):

  1. Caller
  2. Taker
  3. Maker
  4. Giver
  5. Bringer
  6. Seeker
  7. Finder
  8. Sender

Electrical Weapons (d6):

  1. Bolt
  2. Shock
  3. Blast
  4. Flash
  5. Lightning
  6. Storm

Blunt Weapons (d6):

  1. Hammer
  2. Crusher
  3. Knocker
  4. Basher
  5. Grinder
  6. Thumper

Pointed Weapons (d4):

  1. Piercer
  2. Fang / Tooth
  3. Sting
  4. Bite(r)

Slashing Weapons (d6):

  1. Splitter
  2. Razor
  3. Claw
  4. Rend
  5. Cutter
  6. Ripper

Magic Prefixes (d4):

  1. Spell
  2. Magic
  3. Rune
  4. Dweomer

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