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  • Writer's pictureKL Forslund

Breaking in a GM

What’s the most important things you can tell somebody, who’s new to the job? Don’t stick your hand in there. Wash your hands before and after going to the bathroom. Don’t dip your pen in the company inkwell. Always good advice. My friend has a more specific situation. He’s getting a new Game Master (GM). Over the years of playing role-playing games, I’ve gleaned a few lessons.

Learn the Rules, Keep the Game Moving

RPGs have a lot of rules. If’ you’re being asked GM and haven’t played before, that’s harder. Read up on combat and skill resolution, that’s how most problems will be solved in a typical RPG. If a situation comes up in the game where you don’t know the rule, ask your players to see if they know. When the game looks like it will be frozen while people research or argue the rules, remember this, the GM is the final arbiter of the rules. Grab a die and roll. Use a skill or attribute check, or just make it 50:50 on whether the thing the players wants to attempt works. Being consistent and fair is important, but so is keeping the game moving. You can figure out the right rules for the next game session.

Stupid Ideas and the Players That Loved Them

Now and then, a player wants to do something stupid. A GM’s goal is to provide a challenge and keep it fun. That said, you can’t protect them from themselves. The slickest response to a stupid proposition by a player is “Are you sure you want to do that?”

Fun story: I played a session where my friend wanted to jump from one platform to the one across from us. We couldn’t get him to stop and find out how far away the other platform was, or how far he could jump.

The Six Choices

An easy mistake for a GM to make is to assume a single solution. The villain has a sword, so of course the party is going to fight him. This causes a GM to block other solutions. The players try to reason with the villain, negotiate, and the GM thwarts it and the villain draws his sword, killing of five other avenues of interesting problem solving.

Remember, in every situation, there are six basic approaches to solving the problem:

  1. Fighting

  2. Talking

  3. Tricking

  4. Magic

  5. Avoiding

  6. Being Clever

Most of those should be obvious, and being clever covers anything else players might come up with, from using an item you forgot they had, to burning the building down. Be open to any of them.

Advice For Players with a New GM

You’ve got work to do as well. Be disruptive or difficult, and the GM will not want to run a game. Here’s some general tips:

  • Be a cohesive team, playing characters who shouldn’t be together strains belief, and usually ends up not being fun for somebody

  • Bite the plot-hook. The GM isn’t your content generation engine making up stuff for every situation. Go save the princess if that’s what’s available.

  • Bad calls happen. Don’t rules-lawyer the fun out of it.

  • Avoid splitting the party, especially to do Lone Wolf stuff

What Next?

A GM’s going to learn the ropes by running games. Decide what happens next by what makes sense, and what would make a good challenge. Be fair and make sure everybody’s getting a chance to contribute. If everyone’s having fun, you’re probably doing it right.

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