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The Douchey DM » Advice » The evolution of a GM Part 1: The first rule.

The evolution of a GM Part 1: The first rule.

In a lot of ways my experiences as a gamer and as a gamemaster have been vastly different than what I’ve heard from many of the podcast hosts, blog authors, and friends that I have discussed them with. In the years since I started roleplaying in 1994, I have had a sum total of only five different gamemasters, and only played three different game settings for more than two or three sessions. The biggest chunk of my gaming history was invested in a game called Legend of the Five Rings, I started playing that in 1996 and didn’t stop until 2010. Fourteen years of playing the same game, and most of that in the same campaign with the same gamemaster. Because of my experiences, there was never a chance to learn from different gamemasters, not a chance to see how others run their games. It was as if gaming had only one flavor as far as I was concerned.

Unfortunately, or not depending on your view point I guess, I had the displeasure of getting ousted from that group I had been a part of for so long. This is not the time or place to discuss or even explain that situation, perhaps another article. For now let’s just say that in my view that was the best thing that ever happened to me as far as gaming was concerned. Here in Cincinnati, despite it being a city of decent size, there is something of a gaming vacuum. It can be difficult to find a game to play in if you don’t know the right people. Even gaming stores rarely have postings these days looking for players, but usually a lot looking for gamemasters. I gave up on gaming and thought it was gone to me, but the world of L5R was still very much in me and I had to get out the thoughts in my head. Since gaming was no longer an option, or so I thought, I wrote. Entered story writing contests, created characters, talked about the characters I longed to play on forums and eventually made my way to play by post.

I won’t malign play by post gaming, but it’s just not the experience I want. I want people in front of me, joking and having a good time. Play by post can never give me that experience, but it will make you friends. A few local people and I met through a pbp game and we talked a lot about wishing we could find a local GM to run us through some sessions of our favorite game. It wasn’t until a fateful day when I was at work when a co-worker noticed my gaming book at my desk that things came together. He mentioned he used to play D&D and was curious about this game he hadn’t heard about. Brand new book in his hands he came to me and begged me to start up a game. My face I think must have been one of the funniest things he had ever seen when he said that to me. Me? Gamemaster? Was he kidding? I had never done it before, and didn’t think I could. He insisted and wouldn’t let me forget it. So I gave in and said I would. I was terrified.

In that first year of running a game, I learned lots of things that I still use to this day.

• Prep as much as you have time for, but don’t stress that you didn’t do enough, because you can never do enough.
• Have names. Nothing will ruin a moment faster than your player asking you for the name of the Daimyo of the major clan they are negotiating with and you say “Uh… Hida Bob?”
• You don’t have to know all the rules, but you do have to know the rules you are using right then and right there.
• Don’t hesitate. Your players WILL do something you don’t expect, roll with it and learn to work it into your story.
• Write a story, but let the other players help… not just appear.
• Ask for input, don’t ever be afraid of help.

I think I spent something like three months preparing for that first game. Mapping out the city, creating a whole binder full of NPC’s and locations and story. Yeah I wrote an actual story, the way you would if you were writing it for someone to read. Something like fifteen pages of a story with characterization, interesting plot, and lots of twists. I still have that binder, and most of it has never seen the light of day. I’m not disappointed or embarrassed with it, it’s just that no one could ever use that much prep work unless they ran the same campaign in that same location for more years than I’ve been GMing. It was a mistake, but if there is anything I’ve learned in my time as a gamemaster it’s that you will make mistakes and you have to learn from them.

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SirGuido has been a Happy Jack's RPG fan since the first moment he heard Stu on Kicked in the Dicebags. He hopes one day that he will get to meet all of these great people and play lots of games with them.

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3 Responses to "The evolution of a GM Part 1: The first rule."

  1. JazzIsBluesNo Gravatar says:

    Good article Guido. Well thought out. I think most every GM goes through a similar experience of evolution. We’re all on the slope of learning to GM.

    JiB

  2. MattNo Gravatar says:

    Yeah, good article.
    I think that 15 page story is awesome. Even if it wasn’t used you have that material in your head for reference. That is nothing to dismiss.
    Know the grapple rules, because someone is going to grapple the mage/shugenja… 😉
    I felt the same way when I GM’d a new game or a new group. I still get some anxiety now but I know it for what it is and it doesn’t bother me as much as it used to. I would think that is something that comes with experience.
    I know that I feel comfortable running a game that I know well and I’m not afraid to ‘wing it’ when the situation arises. 😉

  3. JoeGunNo Gravatar says:

    I third the good article nod!

    I also agree with Fray, the grapple rules for just about every system are wonky ( or non-existent) and everyone tries to do it.

    I also feel the anxiety right before I start, but that’s because I’ve never been much for prep, and prefer to just have thoughts floating in my head that drop out based on what the players want to do. In essence, it helps me feel like I’m also “playing” the game as I’m directly acting off of what the players are doing, just as they are doing off of me.

    I’d also like to reiterate the “don’t be afraid to ask for help”. At the game table there are people that can help you if they know the rules better, Forums, blog posts, ect. All of these things can help you solve problems you identify in your game, besides if everyone is having fun around the table ( isn’t that the point? ), then nobody is going to notice or care about the little mistakes as you move along. But they will notice how much better you get over time! So it’s a win win!

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