Brief Game Master Pointers

[Cross-posted, originally posted on Canadian Geek]

I’ve got a few administrative items to pass along this month that I’ll pass along before we get to the meat and potatoes. Firstly, I’m going to add something to the end of my columns – a few game recommendations. These titles are likely going to be games I’ve never played and have barely read through, but something about them caught my eye. I hope some of these turn out to be gems in your collection. The second item is to blatantly self promote – if you’ve never RPed before, or if you just haven’t been able to find a group, be sure to check out the Edmonton Gamers’ Association. You can check them out on Meetup, which will tell you about all the events they have planned (There’s one this weekend, March 8th!).

With that taken care of…here’s a few pointers for new Game Masters.

Game Master Tips

The first two pieces of advice I’d give to new GMs are:

  • Plan out your session beforehand. Know where you plan on taking the adventure.
  • Don’t plan out your session beforehand.

Of course, I’m sure you realize these points contradict each other. Let me explain what I mean in a bit more detail. For most GMs, just making stuff up as they go just does not work, you’ll end up forgetting something and your players will call you on it. You need to have an idea of what the goal of the adventure is. Know some of the details of how the characters go from point A to point B. But…don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Players hate ‘box canyons’ with one direction of travel. They will find a way to break your intended path. So, don’t plan everything. Make multiple-plan ideas. Think of one or two alternate paths that can be chosen to get to the end goal. Sometimes, they’ll think of something you never thought of. You’ll have to make that up – but take personal notes of what you’re telling players. It will help you later on.

  • Ask for Feedback

If you’re playing a game with friends, you should be playing to have fun and hang out. Ask your players for feedback on the game. Find out what they like and what they dislike. Add more of what they like, take out what they dislike. Sure, you might want something different from a game than your players, so if you’re a Narrativist stuck in a game with a bunch of Gamists (GNS Theory is a topic for another article), you might have a problem. Or maybe you don’t. As long as everyone is having fun, the game is a success.

  • Lay out ground (house) rules with your players.

You’re the GM. You make the final say on the rules – make sure your players understand how you plan on interpreting them. Discuss with your players any modifications to the core rules you intend to be using. For example, Star Wars: Saga doesn’t contemplate the kneeling position – I developed a set of rules that I will use in those situations. Make sure your players understand them. Maybe you don’t want to look a rule up in the middle of play – ensure your players know this is how you will approach the game (and make sure you make the same ruling throughout the game!!). Maybe you want everyone to turn their cell phones off during the game. There’s multitudes of house rules, make sure you and your players understand them.

  • Learn from your mistakes

Face it – you’ll make a mistake at some point. When you do, its easiest to own up to it, apologize, and learn from it.

  • Make notes/keep a notebook

While you are playing the game, make notes on what happened. It will help your next adventure, especially if you plan on running a longer campaign. When you aren’t playing, keep a notebook with you because you never know when you’ll think of something or see something that will trigger an idea in your head for your game. Use the everyday for inspiration, you’d be surprised how much is there.

This short list is by no means exhaustive. It is meant as a starting point and to be fairly general. There’s many people who have different views on gaming and on game mastering. Find one that fits you and follow that advice – or blaze your own path.

Game Recommendations

I’ve got quite a few games that deserve a mention this month.

  1. Dark Heresy – this game is set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe. Characters are under the charge of an Inquisitor, searching out heretics and other threats to mankind in the 41st Millennium.
  2. Spirit of the Century – an awesome looking pulp pickup game using the revolutionary FATE 3.0 system.
  3. Don’t Rest Your Head – surreal setting based on works such as Dark City and Neverwhere.
  4. Star Wars: Saga – in case it wasn’t obvious from my review last month.

Next month, I’ll be giving an all indie lineup.

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