Dungeon Master. Storyteller. Artistic Director. They all mean the same basic thing: Game Master. The person in charge of enforcing the rules and setting the stage for the players. I’ve played under some great ones, and some very terrible ones. And over the years, I’ve seen (and made) some common mistakes that many starting GMs make. Below are four tips for those thinking about running their own RPG.
NOTE: We’ve all made these mistakes. Yes, even you did. Admit it. It’s okay, I don’t judge you for it.
Tip 1: You Are NOT The Star
The first thing you have to realize is that the main characters in your story are the main protagonists. They are the focus of the game. You can create a world around them that is fantastical and awesome, but in the end the characters are the ones that should be driving the plot forward. It’s a bad idea to put a character that you control that is always with the PCs, helping them out wherever they can. If you’re short a character, having a substitute NPC is fine, but they should be a background support role, not really making any decisions for the group. Don’t make a Mary- or Gary-Sue character that represents you. Perfect characters are boring.
Tip 2: If It Isn’t Fun, Cut It
As you run adventures for your players, you’ll make mistakes that are not fun for your players. If something is boring or too hard, cut it. Ideas are worth nothing. Yes, even that one. Yes, that one too. It’s all in the execution. If your players aren’t having fun with a plot line or encounter, get rid of it. It’s not a precious baby.
On a side note, please don’t take the above as discouragement. If this happens, it’s okay. It’s a lot better for you make mistakes early so that you can learn from them and become better at running RPGs. You’ll think of something better than what you’ve done before, and your players will thank you for it.
Tip 3: Use The Same Rules As The Players
I’ve seen a lot of GMs make up their own rules far too often. It’s not a bad thing to make a rule or mechanic to go with an encounter here or there, but you have to do it sparingly. Players get frustrated when an ability or the like that normally works suddenly doesn’t. It’s okay if there’s something in the rules that prevents it, but if there isn’t, then it can be very jarring. Part of the art of GMing is getting creative while staying within the constraints of the rules as written. If you find yourself breaking the rules a lot, your game is going to suffer as a result.
Tip 4: Say No To Your Friends
While your job is to be the game referee and to maintain story continuity for the players you’re entertaining, you’re also not a door mat. If a player gives you a character background that would start them with a gross advantage, say no. Unless the other Player Characters are millionaires too, they can’t start with a massive fortune. No, they can’t have the magic sword of superdoomkill, it doesn’t matter if their dad gave it to them on their 16th birthday. If your players are smart enough, they won’t need to have a big starting advantage anyways.
These are all common problems that a lot of starting GM’s make. I hope that for those reading this that are thinking of starting their own games get some insight on what makes a great GM. Happy Gaming!