Tabletop roleplaying can be a wonderful and entertaining experience for all involved but, as anyone who has led a game will tell you, your first time at the helm can be a daunting experience. So today, I would like to offer some tips for people looking to run their first games.
- Research is your friend: When setting out to create a game to run, there is nothing better than settling down for a few hours and researching. Make sure you know about the time period you are setting your game in, the location you are using, local laws and customs, attitudes towards certain groups etc. This will give you confidence and prepare you for any questions your players may ask you. This will also give you a degree of flexibility in-game as you can use your knowledge to tailor the experience to the players and their characters. Example: Jack wants to have a firearm. In your setting of 1930s America, you know that this would not be out of place but you do warn Jack that due to the prevalence of mob violence, being seen to openly carry a firearm may cause unwanted suspicion and hassle for his character.
- Think about pre-genning: You may have read this system core book from cover to cover and feel pretty confident about leading the traditional character generation but you’re worried about screwing up on the day. You have two choices- veteran players (see my next point) or pre-generated characters. Something you might want to consider doing is spending some time prior to the game creating a selection of characters to help familiarise yourself with the character generation process of your chosen system and then offering the pile of pre-made characters to your players. This may also help you keep a hold on your game by creating a collection of particularly relevant characters. Example: You are all set to embark on your high seas adventure game. In preparation you have created a number of pirate archetype characters such as the swashbuckling captain, the cowardly first mate, the grizzled navigator, the young and eager gunner and, of course, the woman disguised as a man.
- Get some experienced players: While I myself did not use this avenue, the members of my university’s roleplay society are not only fortunate enough to have some truly wonderful experienced roleplayers, the society also offers a day of one-shot adventures solely run by new GMs. If this is also the case for you, congratulations. However, if not, it would be a good idea to wrangle some more experienced players into joining your game. That way, you can fall back on their experience if you get stuck and they may also be more forgiving than newer players, having been in your place in the past. Experienced players will also be more sensible and not jeopardise your game…in theory.
- Be prepared to improvise: So you’re in the middle of your game. You are methodically working through your ten page Word document when suddenly; the players decide to take a course of action you hadn’t anticipated! What are you to do? Firstly don’t panic, it is near impossible to perfectly predict what your players will do. Always leave yourself some wiggle room and if you try to shove players along a set path, they will attempt to jump to the side. Like a kitten or a puppy at bath time, they know what you are trying to do and will resist you to the bitter end.
- Be careful when populating your setting: The world of a roleplaying game should be a living, breathing environment but be careful when creating it. Everything should have a purpose and, yes, being a red herring counts as a purpose. As the GM, you are responsible for setting up questlines and making sure that if undertaken, resolution is available. While it can make for amusing filler, players will slowly be put off from your game if they have to battle through thousands of enemies or wade through hours of conversation with grumpy fishermen who have no relevant information whatsoever. While it is important to ensure that your world feels alive, this is a game and so your world’s inhabitants do need a purpose as to why they exist.
What advice do you have for first time GMs? How did your first time as a GM go?
If you enjoy roleplaying, check out the start of my ten part diary about the nWoD game I’m running on Thursdays!