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Tips for a First Time Gamemaster

So I'm about to start a campaign for a group of friends, and while I think it seems solid, I want to know if there are things I should make sure I do and things I should not do. I have not GMed anything or DMed anything, so I have absolutely zero experience, so anything would be appreciated.


  • Be mentally prepared for shit to go off the rails. It will happen. You can never tell how or when, it just will.
  • Don't smaller battles. Don't have 12 foes, have 1-3. If your Players try to do stuff that would kill/defeat your Foes, you should be using an Interrupt Action of some kind to stop them. You only want quick battles to occur if your party rolls 20s and you roll 1s, but at the same time once the party gets to a point where you dont think they can lose, don't be afraid to have the foes give up, surrender, run away, or just die quicker by not interrupting or ignoring their HP in favor of a cool way you could describe them being defeated.

    Try to put yourself in the mental position of not caring who wins or loses fights, but understanding that in general the party should almost always win unless the dice are telling you otherwise. The players only lose when they are rolling really poor and your critical hitting because if the players lost anymore then that games would generally end to early. But you shouldn't be rooting for anyone, you should be doing your best to describe what happens when players roll low or high.

    Finally your job is to entertain everyone else. If they wanna play a cheesey warriors and wizards stomp fest, let em. If they want less combat and more goofy story, make more goofy combats. You are the host of the game and so you have to know your audience and tailor it to them. You can use campaigns off this website, but I would still change them a bit to match the group of people your playing with.

  • edited June 2017
    If you are not sure what kind of players your friends are try to identify it quickly and build on that as you go.  In my experience from the PUGs if GMed for people can play radically differently and even with the same campaign being run they will always be different because of player tendencies.  Sometimes players will have huge combos and never use them because thats how they play their character (to the major irritation of the other members(Good on them BTW)).  Sometimes they'll make it their goal in life to fish as much information out of you, information you don't necessarily have written down.  Be ready to adapt as you learn these things about your players.

    Also, don't be afraid to GM.  GMing can be a daunting task no matter how experienced the person is.  I personally get nervous every time I GM even if I've run the campaign 3 times prior.  This is normal, don't let it get to you and have fun with your friends!
  • The first and most important point is to have fun. At the end of the day, there's no point in doing this if you aren't enjoying it, so do it in a way that you enjoy! Plus, enjoyment is contagious, so your players will enjoy what you do.

    Second, try to get out of the mentality of a "basic attack" being a descriptive term. If you are descriptive with your basic attacks (ie "you draw a nasty gash across your opponent's torso with your Nagitana"), it will be a lot more engaging, and your players will be entertained even when they are not personally doing something. This general principle can be extended to any action, always be descriptive, but I find that this is the place most GMs fall down.

    Take a very critical eye to your plot. Lots of people forget that the plot is the glue that holds any roleplay game together, so if yours isn't engaging, or has holes in it, then work on it. Common pitfalls that players leave in their plots are having NPCs that tell you everything so that there is nothing to discover for yourself (ie the MMO plot), having everything be about saving the world (saving the world is fine later, but you need to start off small for it to feel impactful, otherwise it loses its' weight), and a reliance on players figuring something out (giving them things to figure out is totally fine, but if the game can't continue if they don't work it out, then you're going to be very disappointed some of the time).

    Sit down with your player's character sheets and try to work out what each player is likely to do in a typical turn. It'll give you an idea of their damage output, as well as other faults you may have in your design for combat (ie a character that can't function when burnt versus a bunch of fire wizards will not last very long). The more you know what's going to happen inside out, the better your GMing will be, because improvising is so much harder than working from a script. Hell, if I had a way to predict dice rolls, I would never improvise again.

    Finally, tell us how it goes! Give us a detailed account of what happened, what felt fun, and what didn't, and we'll give you feedback on how to improve next time! Don't be afraid to talk with your friends about whether they enjoyed it, and how to improve it next time too.
  • Wow, I am going to be GMing for the first time in about a month, all these tips have been really helpful!
  • I wish this thread was here before I started gm-ing 2 years back ( ;-;)

    One more thing: If you see some of your players not being comfortable with a situation or they're going off the rocker, know when to stop the derailing train. (example: be less descriptive, skip over scene/encounter in a visibly distraught fashion from the point of an NPC).
  • @CaptainThorn Good luck with it! Let us know how it goes!
  • edited June 2017
    @TheMadLibrarian oh I definitely will, I can tell you the plot if you want:

    The group are hired by a Elven Paladin named Abran, he tells them that he will pay them 2000 gold each, if they find and question the Dwarven Ex-Paladin Kaynar about the "Cult of Bones" a Point-Of-Interest to the Grand Paladin Order. Kaynar resides in a small Dwarven lookout called Khastrum. A lookout for the larger Keep of Goratan.

    That's the base plot, there are 3 Mandatory encounters, two of them are optional. The first 2: Blood Snakes or Elementals, if they go up, they will fight the Snakes, if they go across they will fight some Elementals. When they reach the town, they talk to Kaynar and she says she will happily tell them about the Cult in the morning. In the middle of the night, a large group of Goblins attack, when they defeat them, a monster rises from an abyss in the center of the map.
  • @CaptainThorn This sounds like a really fun campaign!

    Be aware that the players are liable to demand that Kayar give them information immediately. It's worth giving them a reason to want to wait until morning like she suggests, or otherwise giving them a reason to want to both wait the night, and fight the ensuing mobs rather than just running away.
    Of course, it's entirely possible you already thought of this and have something in place for it. If that's the case, nice work! You're better than I was my first time GMing (maybe I'll start a thread about people's first time GMing experiences at some point. Mine was pretty embarrassing). Otherwise, I hope you found this perspective useful! ^_^
  • @TheMadLibrarian I hadn't thought of them demanding that, I might have it that she is just about to tell them when the Goblins attack. That would be a thread I'd read xD
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