“To become truly great, one has to stand with people, not above them.”
Being a GM is one of the most difficult parts of the roleplaying community. A player might spend say 1 hour before s session thinking about what they want their character to do and maybe spending some loot money, where as the GM will be spending anything from 4 hours and a whole day planning the next session.
Needless to say, being a GM is a skill that must be learned over time and with a lot of practise. However, this is not to say you have to make a complete hash of several campaigns before you reach the right stuff. These days there are more guides for GM's than players (or at least it feels like it sometimes) and while these are great, i always think they miss the important stuff. They provide you with NPC's, weather generators, name lists etc but always miss out the single most important thing, what separate a good or passable GM from a great GM?
1. GM Notes
These are your single most powerful tool. Your notes are your guide to the world you have created and the adventures within it. Now I'm not advocating writing a novel here just notes. Players will always wonder off the beaten track so don't write rigidly, allow for deviation and weird stuff. A map usually helps somewhere along the line, nothing to fancy just a basic idea of where things are in relation to other things (more on maps in a later post). Your notes should include NPC sheets, background and information on important people, places and items, an adventure outline, hooks, clues and anything else you as a GM find useful in keeping your mind in line with your created world.
2. The Game System
This sounds obvious, but seriously look at it, don't just read your chosen rules set and be done with it. Read it through a few times, make sure you are comfortable with the rulebook. Play a few games with the rules as a player to get a feel for it. Then, make sure the rules set fits with what your trying to do, if you have to re-write vast chapters of text, then this rules set isn't what you want for your game. Once you comfortable with it, see if there are any little things you think you want to change, change them and play again, has the game become more fun? If yes keep the change if no, scrap it. Make sure any changes you make you add to the campaign pack so your players know about it. last, ensure you have the rights dice and equipment for the system, sound obvious but I've been to enough sessions and people have brought D20's rather than D100's, not helpful!
3. The Players
The best thing about a roleplay game is that you get to be this amazing hero/villain in an amazing and exciting world. For many, this escapism is the reason hey play. However, as much as we want to be our characters, we will always put a bit of ourselves into them. So, pick your players carefully! I'm not saying ban someone from your group just because they play differently, but keep in mind that you have 3-6 people to keep happy and entertained, not just that one. A good example is the metagamer. He/she care about one thing, and that is creating the single most powerful character purely my utilising as many of the rules sets as possible. They care little for story line, back story or coolness. They will also make decisions based on their view rather than the characters! This is fine, and lots of fun for them, but what about everyone else? Again, I'm not saying don't let them play, just try and keep them tied in with the rest of the party as they may really enjoy playing as characterful as possible.
So, as you can see, a lot to think about. However, there is more! (Don't worry its not all that complicated really).
One massive thing to remember, NEVER BE AFRAID. As GM a massive amount of power resides in you over both the characters and the world they inhabit. You must no be afraid to use that power, even if your players don't want something to happen. Now, I'm not saying make their characters lives hell (unless that's the idea of the game in which case, go for it), but no one want to be ambushed and yet, maybe it's the start of a really cool adventure. The same is true of killing characters. As GM you are, for a lot of the time anyway, the players adversary. Your rampaging goblins want to kill, butcher, eat and rob your player's characters, not gently tickle them with their spar tips. Players should be prepare for this and shouldn't take it personally, neither should you. If a character dies, its not the end of the world, the player just writes a new one and starts again, no big deal.
Another important thing, accept this now before you go any further, you are going to slip up at some point!
Being imaginative can be difficult at time, and sometimes you just don't have the energy or time in a week to plan the next session, this is where your notes save you. As you have a basic background and some hooks and adventures across your world, you can just fall back onto one of those. These can be anything from bandit Cobalts to signs of the party's nemasis being near. Ideas like this can easily fill a session or two when your aren't up to creating a new plot line but don't want to cancel.
So, those are the basics on being a great GM. I hope these tips help all those new to GM-ing and if you have anything to add, just drop in a comment.
This post is part of the "How To:" series and so will be available via the How To: page.