Why You Should Start GMing Today

Grumpy Cat GM: "Rocks Fall. Everyone Dies. Good." Grumpy Cat does not give good game master advice

Grumpy GM designed by Bradley Clopton

I remember the very first time I sat down to play a role playing game, the role of the GM was awe-inspiring. It was (some edition of) Dungeons & Dragons, and my friend was trying to explain to us just how hard of a job GMing was. He pointed to a stack of three books – the Dungeon Master’s Guide, the Player’s Handbook, and the Monster Manual – and said “See those books? I’ve had to memorize ALL of them!”

And any notions of ever being a GM just died right there.

Obviously, I got over that fear. While I don’t doubt that my friend

had in fact memorized, or nearly so, all of the complex rules of D&D, I now know that rote memorization is one of the least important skills for a novice game master. It’s easy to come up with excuses for why someone “can’t” GM a game – no time to prep, it’s intimidating, don’t know the rules well enough, terrible at funny voices – so today I want to explore the three reasons why you, yes YOU, should start running a tabletop roleplaying game today.

Learn Time Management Skills

The first few times I ran a game, I had absolutely no sense of pacing. Exposition scenes dragged on painfully long, minor nitpicky rules would be looked up in the middle of intense scenes, and combat would end up a quick and dirty mess completely devoid of dramatic impact. I cringe to think of how I ran some of those early games! But I also know that I am a better GM for those experiences. Time management at the game table is something that has to be learned through experience, so you need to sit through every cringe-inducing minute, and then show up the next week and do it all over again. If it helps, make notes to yourself immediately after the game – what felt like it worked this week, what do you need to be considerate of next time – and be prepared to make the same mistakes a few times before you begin to feel like you might know how to plot and pace a story.

Learn to be Flexible

Every mention of GMing on Fandible includes a reference to how we like to infamously lay waste to the intrepid GM’s best laid plans. This article is no different. And as one of the Fandible GMs who comes to the table with lots of intricate notes, I’ve definitely had my fair share of plots dashed to pieces by rambunctious players. And the first few times it happened I was absolutely a mess, trying to force people back on what I saw as the “correct” track. Like falling off a horse, you need to dust yourself off and get back in the saddle when your players run roughshod over your meticulous plans. And every time you get back up you’ll be a little more flexible, and a little bit better at predicting what variations might come up in play. It will make you a stronger player as well, either by being more mindful of what your GM may have been planning, or because you’ll suddenly start treating all of your games like a chess match, and you’ll automatically be thinking three moves ahead to come up with a wild and wacky new idea that will make your current GM re-evaluate their ability to be flexible.

Tell a Unique Story

This is my favorite advice to give potential GMs. All of us bring something unique to a game table. This can be something relatively frivolous as being super passionate about an obscure fantasy sub-genre to being a member of a minority group underrepresented in gaming culture. No matter where you fall in that spectrum, I know you have a unique perspective to bring to the gaming table, and the best way to make that shine is by sitting in the GM’s chair. A unique PC can work within the system to highlight the player’s pet cause, but the GM literally shapes a whole world. It’s unprecedented power, and every RPG fan should wield it at least once.

What advice do you give to newbie GMs? What made YOU want to start running RPGs? Tell us in the comments!


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About the Author
A city girl with midwestern roots, Angela has been on the internet for far too long. A geek of many stripes, when Angela isn't pretending to be a different person every weekend she can be found reading, writing (that novel will come out some day!), or preparing for her eventual life as a crazy cat woman. Angela also blogs about gaming at the blog Gaming as Women http:///www.gamingaswomen.com

8 comments on “Why You Should Start GMing Today

  1. Mawdrigen says:

    See I’m usually the gm for the cult, I’ve been running games for 29 years now (I started young and am now ancient) so have a lot of practice with it.

    I actually think that can be a bit intimidating to other people, if you have one person who usually gms and is good at it, as people always assume that they will be negatively compared. Certainly bloodied was a little worried about this when I suggested he run Game of Thrones, but it ended up being awesome!

    I am still trying to get the others to. Archive will eventually run werewolf I think, but more interesting was when Nyx ran a game for another group.

    She came to the next sessionn and flat out said she had way more appreciation for how I made it look effortless to run games given that she had tried it herself. This is actually a good reason to suggest everyone gms, you really don’t have an appreciation of the work until you have done it.

    My advice
    Never write more notes than you can read in five minutes.
    Assume your players will ignore the plot.
    Keep an eye on your players, if they look bored change what you are doing.
    Describe things until the players have an idea of what things look like, and they have the pertinent details, then leave their imaginations to do the rest.
    Put the word “slurming oilegeously” in every session.
    Tea, both when writing and playing.

  2. Warren says:

    +1 for good, strong tea.

    Mine is: Don’t be afraid to tell an old story – but bring your own thing to it.

    I think this can go hand in glove with ‘Tell a unique story’. While you (like me) might be am awful at coming up with your own story seeds, a canned adventure, movie, or book can provide great bones for a story that you can bring your own flavour to.

    Maybe just strip a story down and run it in another genre. As you wrote, Angela, bring your unique perspective to it.

    Very quickly, the little tweaks that you do to file off the serial numbers, or to hook your players into the story, help you to be comfortable with going completely off-book.

  3. Syren says:

    For reference Mawdrigen, can you use slurming oilegously in a sentence?

  4. CallmeIshma3l says:

    Don’t be afraid to eat the meat and spit out the bones.

    I wanted to give my first group of adventurers (back in college, with eberron 3.5) a “travel adventure” between campaign points, but because the group opted for Lightening Rail over Air Ship I couldn’t do a pirate raid and be done. But then I rembered “Murder on the Orient Express”.

    Meat: Murder mystery on a train. Bones: literally everything else. That group stands by that was some of the most fun they’ve had 🙂

  5. Mawdrigen says:

    “The animated slime comes slurming oilegeously over your body leaving behind a effervescent goop that sparkles in the moonlight…

    Then it asks where the ovalkwik is…”

  6. Syren says:

    Could I also use it to describe a particularly disgusting and rotund person even though they(though not very apparently) have bones?

  7. Mawdrigen says:

    I see it more as the oily skinned greasy haired lawyer type…

  8. Quorganism says:

    I’ve been our default GM for a while now… so much so that it’s almost difficult to step back and be a player again. I’m being rehabilitated as we speak.

    My first time GMing (Call of Cthulhu of all things) was a tad railroady for the first session… at which point I realised how much I’d just made up on the spot, and kind of decided to roll with that.

    And as mentioned above… I tend to steal like the dickens, usually from whatever I’m reading, watching or playing at the time. Whether its my Atompunk ’50s clones in Call of Cthulhu (Hitman and Blade Runner), a brainwashed 40k city where the Countess believes she’s a waitress (Dark City) or my Changelings dreaming their in Murder on the Orient Express, I tend to appropriate aggresively. Still makes good stories, cause the players make their own ending…

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