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The title basically asks the question: how do I become a good (at least decent) GM?
A lot of people focus on rules. That's not what's important.
Your number one job is to keep the game moving. Move the action forward. Make decisions, and make sure that everyone gets to participate. If you need to resolve a rule that isn't clear, just go with 123, it works, 456, it fails.
Look up rules at the end of the game, and get them right next time.
But use game time to game. That's the most Important thing. This includes preparation as well. Try starting with. PFS scenario. That way, you can learn to run games.
Writing your own is a different skill.
The title basically asks the question: how do I become a good (at least decent) GM?
How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice. Nobody is a good GM from game 1 -- it's a skill you develop over time.
Read lots of modules, run lots of modules, spend time talking to your players after each session about what went well and what was rocky. Watch the GMs in the games you're playing in and see how they do things, and ask them why they do it that way.
I say steal from the best with pride. FInd people you like and steal their styles.
I think your job is to make people have fun. So do what it takes for that to happene. When I DM my goal is to have people leave the game remmebering it. If you can have people remembering that story and retelling it's peicness to other people then you won. gGranted you need good players to do that too, but look for that.
One great thing is to fluff things. These are ruleless aspects that make it more interesting. I had the final boss as a bard and whenever he was hurt by a PC he made a remark about the PC's ruining his clothes. Delve into their emotions. Make them hate and love NPCs.
I've only been GMing for a few years. I like to think I am fairly proficient (though only my players could say for sure). My brother played in the first game I ran and he was very critical. His biggest complaint to me was that we spent too much time on each turn and with people not knowing whose turn it was. So my advice, other than know the basics of the game and know the story you're telling, is have a good way to track initiative and keep the game moving forward.
I would recommend starting with some kind of published adventure, and if you're very new to it, free is the best price so take a look at the Paizo modules that have been freebies for FreeRPGDay. Master of the Forsaken Fortress (Forsaken or Forgotten, I forget which) is for level 1 characters anf it is for Pathfinder. I wouldn't recommend starting with We Be Goblins because it has the expectation that the players be goblins, and I wouldn't recommend starting with Hollow's Last Hope because it was written for 3.5e and might require more conversion that you want to do the first time out the gate. Free adventures are good to get your feet wet though.
I strongly recommend starting at level 1 for your campaign to keep the initial complexity low. While your players are learning what their characters can do individually, you're learning what they can do all at once. So start low-level and build up.
Be able to tell a good story, mediate arguments, shift on the fly and make sure everyone at your gaming table has fun. That's it.
- Rules are secondary
All that being said, I would recommend taking one or two people through a published adventure path after reviewing, at the very least, the CRB and the adventure path you chose.
Ensure they know you are a new DM and trying it on for size, ask them to roll with the punches, because you will make mistakes.
Oh, and if you can, do NPC voices. It feels silly when you're doing the voice initially but I think it does help. My players love one of my NPCs and they go back to see her every time they're in town. They wouldn't think anything of her if she didn't have a memorable voice.
(I also use GameMastery Face Cards to help distinguish NPCs but that's more of an investment.)
Allowing Dice Towers at the table according to some..........
On a more serious note, hold the characters accountable for their actions. The best GMs I have had do a really good job of showing the players the results of the characters deeds. If they act like jerks then friends become scarce. If they act like they don't have to listen to the local authority have it come back on them. It really helps to have a good GM who can balance the worlds reactions well. It really reigns in the players who want to walk around and steal things, and then kill people when they have the audacity to try and arrest them.
Part of making sure everyone is having fun is making sure they are having their kind of fun, not just your kind of fun. You should be able to challenge the PCs without TPKing them or holding their hands. It's OK for them to occasionally shine, and also OK for them to struggle sometimes....but don't let it get annoying or frustrating.
Also, don't worry about complexly woven Machivalian schemes. Just give the PCs 2 or 3 options and let the PCs choose; it can also be OK for all those options to lead to the same result....if the PCs don't find out about it.
Another Also: Preparation is key. I personally like to write down each monster or PC down on a sheet of looseleaf paper, usually re-formated from the Bestiary to match my normal PC character sheet. This makes it easy to run encounters and writing it all out helps you learn/memorize the details of the monsters.
Yep. This too. Consequences of your actions is a huge part of my campaigns. If you steal in town and murder the guards when they arrest you, don't expect to be shown favorable treatment next time you try to pass through the gates. You'll have to sneak into town, avoid patrols, and generally be treated like the vigilante outlaws that you made yourselves.
Best comparison I can make is the movie Hancock. Realistic collateral damage to his superhero actions and antics. This will happen in a fantasy setting as well.
You've also got to know your players. What works for one group may not work for another group.
Before I started my most recent game, I sent all the players a "questionnaire," basically asking what they each wanted out of the game: Sandbox vs. Railroad, Rollplaying vs. Roleplaying, Difficulty, all of the basics. Then, I averaged up everybody's responses, I have been sure to run my game the way they want it.
The questionnaire that I wrote for them is at this link, but you may want to write your own.
You could run an amazing game, but if it isn't the game the players' want, it isn't going to be a success.
Wow! Lots of advice! Thanks so much, guys!
Evil Lincoln's Golden Rule of GMing™
Inject variety into your games.
The books are full of things that are fun to throw in as random complications, but not every session. Interactive terrain during battles, stolen spellbooks, sundered weapons, seemingly invincible enemies. The recipe is to use all of these things some of the time.
Many of the common complaints about the game can be explained by a GM who has gotten stuck in a rut. The 15-Minute Adventure Day or the efficacy of certain builds over others, most of these result from a GM merely repeating what worked before and unwilling to deviate from a formula.
I Once Heard Someone Call It "The Tyranny of WBL"
Challenge Rating and balance metrics like XP, WBL, etc. are tools to help you compare relative strength of parties and monsters. They are absolutely NOT rules that the GM must abide by. They are frequently "wrong" on the specifics, leaving it the GM's job to adjust the situation. CR is a great starting point, but you need to go further if you want to get the balance just right.
Vary the CR wildly. Train your players to consider that they may be outmatched sometimes, and let them be overwhelmingly superior at other times. CR == APL is some of the most boring gameplay in Pathfinder.
When players ask if they can do something, say "Yes" or roll the dice. It doesn't matter if there's a rule in the book for it. If it seems pretty easy, let them do it. If it seems hard, make up a DC and roll for it.
Act Upset that they are winning, but rig it so that they win
Forget funny NPC voices. Well, no, do them if you can. But the most important piece of acting you can do as a GM is to act personally disappointed that the players are succeeding. I strive to be impartial as a GM, but when I'm rolling the dice I am rooting for the bad guys, and vocally.
Victory just means so much more if you're snatching it from someone. Everyone secretly knows the GM is really on the players' side, but if you can get them to forget that for a bit, they'll have an awesome time.
Never let this become actual rooting for the players' defeat. A GM who actually wants to beat the players is like a boxer stepping into the ring with an infant child. Deriving pleasure from winning a game you cannot lose is a towering billboard advertising your own lack of maturity.
Above all, be a friend
Lots of people seem to lose sight of the fact that this is a game first. It can be an amazingly in-depth experience. It can feel like more than a game. People will sometimes go out of their way to play the game even with people they might not ordinarily hang out with.
At the end of the day, this whole thing is nothing more than an excuse to hang out with your friends. If the game ever interferes with your friendships, you're doing it wrong.
If you are homebrewing then I have even more advice and links for you!
If you need more content for your game, and want each player's backstory to be fully developed then add Rivals! Each player gets one, and they move the plot along while making for some great roleplaying and NPCs. Of course, it's impossible to come up with them before hearing the characters' backstories, but that's the point. You can find all that info here.
You've got to make sure that you are varying your game up. If all the heroes fight are orcs and goblinoids, they will get bored, and the ranger will either shine or wish he had taken one of them for this favored enemy. Make sure that they fight some oozes, undead, outsiders, and lots and lots of humanoids. I keep track of what I send against the PCs in an Excel document, thus ensuring that I have plenty of variety. If I'm not using something enough, then I pop it in the game. You can copy over that document into google docs at this link.
Evil Lincoln wrote:
Your rules are most impressive, Evil Lincoln...may I touch your beard? If I rub it, do I get a wish spell?
Broken Zenith wrote:
@ Evil Lincoln, I've never heard the"Act Upset that they are winning, but rig it so that they win" advice before, but that's hilarious I can see why it would be useful. I certainly do it in my game, but that's more out of habit then really thinking about it.
It's a G-rated version of my frequent advice: the GM-Player relationship is a form of sadomasochism. One player assumes the responsibility of causing pain and setbacks for all of the others, so that they can ultimately get a cathartic payoff.
We have a lot more in common with "that other role-playing" than we usually admit.
Find out what sort of adventures your players want to play before pouring time and effort into developing something that they have no interest in and that you'll then be tempted to railroad them into.
Don't waste effort anticipating what your players will do - they'll frequently do something entirely different. Think about how your NPCs will react in general to a band of adventurers.
I think my best advice is:
Know what makes your players enjoy the game. Every player is different. Some like role-playing, some like hitting things and some like making elaborate plans to deal with things. Make sure that every session you have something that will please each player. If you're in the middle of something, you can skip this for a session, but not any longer or you'll have one player texting at the table or reading a game book and ignoring the game.
As I see it, your job as DM is not adversarial; it's to seem adversarial. Evil Lincoln is absolutely right: act as if you want the players to lose, but rig it so they don't. And be very careful not to let them see this is what you're doing. Your goal is to give them the occasional easy victory and the occasional hard fought, down to the wire victory and a lot of in-between. If you TPK your party, it has to be because they simply refused to take any opportunity to save themselves.
Relax. Do your prep. But at the table, never be afraid to throw the prep out the door and wing it.
Always say yes. Your players will come up with ideas you never thought of. Say yes when they ask you if they can do them, and then adjudicate a good consequence for that action. If it's really really good, and it lets them bypass something you really wanted to try, let them. You can always try it later. But never let them walk all over you. Good players won't, but we always deal with the occasional not-good player.
Never be afraid to embarrass yourself for the sake of fun. I do stupid voices, I hobble around like a 90 year old woman, I make rude noises when the situation calls for it. It's ridiculous at times, but it does help draw players into the immersion of the game.
Ask your players how the session went, both right afterwards and a couple of days later. They may have really liked something (or said so to spare your feelings) right after, but not so much a few days later when they've had time to think about it. Take their input, consider it, and adapt accordingly.
Throw out what doesn't work for you. Just because the rules or an adventure says you have to do, you don't. Throw it out if it's not fun and put something else in there. Never be afraid to make changes.
Watch what your favorite DMs do. Go to cons. Play Play By Posts. You will learn a lot.
When all else fails, admit it. If you're thrown for a loop, say so. And then ask the players what they would do. You have a wealth of creativity at that table, use it.
And lastly, have fun. If it's not fun for you, it won't be fun for them. Take a break from DMing occasionally and let someone else run a short adventure. Remember what it's like on the other side of the screen.
+1 Evil Lincoln. Top notch GM advice.
I would like to emphasize "saying yes". Try not to feel the need to restrict the players' actions and desires as much as possible. If they want something for their character that's not in the rules, don't panic. Just assess what it is they're asking for, and if it's reasonable, grant it fairly.
Don't panic if you don't know the rules for something. If you have a moment to look it up (if you know where to find it), do so quickly. If not, then don't worry about it and make up a rule for it on the spot. Before you just "do it", however, tell your players what you're doing. Let them know you don't know the exact rules on the matter and how you intend to house rule it. Explain your reasoning and ask them if they agree. Doing this BEFORE actually going through with it lets the players know that you aren't trying to be unfair, it moves the game along, and it ensures no one gets upset after the fact.
Speaking of moving the game along... this is another area where I notice a lot of new GMs having trouble. There might be some awkward moments of silence where YOU are waiting for the players to do something, and the players are either waiting for YOU to explain something to them or they just aren't paying attention. This happens a LOT, unfortunately. Keep the game moving by asking the players, "What do you do?" if no one responds to your commentary. Sometimes you may want to go into a bit more detail if they seem confused. Don't hesitate to explain every small detail about their surroundings that you can. How warm or cold the air is, what size room they are in, what the walls are made of, how dark it is, what sounds they hear, and what paths lie ahead before them. Players can sometimes have short-term memory too, so don't hesitate to remind them WHY they are there in the first place. You can even be discrete about it too if you like, such as saying something like: "...the stone hallway in front of you is adorned with paintings of past generations of dwarves - some who are dead, some who are still alive - as you remember Lord Grimbottom telling you about these." A subtle but effective memory jogger on who sent them here in the first place.
Also, get good at calculating multiple attacks vs. AC, damage, etc. as quickly as possible. The faster you can finish the enemies' turns, the faster the players get to go, the less bored they get, and the faster the entire encounter will be. Know what your monsters can do BEFORE running your game. Study their abilities and fighting strategy. You don't want to roll initiative and then sit for 5 minutes reading about the enemies in the middle of the game. Prepare yourself for that beforehand (this is one of the biggest new GM mistakes I see). If you can memorize your enemies' attacks, damage and AC, that's all the better, so you don't have to look at it every time. You will be surprised at how much better your games will come out if you take the time to familiarize yourself with NPC/enemy stat blocks beforehand. It sounds trivial but it makes a big difference.
EDIT: I forgot to mention keeping track of Initiative, damage, and effects. It can all seem overwhelming for new GMs at first. Some GMs like to delegate this to the other players, but not me. I want to do it myself because sometimes you have to calculate damage reduction and fast healing (or regeneration) and you don't want to give those numbers away to the players (I like to make them figure it out for themselves... they know that all their damage isn't going through, but they don't know the exact number).
So what I do first is write down everyone who rolls initiative down in my notebook, leaving some room between names. Then right down initiative totals beside each name. THEN write down their order number beside that number and circle it, indicating what their initiative order is. So it might look like this:
Player A: 11 3(circled), Player B: 21 1(circled), Player C 3 6(circled), etc.
Then below that I write their names out AGAIN when they take damage or when some condition or effect is on them. I simply track damage TAKEN since it's easy to record quickly. If they take 15 damage, I write 15 under their name. If they take another 7, I write 7 under that. If they take 5 later, I'll add that too. Occasionally I'll calculate the total quickly and write it underneath the other numbers and cross those other numbers out. If they get healed, just subtract that amount. As for effects and conditions, I make an asterisk (*) amidst the math and write down the effect, and I indicate rounds with tally marks beside the effect.
Probably not the cleanest/best method in the world of keeping track with everything, but it's fast, easy to do, and tells me what I need to know quickly.
There's a lot of good advice already on this thread, but I'll point out a few things I find essential:
1) Practice doing it right: You can practice the wrong thing a thousand times, but that won't make you any better at doing things properly. Figure out the rules ahead of time; if you're using a Sunderer in the next session, look up the rules for sundering. Familiarize yourself with terms and statblocks, when using spellcasters, make sure you are familiar with the spells they're using. GMs have far more to balance than players in a single session, so go in prepped ahead of time and do your homework.
2) Connect with your players: Wanting to play a high fantasy heroic game does nothing for your players if they're set on playing Watchmen-esque anti-heroes. A high society urban campaign won't appeal to the player base that wants to kill dragons and end undead hordes (unless the dragon is disguised as the Baron and is working to destablize the region for the latest cult of undeadedness [We're raising the dead and they're voting Republican!])Talk with your players before you begin the campaign, before you even decide what the campaign is going to be. Ask them what kind of PC's they want to play, what kind of game they want to be involved in, and plan around that.
3) High Drama > Dice Rolling: I've seen so many threads about how to balance campaign endings. Let me let you in on a little secret, the keystone of my entire GMing existence. The bad guys don't die until you're ready for them to die. It doesn't matter the hit points on the sheet, the numbers on the dice, any of that. If they haven't been challenged enough, he doesn't die. If you want to make it a Simulacrum and have the wizard step out from behind the curtain, then go for it. If you want reinforcements to pop out of nowhere, then go for it. The players don't know what's on your stat cards, so don't feel like you're committed to killing him off, just because they just reduced him to -10 hp on the stat card. If he hasn't made them sweat, it's not time for him to die. It's not over until the music stops.
4) Give them the pickle!: Listen to your players around the table, you'll pick up a lot about what they want, how they want their PCs to progress, and what sort of things they're currently interested in. Not that you have to cater to their every whim and desire, but incorporating some of those things into the campaign can make it far more rewarding than passing out 'x random magic treasures'. Pick up on key points: if an encounter with the local sheriff resonates with the PCs and makes them incredibly suspicious of the sheriff, to the point that they start obsessing over it, then perhaps he can play a larger role in the plot, even if you originally had the plot revolving around the banker's wife. Find a way to incorporate elements the PCs pick up on, into your gaming. A hot dog is boring without the condiments.
Evil Lincoln...WOW! That's some pretty awesome advice (My favorite's the one that says, "Act like you're angry at them for winning, but allow them to do so")! I will take your advice (along with the advice of everyone else) to the fullest.
I have been looking up if there are any playing groups in the area that I live in, but I have yet to find one...any suggestions?
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