Asking for GM tips


Advice


I'm a pathfinder player who has been playing for a very short time, and i am interested on GMimg a game with a completely original story. However, i dont know very much about Pathfinder, so any tips help. Thanks!


You could do worse than pick up a copy of Frog God Games' Tome of Adventure Design, which is all about sparking creativity and putting original stories together in a way that works for a game table. It's also fairly system-neutral, so you don't need to know very much about Pathfinder to make use of it.


I strongly recommend you run at least a couple of published adventures before you try to make your own.

When GMing a game, there is a lot going on. You have to interpret the rules, keep track of all of the bad guys, and deal with the unexpected things your PCs can do. This is a little easier if you have a published module. After you have experienced running a game or two, you will probably be much more able to design effective and interesting challenges for your players, without accidentally slaughtering them wholesale.

It will probably also give you a better idea about what parts of GMing and/or adventure design you need help with, letting you ask more specific questions on this forum, which will probably yield more useful answers.


Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Companion Subscriber

I'd suggest running some smaller in scope things before doing something big. As Dave suggests using published stuff at first can be a big help just for getting the feel of running, perhaps chop things off so that things end around 12th.

Also if you use an AP, the forums here are great for getting help with running them.

Once you do start using your own material, save everything you create, all your encounters, every map, every adventure, dont be afraid to re-skin and recycle.

Scarab Sages

Ask the person/people who have GMed games you played.


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Raging Swan Press has a short PDF called Be awesome at dungeon design. Might not be perfectly adapted to complete beginners, but it's worth a read. After all, it's free!

I've found Odyssey: The Complete Game Master's Guide to Campaign Management by by Phil Vecchione and Walt Ciechanowski and Never Unprepared: The Complete Game Master's Guide to Session Prep by Phil Vecchione. They're available at DriveThruRPG among other places. These are short books, but they are books and they're not something you really need to start of GMing. See it as a tip for later, when you're hooked in the GMing sub-hobby.

Start of small. Be honest towards your self and your players: being a GM is a thing you learn. It won't be perfect from the beginning. Better begin with a one-shot adventure rather than a huge campaign.

Went session ideas here. You can probably get help help with rules, statblocks for monsters as well as plot lines and NPCs.

If you don't opt for a pre-written adventure but rather create something of your own, keep it simple. You need a villain and a reason for the PCs to get involved in defeating the villain and a way to "deliver" this reason to them. Then you need a few scenes and challenges on the way to the villain, some of which will probably be encounters (i.e. fights).


Thanks for the links to free stuff Blymurkla.

I will also say start small and have no more than 4 players to start.

If you're not using modules or even after you've ran one I would suggest the following:

Try a 3 session or so adventure arc.

Rough plot out the entire arc. Then do the final prep for each session before that session. If you prep the whole thing something in session one could invalidate session 2 or 3 etc etc.

You're going to make a ton of mistakes. Don't worry.

Anyways after your 3 session arc. Evaluate and think about what worked and what didn't and where you went right and wrong. Ask your players for feed back.

Then try a 3 or maybe 6 session arc. Evaluate.

Then try one from levels 1-3 (or maybe 2-4 if it's the same pc's as they will probably be level 2 by that time.)

Then 4-9 etc. :)


I would recommend picking a module that you'd like to run and just reading through it. Then start reading up on everything in the module until you make it your own and then you'll be ready to play!

Starting out, it is much easier to run a published adventure than making up your own.

The Crypt of the Everflame is the perfect place to start!


As others have said, you need to gain an understanding of the mechanics so start with a published adventure and with low level characters. Consider limiting yourself to the Core Rulebook to limit the number of available options.

From a style perspective. Remember it is your gameworld, but the players are the actors. It is your responsibility to describe the world to them so that they can choose what to do. If the character would know something that the player does not, tell the player. Don't direct the players, let them make their own choices based on the information you have provided. To that end don't have a favourite NPC character or GMPC and take pleasure from the direction they take your game world.

Remember rule zero is for everybody to have fun. The rule of cool is also important. If a player's character does something novel and creative let it succeed the first time; rather than pouring through the rulebooks to find the correct answer. If it becomes a trope or otherwise unbalancing, introduce a system to manage it afterwards.

Fair rulings and Cheese. Always ask yourself if you would be happy as a player with any decision you make. If the answer is no, then you've probably made the wrong call. Similarly, if a player does something cheesy, ask if they would be happy if their opponents did the same.


Blymurkla wrote:
I've found Odyssey: The Complete Game Master's Guide to Campaign Management by by Phil Vecchione and Walt Ciechanowski and Never Unprepared: The Complete Game Master's Guide to Session Prep by Phil Vecchione. They're available at DriveThruRPG among other places. These are short books, but they are books and they're not something you really need to start of GMing. See it as a tip for later, when you're hooked in the GMing sub-hobby.

That came out really weird. Sometimes when I write long sentences (and have to look up stuff, fiddle with links etc.) I forget where I was going ...

What I meant was »I've found Odyssey and Never Unprepared to be great reads.« I didn't find them right now, as one might read my first post. They're in my shelf =)

To continue in that thought, I recommend you to read the Pathfinder's Gamemastery guide. I don't think it's brilliant, for some reason almost no such guide is, but it's okay. And some of it is Pathfinder-specific, i.e. things you can't get from a general guide like the two I mentioned earlier. If you're unfamiliar with reading RPG books you might be relieved to hear that you don't need to read one from first page to last. Skim through, find the bits which you think might help you.

If you're playing with (somewhat) experienced players, rather than starting up GM complete novices, you can take help from them. Especially for rules. They probably already know how to their own character's function, so you need not worry about that bit. And if at least one of them can be fair and unbiased, you have a candidate for rules lawyer right there at the table. That leaves you to only have to worry for the rules relegating your monsters (although, that can be daunting enough. Just make sure you don't use a grappling Brawler in your first session).

I have a specific, rather concrete tip regarding names. Everything in a game world should have a name. That gives immersion. But you can't prep a name for everything the PCs might encounter in a session (and shouldn't try to!). Therefor, you prep a sheet of names in advance. I'm not talking solely about person names, but names for whatever you might need.

Before a session, I create names (often by using generators like this, this or this one) for the purposes I need. I might need both male and female names, names for elves and dwarf or other races or cultures. If the PCs will visit a jousting tournament, I prepare names for noble houses. If the session takes place in a mountain range, I'll need peaks, valleys and other landscape features. If it's in a walled city, I'll probably need names for streets, squares and towers. I might need names for taverns and the villages they're placed in. I might need names for obscure demons and demi-gods or names for famous dragons. However, I don't need that many of every category. Five, ten tops.

I write my sheet by hand. That serves two purposes. First, it gives me a chance to catch names that are to outlandish and difficult to pronounce. When just copying from a website to a word processor, I find it harder to pay that extra bit of attention. Secondly, I get the size right (although, that can be achieved in a digital environment too). This sheet should have large lettering, it's something you need on the fly when a player says her PC wants to visit a tavern. So it should be easy to navigate the sheet. Then, it should contain enough blank space close to every name to allow for a short note. Whenever you utilize a name, write a word or two about it. If the PCs encounter the stout (and one the spot made up) Naldim, villager of Gransthorpe my note on the sheet might read »Naldim villager, Gransthorpe, stout«. Although, often can only manage to get down one of those words. Still, better than nothing. If nothing else, the note will make sure I don't use the same name twice in a session.

After the session, I go through the names. The ones I've used might be mentioned in a session chronicle or work their way up to my prep for next session, becoming reoccurring NPCs/places. Those are the times where the notes next to the name means the most. The names I didn't use can be recycled for next session.


Gnome stew is dedicated to this, check it out.

Be decisive. It's ok to be wrong on rules, if people are having fun.

It's not ok to stop the game for twenty minutes to look up a rule. That isn't fun at all, at last not for me.

Look up rules between games, not during. During the game, use '1-3’ it works, 4-6’ it doesn't.


Pathfinder Rulebook Subscriber

The Golem published a Gamemastery Guide some years back. Great stuff, mine is currently loaned to a beginning GM.

Liberty's Edge

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I would say to remember the many differences between a novel and an adventure, as most of the rest is already covered. Understand that the players will find a way forward that you never anticipated, an the adventure should be flexible enough to adapt.


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Think one of the most important rules for new DMs should be -

Get with your players and go over with them on how they see their characters progress through the levels.

This can do a number of things but the three biggie reasons -
1) Party compatibility, make sure the characters can play nice with each other.
2) Gives the DM a idea on how powerful each character is compared to the others. OP characters can make game play not fun for the rest of the table.
3) Helps the DM design challenging encounters and supply useful loot.


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Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens Subscriber

Always have a "session zero" with your players to chat about expectations, the themes and setting of the campaign, and which rulebooks are in play. You should use this session tell the players how to generate ability scores/hit points, how you're going to handle advancement, how you interpret alignment, how the worship of deities works, and any optional rules or home rules you plan to use (e.g traits/drawbacks, background skills, words of power, stamina, skill unlocks, unchained afflictions, corruption, etc). If you can, write this all up as a player's guide for easy reference later.

Use this time to talk about character concepts and whether they will be appropriate for the campaign. (E.g if you plan to run a city-based urban intrigue campaign, a wilderness specialist or a dungeon-delver probably won't be fun to play.) You should also let the players know which character options would be most appropriate (i.e. favored enemies/terrain, bloodlines, animal companions, etc)


Try to say yes when a player wants something. Maybe yes with conditions, maybe they need to make skill rolls or something, but stonewalling with no when something falls outside the rules is bad practice IMO.


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens Subscriber
avr wrote:
Try to say yes when a player wants something. Maybe yes with conditions, maybe they need to make skill rolls or something, but stonewalling with no when something falls outside the rules is bad practice IMO.

Agreed... to a point.

It's fine in my book to say "no evil characters" or "core races only" or "no third-party PC material" or "firearms don't exist" or "we have 6 PCs...no 'pets' or cohorts."

It's also OK to ban specific things for campaign reasons, like "no drow PCs" for Second Darkness, or "no paladin PCs" for Skull and Shackles, or "no hobgoblin PCs" for Ironfang Invasion.


Pathfinder Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber
Haladir wrote:
avr wrote:
Try to say yes when a player wants something. Maybe yes with conditions, maybe they need to make skill rolls or something, but stonewalling with no when something falls outside the rules is bad practice IMO.

Agreed... to a point.

It's fine in my book to say "no evil characters" or "core races only" or "no third-party PC material" or "firearms don't exist" or "we have 6 PCs...no 'pets' or cohorts."

Alternatively, if the PCs want to have cohorts/companions because you only have three-four players, it may not hurt and might help a lot.

True Story: Our RotRL campaign was sorely lacking any sort of 'damage sponge', and one of our characters decided to 'adopt' one of the NPCs we kept from being executed. They were exceptionally grateful for the second chance, and they were also heavily rewarded in addition to the 'work release programme'. So much so, that when said NPC ended up in a really, really bad spot the entire campaign ground to a halt to try and save said NPC before we discovered a much neater, simpler, and faster way of recovering them...

EDIT: If players have a companion or the like, make them run said companion unless you as GM think they'd do something else. It'll take some of the workload off.


Haladir wrote:
avr wrote:
Try to say yes when a player wants something. Maybe yes with conditions, maybe they need to make skill rolls or something, but stonewalling with no when something falls outside the rules is bad practice IMO.

Agreed... to a point.

It's fine in my book to say "no evil characters" or "core races only" or "no third-party PC material" or "firearms don't exist" or "we have 6 PCs...no 'pets' or cohorts."

It's also OK to ban specific things for campaign reasons, like "no drow PCs" for Second Darkness, or "no paladin PCs" for Skull and Shackles, or "no hobgoblin PCs" for Ironfang Invasion.

I'd meant more on the spur of the moment during a game, e.g. if a player wants to do something they think is cool.


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Learn. Nobody DM's perfectly. Your goal each time should be do it better than last time. Ask your players for feedback. Knowing what they liked and what they disliked goes a long way. Also there is a ton of good content on youtube over various content. Matthew Mercer, DawnforgedCast, Nerdarcy, etc.


Start with no more than 4 players max.

Exclude all 3pp material to start.

Start with a 15-20 Point buy. Do not be tempted to give your players everything or to allow them overly powerful characters to start with. Start at low levels as high level encounters may be overwhelming to you at first.

Start with Limited amount of Resources. Core + a few others is a good start. You need to be comfortable with the basic first.

As others have said run a few test games. Many freebie adventures out there to test out GMing and becoming familiar with everything.

Do not let rulings hang you up. Use google and if you can't find an answer quickly then make a ruling for now and go with it...look it up later for your future reference but do not let rulings stall the game or turn the game into Rules litigation.

Lastly, Ask your players to be prepared. This means have access to the spell they are casting for quick references. Have them thinking out their turns on other people's turns.


There are a couple of free level 1 adventures available on the Paizo site. I've nabbed a few of them, myself, and they're a great lot of fun (Recommended: We Be Goblins). Published modules let you get comfortable being the GM and give you an idea of how much you really need to prepare before you dive in. It also starts you on the path to "System Mastery," which is probably the most important thing for a GM to have (after, you know, story-telling ability).

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