General GM Guidance


I have a bit of a minor issue surrounding gaming as a whole, To be rather blunt. I have no idea how to GM.

I understand that you don't necessarily need to be a master GM to enjoy everything in tabletop, but I also know that if I could do so I would probably be able to actually play some PF instead of just twiddling my thumbs, reading books, or homebrewing (And with that homebrewing comes the issue that I cannot even play said homebrew anyway). So basically... How do I learn how to GM? I get that's a very open ended question but I'm not even sure where to start

Start with Chapter 12 in the Core Rule Book. It's called "Gamemastering" and has a lot of information you'll find useful.

If you don't have a physical copy of the CRB, or a pdf, you can get started by using Paizo's own free resource, the Pathfinder Reference Document


There's also a Gamemastery Guide on that site.

Other than that, grab some dice, draw a map, help your friends create some characters, and start telling a story you want to tell.

If you need help creating a good story, the Paizo store has a lot of free modules for you to get started with.

CrystalSeas wrote:

Start with Chapter 12 in the Core Rule Book. It's called "Gamemastering" and has a lot of information you'll find useful.

If you don't have a physical copy of the CRB, or a pdf, you can get started by using Paizo's own free resource, the Pathfinder Reference Document


There's also a Gamemastery Guide on that site.

Other than that, grab some dice, draw a map, help your friends create some characters, and start telling a story you want to tell.

If you need help creating a good story, the Paizo store has a lot of free modules for you to get started with.

Thanks, and sorry if I seemed like some kind of complete idiot by asking about gming advice. I just have been quite unsure on general best practices and thought that I ought to ask for some advice on it. Again sorry if I seem like the biggest idiot for having to ask

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I've seen people with even less experience than you ask questions.

It's never a bad thing to ask about information. And you don't need to apologize for not knowing something. No one starts knowing everything.

This is a friendly site, and most of us remember how hard it was to get started on something completely new.

Ask away, there's almost always someone around who knows the answer and can point you in the right direction. I"m sure you'll have more questions as you start GMing.

That's why Paizo created a whole forum just for people who are asking advice.

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Hey, brother, you're not an idiot for asking. Quite the contrary, to be honest, you'd be an idiot not to ask.

I usually err on the side of letting people play when it comes to questions at the table. Unless something is obviously broken, I usually allow it. This goes for feats and class abilities and obnoxious or creative role playing scenarios.

I try to always up the daily encounters to keep characters from going nova every day. Plus, people tend to like combat in these games, and so do I. It's a win for everyone.

Don't be afraid to kill people in the party. Adventuring is hard, otherwise everyone would be doing it, there will be casualties. Obviously don't kill them without reason, people put a lot of work into some characters and can get rather attached.

Something that may work for you that I have done in the past, is prerolling perception checks before leaving civilization. An example of this would be as the party nears the gate to exit the city, a hobo bumps his way through the group, mindlessly brushing past the party, hitting almost everyone with his shoulders as he stumbles by. Everyone rolls perception, I tell them it's to see if the hobo stole anything.

I write down their perception check results to see who takes it on the chin in the ambush I have waiting down the road.

Nothing gives up a well planned ambush quite like a perception check, but now I have the results and can actually accomplish some amount of actual surprise, like an ambush is supposed to.

Use the cover rules to keep archers in check.

Pick a number of free actions you are going to allow in a round before you start the game and keep consistent to your choice.

Mainly, every decision you make, stay consistent to it. Obviously there are times when the GM is actually wrong, and you can just tell people that's how it is, or you can discuss things as a table, either way, pick a method and be consistent.

Introduce prepared spellcasters to the three day dungeon, they love it when they can't pencil in their diaries.

Read and reread the AP if you are using an adventure path. Always have a couple random dungeons written up as spares that you can use in a pinch. Just a troll cave with standard loot, stuff like that.

It's always good to have extra material prepared in the way of dungeons and characters you can throw in at any time. Even if you are using an adventure path.

Sorry for how discombobulated this is.

PS. Be more organized than me.

I highly suggest watching Matthew Colville's "Running the Game" videos. He has some great advice and you can pick and choose the videos that you think will help you more.

Rather than homebrew, grab a published adventure and just run it! Instead of trying to tackle all of the rules at once, just start at level one and read up on whatever is relevant to your adventure.

After a few of those, it will seem like old hat in no time.

Warped Savant wrote:
I highly suggest watching Matthew Colville's "Running the Game" videos. He has some great advice and you can pick and choose the videos that you think will help you more.

Matt Colville gives some great advice for beginner DMs. Some other DM advice that I like:

GM's Guide to Creating Challenging Encounters
Pathfinder-specific guide that goes in-depth on how encounter math works. Probably the singular most helpful document to me in designing encounters and understanding how action economy, CR, and XP work.

The Alexandrian
Lots of general advice on how to structure stories and pacing, as well as other miscellaneous helpful stuff.

The Angry GM
He talks about 5e a lot, but there are some good kernels of wisdom buried underneath the 13 paragraphs of stream-of-consciousness text.

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A few other things:

1) Start at Level 1. Yeah, this is the weakest part in an adventurer's career. Yeah, even a fight with a handful of goblins can be a problem. But it's also the easiest time to learn - both for you as the GM, and for your players.

2) The Beginner's Box has a really lovely introductory adventure. It's not too complicated, it's written to walk you through everything, it includes great examples of traps, encounters that require saving throws, skill checks, places where diplomacy can be the better choice than combat, and even ends with a dragon fight. I highly encourage you to start with that. But there are plenty of other great Level 1 modules that can get you going too. "Crypt of the Everflame" is a nice one off the top of my head.

3) Accept that you will make mistakes. Don't let the fear of making mistakes stop you from jumping in and trying. I don't know a single GM who has never made the wrong call - either in terms of rules or just a story decision. But if you keep going, you'll keep having fun. And as long as your players are reasonable, you can always mea culpa and say "Whoops, remember back in Session 1 when you fought that wraith and he got an attack of opportunity against the cleric trying to touch attack him with cure light wounds? I goofed. He shouldn't have gotten that because she counted as being armed. My bad. We won't do that in the future."

Usually mistakes average out in terms of being for or against the party, so as long as you're not afraid to admit your mistakes, your players will understand.

Another suggestion for your initial foray into GMing, what I did was start off with pre-made scenarios (specifically Pathfinder Society scenarios), which have almost everything you need to know in a 20-30 page PDF, oftentimes including most questions a player could ask you about any situation.

Use random generators for inspiration -- like;n_pc=4;level=1;difficulty=a ny;environment=Underdark

I would second the suggestion of looking into the Pathfinder Beginner's Box. Also, look up stat blocks for the level 1 Pathfinder Pre-Gen characters for your players to use. Use the Pre-Gens as guides on how to create characters. Otherwise, you are liable to get very confused on how to make characters and that can be off-putting to new gamers. Good luck!

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You have asked a really interesting question: how do you learn how to be a GM. Not how to GM better, or GM homebrewed stuff versus published... just how in general. I think that's an awesome question and other GMs should chime in with personal experience.

I learned by being thrust into the role by default by my cousins when I was about 9. I'd played a few modules and homebrewed 1E D&D adventures, so I just grabbed Keep on the Borderlands and handed out some character sheets to my cousins and said "so you're walking up the road to this keep..."

A couple of my buddies in HS learned how by watching me or another friend, then mirroring what we did. One guy I know taught himself completely in a vacuum in HS by reading the 1e DMG a bunch; he never played D&D mind you, though he played Marvel and some kit games a bit but never D&D. Then when he got to college he just started by running the sample adventure start from the DMG and the rest was history.

I guess the question I have for the OP is: how best do YOU learn? If you're a books guy then I'd say some of the links above plus maybe picking up some of the First Steps Pathfinder Society adventures for advice and an easy, step-by-step adventure to follow.

On the other hand if you're a mirroring learner, head out to YouTube for some gaming videos. If you're up for it, go join up at some PFS tables and watch how your local GMs do it. Grab some friends that you know run games and sit in on a session.

If you're a "learn-as-I-go" type, then download a free adventure off the interwebs and just run it, using the PF SRD open in the background. I'd suggest those "First Steps" adventures or maybe just Hollow's Last Hope; that second one I mentioned is just a personal fave of mine and has some one-off encounters for players to just face and recover from for their adventuring day.

Once you know how best you learn things, development as a GM just comes with practice. Never be afraid to fail; never doubt that you'll let your players down sometimes; never think there's only ONE way to have fun. Running a game is like any other skillset so know your tools and practice your craft as often as you can. Thanks again for asking!

GMing is mostly about having a story to tell and then knowing the rules well enough to move the game through that story. Both of those need to be laid on a foundation of you (the GM) having fun. I think the GMs enjoyment is more important than anyone else's at the table, if you're having fun, most likely everyone else is as well.

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I highly recommend Critical Role, on YouTube. It starts mid campaign, because the group was playing before they started filming it, but it's a well paced and fluid game with awesome improv situations. The DM adjudicates quickly when he needs to, stopping the game to check books only when he must and giving a quick "I'll allow it this time and we'll look that up after the game" when he can. At around episode 12 they take a break and he runs through a lot of DM tips.

More important I think is giving you a shot of confidence, so let me tell you about where I started and it'll show you just how little you actually have to know to have a good time. :)

My first game, I had made a character for 3.5 from some PDFs a friend flash drived for me. I had read a few online stories about things like Pun-Pun the Kobald. I had never, in my life, held a D20 or watched anyone play.
I went to work at a local hobby store, got noticed as a cashier elsewhere and asked if I wanted a part time job, and with no details I showed up and was shocked to find myself in a game store. I'd expected 'hobby store' to mean whittling tools and knitting equipment, so walking into this place and realizing I might have a job here was probably one of the best surprises I'd ever gotten. A week later, closing time came and a group was hanging at the back. They had been stood up by their DM, and were rather miffed about it but looking ahead to salvage the party. Nobody wanted to DM, though several knew the rules really well.

I happened to hear what was going on, told them I'd be happy to set something up but I had ridiculously limited experience with 3.5, and they were quick to let me know that Pathfinder was basically the same thing and they could correct me on the details.

I set to work. Paper, cut into squares, some with marks on them some without. Most had a super ugly tree drawn on them, a few had a monster icon, a few treasure. I set up a map, and let them walk around with their paper tent people. When combat happened, because they found a monster in the overworld, I would mark off a given area of the same map and say "this is the fight area, here's your starting region, this is what you see". Combat would begin.

This location was titled 'the Forest of Illusions', a nerdy reference to Mario. By the end of the first session, they'd killed dozens of bats and other nasty creatures, seen much larger foes in the distance and disbelieved them as Illusions, captured a size large green Sting scorpion and rapidly tamed it to be the mount of the cavalier, disbelieved the scorpion and watched him fall on his tailbone, and finally came to a clearing with a hydra. At one point they found a magic ring, it had +1 intelligence. Not +2 int for +1 bonus, not a headband, just a flat +1 int ring. Totally didn't belong. I was using will saves and illusions really wrong too.

They kill the hydra, it reforms from sand with more heads. They kill it again and finally disbelieve it away, and a wizardly looking fellow pops up and goes on his diabolical rant. At the end, it goes something like "You wouldn't believe how long I've been out here practicing these illusions. It's not easy for me you know, I'm really more of an evocation kind of guy. Would you like to see what I'm really capable of?"

Cue the cutscene of a lifetime, where I described in vivid, horrible detail how the fireball he was forming above his head was so hot that the edges of the clearing were catching fire. Their eyes were going dark and something running down their face, they felt their skin searing... Nobody could move, paralyzed in pain and fear and magic, until about three minutes into the cutscene someone finally pops out of the spell I was weaving over the party long enough to point at me and shout, party on the edge of their seats, "I disbelieve!!!"

He woke up from the illusion just in time to stop the knife aimed at his throat by the scrawny little wizard and then threw a handful of rocks at his allies to wake them up. "You were right, your illusions really do need some work."

I made so many horrible mistakes in this first night as a DM, and it's still one of the best moments of my career years and campaigns later because for one shining moment, every single player was on the edge of their seats afraid for their lives, and they beat that wizard mindless before he managed to teleport out to warn his demon boss that we were coming after him, launching a campaign that went a good 20 sessions before party drama interrupted.

You don't have to be perfect. Just try it, enjoy it, and give them the chance to enjoy it. It'll either start you off on an adventure, or you'll know what to expect and be better prepared the next round.

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I found the GameMastery Guide to be incredibly helpful. It not only gives you a wealth of ideas but also a positive mindset: Play with your players, not against them. Disclaimer: I am aware there are groups which enjoy the competition between GM and players.

Further I played with a couple of GMs. Each of them showed some positive and negative behaviour, so I tried to learn from the positive and avoid the negative. Reading this forum also helps, especially the Advice and General Discussion sections.

Finally don't forget you are there for the fun too. There is no point in going for a campaign style you don't like, just because your players enjoy it.

Play, then do. The first time will be clumsy. You'll get better as you go. These days, thanks to the Interbooks, watching is also an option.

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