A little foreword before I launch in to this post. I will be using the terms DM and GM interchangeably. They mean Dungeon Master and Game Master. They are pretty much synonymous terms. Dungeon Master specifically comes from Dungeons and Dragons and Game Master is kind of a catch-all term for all of the TTRPG (Tabletop Roleplaying Game) systems out there.
Please join me as we dive in to my thoughts as a new and inexperienced DM!
As you could probably tell from my previous post, I’m a bit of a TTRPG enthusiast. So it stands to reason that I would eventually get around to DM/GMing a game. It started about 4 years ago, I had just discovered Fantasy Flight Games’ ruleset for Warhammer 40,000. I’ve been a fan of Warhammer longer than I’ve been a fan of TTRPGs so it was a match made in heaven.
I went to my buddy, my partner in crime, and convinced him to help me start up a game with our friends in the Warhammer universe. It wasn’t difficult, he’s as big a dork for Warhammer as I am, if not bigger.
We roped together a few friends and sat them down for essentially a Session -1 where we taught them Warhammer 101. After that we set a date for our Session 0 and my foray in to GMing began.
The very first thing I learned immediately from Session 0 is you, as a GM, are a facilitator. Of course you’re there to have fun too but much of what you’re doing is ensuring your players are having fun and that you are providing them with an interesting experience. You facilitate this by being knowledgeable in the rules and able to get them answers relatively quickly for any questions they have. That isn’t to say you need to know every rule off the top of your head, although I wouldn’t mind if I could memorize them. In my opinion, if there’s a question about a rule and it would take you out of the moment you are in in the game, hand-wave it, house-rule it, with the expectation from you and your players that it will be revisited if it doesn’t make sense down the road.
The second thing I learned is, as a DM, you should do all that you can to make sure all of your players are included and engaged. Even with the best intentioned of groups you will probably have one person, be they more experienced with the system or TTRPGs as a whole or simply a more outgoing personality, begin to dominate the talk-time in the session. Be sure to ask the other players directly what they are doing or if they have any input on the situation. It is a very easy way to give the player an in for dialogue and encourages them to contribute more often on their own. Encourage your players to embody their characters and become immersed in their story. They don’t have to come up with a voice for their character, they don’t even have to speak in the first person as the character, but I guarantee the more a person thinks about and as their character the more engaged they will be in each session. Reward it!
Thirdly, be prepared. But not too prepared. In my opinion there is definitely over-preparation as a DM. If you’re sitting down and writing up dialogue for specific characters you may find yourself weeping in your beer later after your players completely bypassed them or, worse, killed them without a second thought. Definitely get a story outline down, maybe a BBEG (Big Bad Evil Guy/Gal) to work toward if that’s your thing, and get an idea of how you want to start the session. I can tell you from experience that I’ve come to a session with a thought of how it’d go in mind and come out of it having to spin locations, creatures, and NPCs out of nowhere because my players took a right when I expected them to go left. Don’t be afraid to think on your feet and slap down an NPC that didn’t exist five seconds ago. 85% of the time your players won’t know the difference. The other 15% of the time they’ll be thinking how great it is that you came up with an NPC on the spot because they went in a direction you weren’t expecting.
This leads into my next point.
Fourth, realize that this is not only your story. You are bringing it to the table but your players should have a say as well! They have a hand in how the story plays out, they even have their own stories to tell for their characters which will weave in to yours. Try to take their threads and add your own twist as well, surprise them as you immerse them in their character’s background. Everyone loves to be the star every once in a while.
Fifth , and I really hope this doesn’t sound like a cop-out after all those previous points, do what feels right to you and your players. You will always be learning and improving what you do. Your players will grow with you and I guarantee that they will think you are awesome as you weave your story out to them.
Last and most important of all. Have fun.