Let's face it. Without GMs we wouldn't be able to enjoy this hobby. Without AWESOME GMs, the hobby would eventually grow stale and we'd move on to something else. After a few months in the Tabletop RPG One Shot Group, I've noticed one frightening statistic: active players vastly outnumber active GMs. One of my latest one-shots filled up in 10mins, before a lot of people even had a chance to receive the invite.
Are you an awesome GM? If not, do you have an awesome GM? Would you like to be an awesome GM? This article will help you to achieve that, even if... no, ESPECIALLY if you've never GMed before.
Let's look at some common misconceptions about GMing:
GMing IS HARD! - well, not really. It's intimidating, for sure... but it's only as hard as you want to make it. I GMed a game on Christmas that I had never played before. In fact, I'd never even SEEN it played before. The system and setting are both extremely complex, and I was nervous as hell going into it. But you know what? My players had fun! At least as importantly, I had fun too! The key to this particular experience was that I went over the basic mechanics of the system with my players before starting, and we stuck to mostly roleplay for the session. If you're GMing a game you're already familiar with it's a lot easier too.
GMing IS BORING! - I don't know who perpetuates this idea that being a player is a lot more fun than being the GM, but they couldn't be more wrong! As the GM you get to BE the world, the people, the monsters, even the gods. You provide the backdrop and propel the story whenever the players need a little push. Also as the GM your action never stops while you wait for someone else to finish their turn... it's always your turn!
GMing takes TOO MUCH TIME! - it can if you want it too, but this doesn't have to be the case. I've recently run one no-prep game where I didn't even know anything about the characters until the game started, and a couple other Adventurer's Guild based one-shots where my preparation literally took all of ten minutes while I picked out a couple encounters I wanted the characters to have and devised a job for them that would get them to the place I needed them to be for these encounters to happen. In hindsight I think those two were some of the most enjoyable games I've run in recent months!
Now that we've addressed the misconceptions that often scare people away from GMing, I'd like to focus on some pointers to help you succeed at running fun games for your players. I had a discussion with a friend in the OSG recently and asked him why he liked playing in my games, and a lot of this is coming from the feedback that he provided me with.
1) Know as much about the game you're playing as you can! If you don't know the rule or mechanic, make something up on the fly to keep the game moving.
2) Get inspired! Watch movies, TV shows, play video games, read books, and play in other people's games too! These are all great sources of inspiration for your future gaming sessions.
3) Set the scene! "You walk into a tavern" is a pretty boring statement, but when you describe it using the five senses it comes alive. "As you approach the open double doors of the Dogshead Tavern you can hear the din of the crowd within. It nearly drowns out the sound of the minstrels playing within, but you catch a few bars of The Tale of Parabore and the Doomed Maiden. The smell hits you about ten feet from the doors... the sweet salty smell of unwashed bodies and the staleness of booze spills that haven't been cleaned up in time. As you enter the crowded common room you see rogues and vagabonds of all kinds drinking, gambling, and whoring about the place. The air is thick with smoke and you immediately feel as though you need a bath. The taste of bile hits you as you suppress the urge to retch."
4) Manage the pace! Sometimes the party needs some downtime to chat and gain focus on where they want to go next, but other times you want to keep the tension high and the game moving. Don't linger too long where it is not needed or your players may get bored, but also don't be afraid to give them a chance to stop and smell the urine-soaked tavern floorboards when they want to. My friend said that I "give them room to breathe, but don't let it go stagnant" when I run, and though it may take practice I think it's a good focus point for any upcoming GM as well.
5) NPCs bring your setting to life! Make them colourful, make them stand out, and make them fit into the setting. NPC-PC interaction is a big part of how the players learn about your setting, so try to make an impression with them. Don't focus too much on fancy accents or voices, though if you're good at such things by all means use them, but bring them to life with mannerisms and physical traits too.
6) Give your players options! Diversify the solutions to the problems that the PCs will face. Not every encounter need be a combat encounter. Perhaps they can barter with the kobolds, or sneak past the orcs, or reason with the ogre! Don't railroad your players into only ever having one way out of a situation, and reward them for their ingenuity when they come up with something cool you hadn't thought of!
7) Don't be a Yes Man! It is important to say yes a lot when players come up with cool ideas and approaches to problems. I believe it is also important to sometimes say no when it is required though. The game is meant to be fun for everyone at the table, and some groups forget that this includes the GM too. If someone is coming up with silly ideas or disruptive solutions to situations in the game, you have to put the foot down somewhere. You can still be cool about it though, so don't think you have to be a prison warden either!
That is all I can think of right now, though I'm sure a few more ideas will pop into my head after I send this off. That's the nature of being a GM I guess... ideas and inspiration come and go with the wind! I hope this article has helped you, and maybe even inspired some of you to try your hand at GMing! Contact me on YouTube, Google+, and/or Facebook if you have any questions. We may even do a hangout at some stage to discuss the different approaches, virtues, and flaws of our GMing experiences one of these days!