So You Want To Be A GM - Part 1: The Beginning
There are two types of people in this world; Followers and leaders. Some love to listen to a good story, whereas others like to tell one. Some folk like playing an interesting character. Some like to play all the characters. Such is the divide between the player and the Game Master.
So what do you do when you a thrust into this seat of awesome power?
Hopefully not choke, cause that would suck. Like... really suck.
There are a lot of reasons to want to become a Game Master; love, revenge, potential suicidal tenancies. Here are a few that aren't those things.
You have a story to tell: This is probably the most common reason to run anything. You have an intriguing. unique tale to weave, with a nefarious villain and colorful NPCs set against the backdrop of a campaign setting that you developed over a sinful amount of time, shunning friends and family (possibly hygiene) in the pursuit of the perfect story.
"I've planned every meal at every tavern in every town for the next six months!"
You will most likely have a nervous breakdown after you players dismantle 1,500 hours worth of work about 30 minutes into session one. Still, you got notes... so that's good...
"I thought Pun-Pun was a cute name."
Above all else, you desire power: Since you were a wee babe, suckling at your mommy's teet, you have had aspirations of Godhood (the most humble of aspirations). Game Mastering is quite possibly the closest thing we mere mortals come to becoming Gods.
Think of it, you are the creator of the universe. You gave life to every creature walking the face of your perfect world. You are the sole judge over life and death, and can smite accordingly, perhaps with the falling of rocks.
"Cause that's how it happened to me!"
Such power is almost unattainable at the player level (unless you roll wizard). It is up to you what manner of godlike being you want to be; benevolent, or wrathful. Note:The later tend to find themselves fitted for cement shoes just before a long swim
Either way, you tend to revive a fair amount of bribes. I prefer to think of these as offerings the players hope will curry favor with their all-powerful deity Free pizza is a difficult thing to pass up.
"Also accepting souls and live puppies."
Need: Your previous Game Master may have burned out on the notion of running a game (A blog you will be seeing soon), perhaps they moved, were voted out, or perhaps they met with an unfortunate “accident” after TPKing the party.
Whatever the case, the slot is open, and it quite difficult to play in a game no one is running. The fun factor drops right off to nothing. Someone must sit upon the frozen throne. There must always be a GM!
I know when this happened at a table I played at countless eons ago in a time long forgotten, I was surprised by the number of folks that were not willing to step up. It vexed me that this group of boisterous gallants (we rolled in character at all times, yo) didn't want to seize the opportunity to entertain their peers.
"Or not. It's up to you."
That's when it hit me. It was a matter of self-confidence. We as people tend to shy away from things in which we would be judged, especially when that judgment comes from friends. Even when we know that those same friends are likely to be the most supportive of you, it still seems like an uneasy prospect.
The first thing you need to do to become a Game Master is want to become one. If you are forced into the role, your game will reflect it, things will cease to be fun, and you have defeated the entire purpose of playing a game to begin with.
When you want it, it likewise reflects in your game, but instead of a marred and twisted visage of your insecurities, it takes a shape. A vague and marvelous shape you can mold into something your friends could very well be talking about years later. If you are seriously considering getting behind the screen, there are a few things you are going to need first.
A Story: As I mentioned above, having a story to tell is paramount. Without a story, your game is just a string of random encounters, one after another. At that point, you might as well just grind levels in any Final Fantasy game.
"How much XP for the orphans?"
When you hear story, folk tend to think of dozens of storylines weaving effortlessly in and out of one another, coalescing into an inviting and intricate adventure. To a degree this is true, but you don't need to plan anything more than 5% it ahead of time. What you need is the skeleton of a story. It should be basic, with very little in the way of frills.
An example would be something along the lines of this: Village is plagued by [Monster or monsters] who have taken something (supplies, food, livestock, children, women, lives, etc.) and fled back to its/their hidden lair/camp. Said [Monster or monsters] are actually lackeys for bigger/smarter/more powerful [Monsters or monsters].
As ideas go, it is simple. If can be placed into any campaign setting, in any location in any part of the world. It presents the players with a problem (the monsters), a need (stop the friggin monsters), and a twist (your monsters are in another castle).
The type of story you want to run can decide what these monsters are, and what they want. If it's a horror story, maybe the monsters are some manner of undead, striking in the night, and collecting fresh subjects for their master, a vile necromancer.
If it's a classic, old school style adventure it may involve kobolds raiding the nearby village and pillaging treasure for their draconic ruler.
"Tucker finds your lack of fear disturbing."
A Setting: This is where a lot of folks get caught up. Some can't decide where they want to tell their tale. Do they want to go published settings, like the Forgotten Realms, Eberron, Ravenloft, Dragonlance, Greyhawk or Galorian, or do they want to take up the arduous and daunting task of creating their own campaign world?
The best thing to do is think small, and by small I mean toss out the idea of a campaign world. Those things are backdrops for the story you want to tell. Decide on relatively simple things, like a city, a swamp, the woods, or a desert. Each of these things brings their own nuances, ecology, people and monsters to the table. What you find in one area you may be hard pressed to find in another.
Players: This has been the sin of many a new Game Master, and even a few veterans. You get all excited about the concept of your story and setting, you forget about the most important part of your game; The flippin' players, the people that will be traipsing through your world.
Talk to them! Get their input! There is no driving force behind a story more powerful than your players. If you let them, they will write 95% of your story if you let them.
They may come to you with backstories, and those stories may be open ended. Work them in somehow. Maybe the dwarf cleric watched his home devastated by a tribe of kobolds bearing a specific banner or tribal tattoo. Make the kobolds from our example above the same tribe. Now the player is vested in getting these little buggers. Perhaps the dragon that commands them was the one that killed the fighter's father. You don't need to work every character's back story in from the get go, but keep them in mind when crafting encounters, choosing monsters, or moving the story forward.
If you ask them, your players will tell you what kind of game they are looking for. They may want a high intrigue game or a low-magic game. They may have ideas of their own about where they would like to play. Some hate deserts with a passion, others are turned on (perhaps too much) by swamps. Maybe they say “screw it, let's be pirates”.
After all, they're going to be the ones playing it. Keep them entertained.
"Murder Hobos on the high seas."
Now that you have the basics, you can plan and run yourself a game. Next time, I'll show you how to shamelessly cut corners.
May the dice be ever in your favor,