Mastering as Game Master: Introductory Episode.000

The merchant looks at you with a cold, hard stare, knowing your intentions are no good.  With a flick of his wrist, a dagger launches from a mechanical device, piercing the air and embedding into a thick piece of wood just over your left shoulder.  He clicks his teeth with his tongue, clearly disappointed.  “You can steal anywhere in this city but not in my store.  If you want to get better, however, let me know.  I know a guy.”

When I first learned how to play role playing games in 1992, I was overwhelmingly inspired to run my own games.  Everyone who has played for more than a decade will refer to what edition of Dungeons & Dragons they learned how to play a role playing game.  Mine was 2nd edition mainly because it was brand new about the time I was old enough to play the game.  One of my friends at the time explained the general concept although he was only 12 at the time and going off of who knows what.  I don’t remember how I acquired the books except for getting the Monstrous Manual as a birthday present.  Because I was the one who had the books, my friends expected me to run the game and know the rules.  They weren’t the excited type who were looking forward to playing Dungeons & Dragons, but they were curious enough to try something new out they weren’t quite sure what it was about.


I think I did alright my first 4 or 5 years playing the game though as I went into high school, the game sessions became fewer and fewer.  What few moments I did experience, I always ran and never played.  In fact, the first time I played a game was at a convention in 1994.  Looking back, I remember making up a few rules that I really thought was how the rules were written in the books.  For example, as ThAC0 was created in 2nd edition, I referred to it simply as “Fighting.”  “What’s your Fighting?  14?  Then with the monster’s armor class of 3, you need to roll an 11 or better on a d20.”  That’s how I called it every time.  I didn’t use the charts, I made up the numbers.  I knew experience points existed, but I didn’t know how to properly give out them, so I didn’t know how their attributes would change or their ThAC0 would decrease over time.

Sound familiar?  If you are like me, there was a time when we knew nothing about any particular rule system, but our imaginations were so overactive that we didn’t care.  We found enjoyment playing the game.  Much of this accounts to the fact our imaginations at a younger age are usually more powerful and discovering new concepts at the time whereas when you are an adult, those experiences have been thought of dozens if not hundreds of times and the excitement is gone.

I am asked a lot by players how to run a role playing game.  They ask for advice, they ask for rule clarification, and they ask for a miracle.  The problem is that being asked that question is easy, but trying to answer it without writing an entire book is nearly impossible.  You can sum it up perhaps in one sentence.  Perhaps something like imagine a general story, describe it in pieces, and then constantly ask them what do they do.  However, there really is so much more to being a game master.

Depending on the situation, I may give a number of solid pieces of advice that I practice each time I run a game:

  • Keep the pace faster than you think is necessary
  • Cut corners in combat to get each player their turn quicker
  • Never make players draw maps during game play
  • Be more player-driven in your campaign rather than story-driven
  • Know your players to know their loves and hates
  • Learn to improvise, practice improvisational conversations with friends

Each one of these can help a Game Master have more success within his game.  Some of these take practice and time to perfect.  Others seem like no brainers.  Yet I have seen many GM’s fail at several of these issues during game play.  And the list is by no means definitive.  There are other areas a GM can take note on such as never giving out too much gold to any player, Keep the peace between the players with no peer stealing or friendly fire, or allowing the party to ever split up.

These initial six areas are the most important aspects to running an effective game.  I’m beginning a 6-part series, beginning with this introductory article, going further into detail of each of these points, explaining the positives and negatives of each, and how to utilize them to benefit your campaign.

We will take a closer look at how to get your feet wet as a GM and also how your veteran skills can be resharpened and perhaps revitalized.


Until next time, lie about your dice roll as much as you can get away with.  Thanks for stopping by.

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