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How to be an amazing GM

Updated: Mar 9



Introduction


Embarking on the journey of a Game Master (GM) or Dungeon Master (DM) for the first time can be a thrilling yet daunting endeavour. It's a role that holds the key to worlds of adventure, mystery, and endless possibilities, where the stories you and your players create together become memories that last a lifetime. This article is designed as a beacon for those about to step into the role of GM or DM, providing you with essential insights, tips, and strategies to navigate your first game session with confidence and creativity. Whether it's mastering the rules, setting the scene, or responding to the unpredictable choices of your players, we've got you covered. Prepare to unlock the secrets to a successful and memorable debut in the world of role-playing games


If you are a first time games master (GM) or in D&D parlance Dungeon Master (DM), and the new role play game rulebook you ordered has arrived, you might find yourself wondering what to do in your first ever game session. If so, then read this blog, book mark it and come back to it on the big day because contained within are all the hints and tips you will need to make it a success.


If you're a seasoned GM/DM, some of this will seem obvious, so feel free to skip on to the next article, this is specifically for the first time GM.





Understanding Your Role


The role of a Game Master (GM) or Dungeon Master (DM) in tabletop role-playing games is multifaceted, combining elements of storytelling, adjudication, and facilitation to create an engaging experience for the players. At its core, the GM/DM's role is to serve as a guide, not a dictator, steering the narrative and the world in which the players operate, while simultaneously ensuring that the players' decisions and actions drive the story forward.


A key aspect of understanding your role as a GM/DM is recognizing the importance of player agency— the players' ability to make choices that significantly impact the game's direction. Balancing player agency with the need to maintain a coherent narrative is one of the most challenging aspects of the role. The GM/DM must craft a world that responds to the players' actions in a meaningful way, allowing them to shape the story through their decisions while guiding them within the bounds of the game's universe​​​​.


This balance requires flexibility and creativity from the GM/DM. It's essential to prepare a framework for the adventure that accommodates various paths, ensuring that players feel their choices matter. At the same time, the GM/DM must be ready to improvise when players take unexpected turns, weaving their actions back into the narrative to keep the story cohesive and engaging​​​​.


Effective GMs/DMs listen to their players, adapting the story and challenges based on the group's interests and actions. This dynamic storytelling approach creates a collaborative atmosphere where the players and the GM/DM are co-creators of the game's narrative. It's a delicate dance between guiding the players through a preconceived plot and allowing them enough freedom to explore and impact the world in their own unique ways​​​​.


In summary, understanding your role as a GM/DM means embracing the role of a guide who facilitates the story, encourages player agency, and adapts to the unfolding narrative. It's about creating a rich, responsive game world where the players' choices lead to meaningful consequences, enhancing the overall experience for everyone involved.


Mindset


Before you start preparing your game session it's important to be in the right frame of mind, and for many the idea of running a game can be quite daunting. There are many questions that one will typically have:


* Do I tell players what to do?

* Do I tell a story?

* What do I do if I can't remember all the rules?

* What happens if they lose interest?

* How do I remember all the different things (Orcs, elves, vampires, killer robots) in this world?

* How do players do things in this game?


If you've been having any of these stress thoughts, then take a breath because were going to go through them one by one:


Do I tell players what to do?

In a word, no, you guide them through what is possible. The rulebook for a role play game will normally have specific character classes (warrior, mage etc) or races (which is a hideous word, so we here at Verse Online use origin) such as Elf or Dwarf, or in the Arcverse, a Fey or a Firg


These enable players to create characters using dice rolls and imagination that have specific abilities and powers which are set out in the rule book. You are less the dictator of the game, ordering people around, and more the interpreter of the game, explaining what is possible and what is not.


Each game has an element of randomisation or chance within it, normally involving dice rolls, which again show what is possible and what isn't. Your players are the ones who decide what to do, based on the possibilities that are open to them.


Example


In the session "Mysteries of Eldoria," the GM, Alex, planned an adventure for their players set in the mythical land of Eldoria. Initially, Alex prepared a detailed plot where the players were expected to follow a specific path to uncover the lost artifact of Eldor. However, as the session unfolded, Alex noticed the players seemed less engaged, merely following the breadcrumbs without real involvement in the story's direction.

Recognizing the issue, Alex shifted their approach. Instead of telling the players what their characters see and do next, Alex started posing questions like, "As you stand before the ancient ruins of Eldor, what do you wish to explore first?" and "The village elder has pleaded for your help; how does your character respond?"

This subtle change transformed the dynamic of the game. The players, now empowered to shape the narrative, began discussing amongst themselves, strategizing, and taking initiative. One player, intrigued by the lore of Eldor, suggested they visit the local library to research the artifact's history, a move Alex hadn't planned for but seamlessly integrated into the story.
The session became a lively exchange of ideas, with players actively contributing to the unfolding mystery. Alex guided the adventure with gentle nudges, ensuring the players' decisions remained central to the narrative while still steering them towards critical plot points, like encounters with rival adventurers and clues about the artifact's location hidden in ancient texts.

By the session's end, both Alex and the players felt a deeper connection to the story they co-created. Alex learned the value of guiding instead of dictating, understanding that a GM's role is to facilitate an engaging and responsive game environment where player agency thrives. This approach not only made the game more enjoyable for the players but also for Alex, who found joy in the unpredictability and creativity of collaborative storytelling.




Do I tell a story?

In a word, yes, but it will be unlike any story you've told before. The last time you read a book you were engaged in a dialogue between you and the author. The author told you the story and you interpreted it in your imagination.


If you have children or are in early years teaching, you've probably been the intermediary between the story and the listener, as you read the words of the story teller to your children and you both did the imagining. A GM tells part of the story:

"It is dusk when you find the small cabin in the woods, the last rays of sunlight become dimmer and the forest suddenly seems darker, stranger and less familiar. A sense of foreboding falls over the party..."

The way in which the game deviates from other forms of story telling is through what happens next. It is the players around the table who create the next part of the story through their actions and interactions with the world you have presented them with.


There are certain things they can do, and certain things they can't do as we've established and you as the GM establish what is and isn't possible. Some adventures are very linear and have a series of events, one after another that players must experience and trials they must overcome, these are generally referred to as 'Railroad' adventures.


The other main style of adventure creation is called the Sandbox, and this structure is much more free form. It involves creating a place for the PCs to explore, a mountain range, a city block, a tavern, and letting them wander round it in whatever way they wish. There might be an overall story to follow, there might not be, and the adventure and fun and meaning are created by the players.


Anyway, we get ahead of ourselves here, we'll come back to adventure styles again in the future.