#RPGChat recently had a discussion of advice for new DMs. I wasn’t able to find it in time, but went back to through my writing in past RPGChats and pulled out what I think my best advice for DMs is. A lot of this isn’t direct advice on how to run a game; there are a lot of lists of that stuff already, so it is hard to find new things to say; rather, this is mostly advice on issues around the game and even advice on other advice. I’ve also limited this list to advice I’ve got personal experience with from one side of the table or the other.
- Take all advice you read online with a grain of salt. There is a standard rule you see in every list, which is “Don’t railroad.” Guess what? I once had a very unsuccessful session, one of the worst ones I’ve run. I sat down and talked to the players. They asked me to give more guidance in the sessions and have them less freeform. Take away: Not every rule works for every DM and every group.
- Figure out how many people you are comfortable with running for and don’t go over that number. I’m fine with 4-6 depending on the game, I know other GMs who won’t run for more then 4. Running for more people is harder. More people means it is harder to get them to agree on what they are doing, you have to split your attention more ways, running larger combats is harder, and you might not even hear what quieter players want to do. Feel free to tell people your game is full; you don’t have to invite all your friends.
- Only you are allowed to invite new people to the game. If someone has a friend, relative, significant other that they want to invite, have them talk to you first. I was once in a game where the DM was not the host. The host kept inviting more and more people until we topped a dozen. The game did not last long after that, since running a game for that many people is really hard. I set a rule during my Call of Cthulhu days limiting it to 4 people; the sessions when I stuck to that rule were by far the best ones of the campaign.
- Put the most soft-spoken or shy players close to you. The loud, attention-demanding players will make themselves heard from across the table, the softer-spoken or new and shy players will not.
- Feel free to uninvite players. I’ve had some very good friends who were not good players. We simply stopped inviting them. Some got better with time, and in a few years started gaming with us again, others never did. Don’t let one bad player ruin your game. (If you can help it. It is more tricky when they are providing rides for everyone else, or are someones significant other.) To be honest, in some of these cases we would literally just stop inviting the person and not talk about the game around them; that made letting them back into the game when they’d gotten more mature a few years later much easier and avoided a conflict with a good friend. I’m not saying that is the best or most mature approach, just the one we used when we were in high school.
- Feel free to ask players to help contribute to out of game stuff. I did a lot of DMing when I was in high school and had no money. I developed the method of asking everyone to bring a contribution to dinner. I’d provide sausages or burgers, and the players would contribute side-dishes, drinks and snacks as they were able. Players who couldn’t afford to do that would help with the cooking and cleaning. On the note of cleaning, don’t be afraid to ask players to help clean up. This is obvious now, but back in high school days we’d game until 2 am, I’d usher everyone out the door and then collapse, then have to spend the next morning cleaning. One day it clicked that I could ask everyone to help tidy before they left, and hosting got a lot more pleasant.
- Don’t kill a player’s character the first few sessions they are there. It sucks, and discourages them from wanting to come back. Even in a horror game you can scare the pants off them without killing them.
- Design problems, not puzzles. A puzzle has a set solution; your players might not think of it. A problem has an infinite number of solutions, and that is just counting the ones you haven’t thought of. You can give the players some ways to solve a problem, sure, but be sure to keep an open mind to things you haven’t thought of.
Well, those are my random tips for new and young GMs. Hope you find them useful, and I’d love to hear any tips that you have that you think aren’t said enough onlne. Until next time, stay geeky.