Most of us gamers have played an RPG of some kind in the past. Games such as Dragon Age Inquisition, Pillars of Eternity, the classics like Baldur’s Gate or Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. These are just some of the myriad of RPGs out there. In some cases these sort of games can be played solo, but the best way to experience a game is with a group of friends sitting around a table, getting our some varying types of dice, creating a character on a piece of paper and just diving into an adventure run by one of you.
For me, RPGs and tabletop gaming general have been a bit of a lifesaver. My local group has helped me deal with things like family losses and eventually healed some of the pain felt. The group is like a second family to me and in turn, we all end up helping each other through rough times.
But there is one other thing this has helped me learn – to actually try running a game or two over the intervening years. Most in the group are more experienced than myself in running them and you can get teased when you try to. But it’s all in the name of helping a new DM, or dungeon master, learn how to become better at the process.
There are many varying types of dice and paper RPG out there, ranging from Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (the granddaddy of all RPGs) to horror-based ones like Call of Cthulhu or even sci-fi titles like Star Wars. All these have several things in common, like choosing a campaign setting or genre you all want to run, creating a well-rounded group of adventurers that cover all the archetypes such as fighter or healer, and more than anything just having fun! Mistakes can and will be made during a game, even by the DM, and these situations can prove some of the most fun times during the game.
For example – in the game Pulp Cthulhu you have something called Luck points that can be spent to help a roll if you fall short of the score needed to be successful. I’ve seen it when in the midst of a fight the last player left standing has desperately tried looking for a way to run away via a door only for the GM to say ‘make a luck roll.’ The player had spent all of it on a previous roll, and the GM knew this, but the look on the player’s face when they realized they had no chance of getting to safety made it all worth it, especially since they were Skyping in from Scotland.
RPGs are not as scary to run as you would think. I mean, if I can do it anyone can. With that in mind, I’ve noted down several tips that I’ve learned over the years that I hope maybe aspiring DM’s out there can fund useful for a first time attempt at running a game.
1 – Don’t make things over complicated for yourself.
Remember, you’re not just introducing your players to a new story or game, you’re also introducing yourself to it. Some newer players can be apprehensive at first as role-playing can take them out of their comfort zone. Maybe at the start of your story, they could simply meet in a bar or at something like a festival. Give the players a chance to introduce themselves, describe how they look, and perhaps even a couple of them could be related or just have been working together prior to this. More often than not this can not only help the players but also the DM in thinking up of possible encounter ideas to use later down the road.
2 – Don’t try to copy exactly the DM’ing process of someone you may have seen via a Twitch or Youtube stream.
There are some great ones out there, like Matthew Mercer and the cast of Critical Role, and Matt is arguably one of the best DM’s out there. By all means, watch how he does DM a game and deal with the group, but don’t try and be the next Matt Mercer – be the first you! His players are professional actors in things like tv or video games, so they really know how to act. If your group is enjoying how the game is going, the true nature of their created characters will shine through and make the whole experience so much more fun for all concerned.
3 – Players have a tendency to be unpredictable.
They can and will go off on a tangent at some point during a gaming session and this can be a bane to may DMs. How do you solve this? Simple – let them do it. Maybe they want to try and track someone down in the game that they feel might have some much-needed answers that can help them, or they could even start a bar fight. Each of these scenarios can present some great moments for role-playing. Having your group try and convince a group of town guards that they didn’t start a fight before they’re thrown in the town jail for the night can be hilarious. Not all side events have to be fights. You could have some of the group solve some kind of puzzle by pressing some buttons in a certain order to open a secret door. The possibilities are endless. Just be prepared to improvise at some point during the game.
There are many other tips I could list here but really these 3 I think for now can really help new DMs and players out there. The main thing to remember is to have fun and enjoy yourselves. If mistakes happen, roll with it. Don’t stress out about it. If anyone that reads this does feel like trying to run a game then with a little research there’s bound to be a gaming group somewhere hopefully not too far from you. Even going to a gaming trade convention is a great way to meet others people looking to be in a game. Give it a try – you might just be surprised with how it goes. I wish you all luck, and my all your dice rolls be natural 20s!