GM Tips: Getting Started

So, you’ve found a game you want to play, and talked a few friends into playing it with you. Guess what? Chances are, if you bought the game, you’re going to be the game master. Now, this doesn’t necessarily apply only to role playing games – go ahead and figure on this for tabletop wargaming, collectible card games, and even board games and more.

In any event, what should you do first? Read the instructions. Then read them again. And, if at all possible, read those suckers a third, fourth, fifth and sixth time. You are going to be responsible for the level of enjoyment your friends/family/group of complete strangers get out of this game, so BE PREPARED. Read it. Know it. Love it. Recite it better than you did the Gettysburg Address in 3rd grade.

Trust me on this. I bought Munchkin Quest because my normal group loved Munchkin, my wife played Munchkin once, and we both thought it looked cool. I opened it and glanced through the rule book, and attempted to play it based off of that quick glance. We’ve played it a total of two times, and both times, we house-ruled our way through most of it. (This game also brings me to another point, which is probably better served by a whole post that I won’t later write: research a new game before you buy it. Please.)

Back on track – let’s assume you bought yourself a bright and shiny new role playing game. Hooray! Read it. Read it again. Read it ad nauseum, if you ever want your investment to take root and grow. KNOW YOUR GAME.

Now, it’s not entirely, 100% necessary to know (and understand) every rule tucked into every cranny of a 300-500 page rule book. But you have got to have a basic understanding of the rules.

If you’re trying to sell your group on changing from an old system to a new system – such as from 3.5 D&D to 4th Edition or Pathfinder – pay special attention to the details. Nothing is going to convince your friends/family/group of complete strangers that this game “sucks” quicker than saying, “Well, this situation resolved itself in THAT way in the old system, so let’s just do that.” Why change systems or try a new game if that’s the case?

Gamers are stubborn, skittish creatures. They are like territorial deer – they don’t want to leave their comfortable wooded homeland, and when they venture out, if you spook them, they're either darting for home or getting run over by your ’96 Cavalier, thereby ruining your shiny but kind of flimsy new compact car.

If you want to turn back the clock even more, ASK your group before you buy the new game if they want to play it. Then buy it, then read it. And read it again. And again…

Nothing kills a game, for the first time or the second, 99th, or the last, than not knowing what you are doing. Breathe. You haven’t lost them yet. But after you’ve gotten over your own deer-in-the-headlights look… read the damn rules!

Be like a boy scout. Number one rule of Game Mastering: BE PREPARED.

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