I had originally titled this first day, “what advice do you wish you had heard when you first started GMing?” No question, I wish I had known to enlist my players in building the story from the beginning, and to go to them for help when I started to feel stuck or spin my wheels during sessions. Consider the following question:
Hey DMs/GMs, quick gut reaction: Is it your campaign or your group's?
— Philippe A. Ménard (@ChattyDM) September 20, 2013
When I first started gamemastering, I would have absolutely said, “MINE!” I was coming from a background as a writer and saw roleplaying games as a medium where I could come up with the world and cast of characters and let my friends play the novel out for me instead of having to write it down. While that is still a somewhat fair analogy, it’s missing the key component: that writing and roleplaying are fundamentally different experiences because one is solitary and one is collaborative.
Now, I still think of campaigns as being “mine”–because you can’t spend that much time on a creative project and not think of it as your baby–but I realize now that if you don’t share it with your players and they aren’t invested in the story themselves, the campaign is doomed to failure. You might as well just stay home and write your damn book. And I had to learn that the hard way when I ran my first few campaigns.
In addition to being necessary in order to keep your players coming back to the table, their input is also an amazing resource for saving you time and getting the most bang for your prep. I never start a campaign now without asking players to fill out a character questionnaire for me, laced with all sorts of questions that are actually asking for plot hooks in disguise. What are your character’s goals, short-, medium-, and long-term? Who are his or her allies and enemies? What events in your character’s life brought them to this point?
Their answers are amazing story fodder for when I have to start prepping for the story arc or game session. I also know that they’ll love the content I come up with that’s tailor-made for them.
If you have experienced Game Masters in your group, I would highly encourage you to ask them as many questions as you can think of and bounce ideas off of them from time to time. I was lucky enough to have a number of GM “mentors” at my college gaming club who had decades of experience between them. Even if you’re the most experienced one at the table, you can still draw on your friends’ strengths and ask that one player for help on rules questions, or that other player for help with drawing the maps. And you can always ask, “hey, I know we didn’t really hit our stride this session, what do you think we could have done differently to make it more fun?”
The bottom line is don’t be afraid to open yourself up to their input, and don’t let your ego get in the way of adapting to the needs of the group. You’re not there for their entertainment, but neither are the players there for yours. Having fun at the game table is a group effort when it comes to role-playing games.
What advice would you give a first-time GM? Link your answers in the comments below! You can find the rest of the 30 Days of Gamemastering Challenge prompts here. Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post on my favorite GMing tools or accessories.