You might have picked up the mantle of GM because no one else wanted it. Or maybe you enjoyed the creativity and became a “forever GM.”
No matter how you got to be a GM, you probably want to pass it on. Just as you’ve taught new players how to play, you can help some of them realize the joy of GMing.
You don’t necessarily need to groom a replacement. But exposing players to being a GM is a way to take a break, get a fresh perspective, and help grow the RPG community.
New GMs have a number of worries about beginning to run games. The first thing they might worry about is not knowing all the rules. They won’t run their game “the right way.”
Remind them that GMing is one of those things best learned by doing. Trying is more important than getting it “right.” A new GM only needs to understand the basics of character creation, task resolution, and combat—and then give it a try! They don’t need to know every detail, just the way that the mechanics generally flow.
It’s a good idea to encourage a new GM to avoid variant rules and additional sourcebooks on a first run. Players are generally willing to play a “standard” version of the game while a new GM gets their feet wet.
Support your new GM by providing basic materials (dice, cards, paper, pencils . . . whatever the game calls for), and they’ll have enough to start.
Rules in Play
When it gets more complicated during play, be supportive:
- Remind them that it’s OK to stop the game to look something up.
- Even better, offer to look something up for them so they can focus on another task while you (or another player) do the page flipping.
- Encourage them to focus on the flow of an interesting story rather than mastering every rule.
TIP: The internet can often speed up rules reference. Enter the topic and name of the RPG into a search engine and get a reference faster than looking it up in a book!
Lean on the Pros
Published adventures are a better way for a new GM to start than creating a homebrew game. This allows them to lean on content created by a professional with more game experience.
Read through the adventure with them, like a book club. Compare notes. A new GM can learn things about running a game just by reading an adventure module. Reading more than once can help as well.
Although the new GM doesn’t need to memorize every page in the adventure, they should be aware of the theme and flow of the story. This level of comfort often comes from rereading the initial parts of the adventure to get familiar with the story that the players encounter in the first session.
Speaking of first sessions, a new GM might not know exactly how they want their games to run, which is just fine for a new GM. A good place to start is with a session zero.
A session zero allows players and the GM to become more familiar with each other. They can discuss expectations and safety measures. It also allows a new GM to explain their ideas for a campaign and the fact that they are new to GMing.
Players can understand that they’re playing with someone who is inexperienced and even anxious about the game. When they know this, they are often happy to help the game run more smoothly by offering advice or just being understanding about restrictions and delays to game flow as the GM learns table management skills.
The new GM can also run a sample encounter in session zero. This lets players show how they run their characters and let the GM get used to game mechanics.
Turning Anxiety into Fun
The anxiety new GMs feel in their first game can be summed up as discomfort. Once they get comfortable with the flow of the game, they will gain confidence and lose anxiety. This process can take some time, so it’s important for everyone to remember that we play games to have fun. As long as the players and GM are all striving for fun, they are playing the game “the right way.”