Being a game master is not the easiest job. You are responsible for entertaining some pretty demanding players and the ‘sweet love’ only comes if they are having a good time. Novice GMs have a tough time, they are learning the ropes and developing skills and without the benefit of years of experience. I’m not bragging when I tell you that I’ve been GMing since 1977, especially when I get sideswiped by players who have an agenda that results in other players not having fun.
Here are a few of my tips, tricks and secret – more will follow.
Tempo – even if you aren’t running a comedy game, your team needs to know that something is happening, almost constantly. If the pace slows down and you get the feeling someone at the table is thinking more about Cheetos or balancing their dice stack it is time for something to happen – to them. It doesn’t have to be big. I’ve had something bad happen like them realizing that the can’t find one of their items in their pouch or backpack. They will start imaginig all kinds of things – from thieves in the party to invisible intruders – then have someone they trust find it laying on the floor around the corner they just came from. That will pick up the pulse and jump start the game.
Props – I love props. I have a fairly large collection of toys, dungeon tiles, small collectible items (keys, gems, coins, magic components). One of my close friends spent a year building the props for his campaign and then a year running it. Hit the garage sales, dollar stores, craft stores. I always use miniatures during gameplay and keep a battlemat handy if I don’t already have a terrain setup. If I see an interest in the props mentioned in this post I’ll make some posts about crafting your own items.
Audio – The mood at the game table may make it a little hard for your players to imagine their characters in the dark bowels of the earth, dripping with slime and facing a dark menace with glowing red eyes. What your brightly lit game table may need is a little audio to help push that effect. Before running your adventures collect some music and sound effects that will create the mood you are looking for. Rip tracks from your favorite movie sound tracks. One time-traveling adventure I ran happened in an alternate 1970′s on a planet of monkeys – all the music as disco. It set a mood that the players never expected. Use a laptop, your mobile phone, your iPod or any toy store slide whistle to create your mood.
CyberGM – I don’t care if you use your laptop or desktop at the game table, but using a computer to help prepare and run your adventures is certainly a huge benefit to having consistency and throughness in planning and managing an adventure. I make handouts for the players, create booklets of house-rules, make tokens and chits for powers, spells and effects. I write each of the adventures using a standard template, so I always know where to find the information I’m looking for. I prepare each monster and NPC using standard character generators. It is not easy to always remember to keep the notes during gameplay, but try to update your records after each session. If you keep your notes on-line in a Wiki, Blog or Forum for your players they can help update things that you might have forgot.
Recruit Players to Help – When I DMed my first D&D 3ed game I knew only a few of the rules. I knew at least one of the players had already played in several adventures. I asked him to help moderate and train the rest of us while I keep the story moving and worked with him to resolve the dice rolling and minatures rules – we all learned quickly and had a good time.
More to come in future posts…