First-Time-GM’s Guide to Game Mastering

Various published role-playing games.
Photograph provided by Raleigh Table-top RPG meetup.

Welcome to the rewarding and challenging game master’s side of the table. This information packet has been created to help new game masters understand the main concepts involved in running a session for a role-play game and help them have a positive first experience as a game master. This information has been assembled for the Raleigh Tabletop RPGs (RTR) Meetup members. If you do not live in the Raleigh area, has many other gaming groups listed throughout the country. Gaming groups are everywhere and finding a group is the first step to running a game.

To begin with, it is highly recommended that you play in a table-top role-play game before you try to run one yourself. If you have never had the opportunity to play game, please check out the First-Time-Players Guide to Role-playing Games. In that guide, new players learn what a role-playing game is, how to prepare for attending their first game and some general questions to ask the game master. For the rest of this guide, we’ll assume you have played in some role-playing games before but want to learn how to run your own game. This packet will discuss: figuring out when and where your game will be hosted; the style of your game; choosing a game; prepared modules vs. creating your own adventure; setting and mood; and how to deal with problems.

When and Where

The first things to consider when Game Mastering is the time and place you’re your game will be hosted. Many times a Game Master will host the game in her own home. It is actually easier to let one of your players host the game in their home while you run the game. Preparing the gaming area, setting up snacks and drinks and helping people with driving directions are all important for the gamers. If you’re hosting and game mastering at the same time, this will create an additional workload for yourself. There are also gaming stores and coffee shops that will let you host a short game session in a more public location. No matter where you decide to run your game, make sure all of your players know the following information ahead of time:

  • The location where the game will be hosted.
  • The Date and Starting Time of the session.
  • How long the session is estimated to last
  • Whether this will be a long running campaign or a one-shot
  • If players will be given pre-gens, need to create their own characters or if time will be allotted during the session for character creation.
  • If snacks and beverages allowed
  • How often the group will be taking breaks
  • The Game System being used
  • The general theme, setting or mood of the game
  • Whether the game is more role-play or combat oriented

Combat <——– VS ——–>Story

It is important to decide the style of your game early on. Will your game be very story oriented and dependant on a lot of role-play? Will your game be very combat oriented and dependant on a lot of strategy? Your players will want to know what sort of game to expect. It’s important to be honest about this. How your balance your game’s style will greatly affect the game. Some players will want a game with a balance more to one side of the scale or the other. Neither Story nor Combat style is better than the other, but everyone has a personal preference for how much story or how much combat they would like in the games they play.

Choosing a Game System

There are many different role-play gaming systems available for purchase at hobby shops and on the internet. While the vast selection of games can be daunting to a new GM, choose the game that you are the most familiar with. If you have played a lot of role-playing games, choose the one you have played the most. If you have not played a lot, choose one with a setting or theme that you are familiar with. It’s difficult enough running your first game, but learning a brand new system at the same time doubles the effort involved.