One of the hardest places to start gaming is at the beginning. Our hobby is very intimidating from the outside, especially to people that really want to get in. There are so many systems, so many rules, and so much riding on that first adventure.
Today we are offering some advice for those of you that have never run a game before as a Game Master (or Dungeon Master or Beloved Master or Storyteller or Referee or whatever else you kids call it these days). We want to offer some practical advice, and a LOT of encouragement, to get you to try something new and include/make some great friends.
Please believe me, as someone who waited 10 years to finally cross the fence, the other side, that it is SO worth it. Tabletop RPGs are even more fun than they seem, and while not every minute of every campaign will be perfect the rewards far outweigh the fears. Hopefully the thoughts below can help you start gaming with your friends.
Why Write This Post?
I was recently looking at old YouTube blogs I had subscribed to, and in one of them the blogger said something that really hit home. She also thought that she and her friends would really enjoy getting into a tabletop rpg, but she had no idea where to begin. How could they get started?
Since it was an old vlog, I did not feel like I could post my own response. I read through the comments, and hardly anyone responded to this question. Most of them had comments on other things she had said in her vlog, and it made me feel a little sad.
For years, I was not able to get started with what is now my favorite hobby because getting in was so intimidating. Where DO you start? Which system do you start with? Who’s going to be the GM? What happens if someone doesn’t like how it goes?
Someday I will have to write about how I finally did get into gaming, but not today. Today I want to offer some thoughts to people that are trying to get into the hobby. Specifically anyone that want to start into the hobby with their friends and/or family.
The obvious answers are to find someone you know that already plays and have them run an introduction adventure for you. Or, if you don’t know anyone but happen to have a local gaming store, check the bulletin boards and ask the people behind the counters. Odds are someone is running a game that needs new players or there is someone willing to run an intro game for you and your friends.
But let’s be completely honest for a moment. If you know someone that’s really into gaming, then odds are they have already tried to recruit you. And there are a lot of places that don’t have a big gaming store with monthly events. Or, to the unlucky few of us, we may have tried one of those popular solutions and had a horrible experience that almost turned us off from gaming forever.
So this post is for people that are brave enough to strike out on their own, grab some rules and some friends with little to zero experience, and enter the hobby the hard way. We at BEG solute your bravery and want to help encourage you to take the big step to having lots and lots of fun!
Choosing a Game
Probably the first thing you want to do is choose a system that you want to play. There are many different systems because there are many different worlds, and each world should feel different. Mechanics are a big part of that, but that’s another blog entirely. The important point here is that once you figure out what type of story you want to play, find a system that fits that story is much easier.
Odds are good that if you want to start into tabletop roleplaying that you have some idea of what you want to play. Maybe you’ve heard about how fun a popular RPG is, so you want to give it a try. Or maybe you’ve recently read a book or watched a movie and thought how fun it would be if there was a game based on that. Or maybe you’ve played a board game or an RPG and wanted to play in that world even more. If you have any experience playing in an RPG system, it will make running that game so much easier.
If you have no idea what you want to play but you know that you do want to play something, then you are even more amazing and REALLY need to find a game to play! Keep an open mind as you read the suggestions below and see if something jumps out at you.
If your excitement comes from Star Wars or the Hobbit or even the new Ghost Busters movie coming out, you might want to check and see if there is an official RPG for that movie. Fate Hacks also exist for just about every story as well, and a lot of fans have made their own rules for tabletop games based on TV shows and video games as well. The rules may be a little out there, depending on who made them, but if you are playing a setting you know and love then that will usually get you through rules of any game.
One of my most recommended RPGs to new players is Dragon Age RPG. (What?!? Not FATE? But the podcasts are all FATE games!!!) The basic rules are simple and cover every aspect of the game, including roleplaying boosts. There are other AGE system games from Green Ronin as well if you want to try something not in the traditional fantasy genre. D&D is also popular choice. The rules are very complicated for people that have never played before, but you can easily find lots of resources and tips online to help.
Prepare Your World
Every published RPG system has a section to help new GMs run their game, because every RPG publisher out there wants people to run their game! Be sure to read through them so you can understand not only the rules of the game but get some useful tips to focus on for building your world. Even if you are playing a game with a very specific setting, such as Dresden Files, you will still be making the game world your own.
Start with your first adventure, even if you are the type of person that wants to build a big world and then focus down. If you are using a published adventure for starting (which is very helpful as much of the work is already done for you), read through it and try to decide if this is how you want your story to go. Make some notes on any changes you want to make.
Players will be forgiving of rules mistakes, especially if everyone knows going in that this is your first time running a game. What they really want out of the experience is to have fun, and the best way to ensure that is to make sure that your world meaning for them.
One of the best articles I have recently read on meaning can be found at Gnome Stew: (http://www.gnomestew.com/player-perspective/when-your-game-doesnt-mean-anything/ ). This concept is vital for GMs to understand, especially new ones, because it gives you a much clearer picture of how much work you need to do AND what the focus of that work should be: the player characters!
A lot of world building happens as a result of interactions, so be sure to leave space in your notes for more notes. See our previous blog on Improvising Unexpected Side Quests for more on how to prepare for the unexpected things your players will often do.
Learning the Game Together
For our final note, remember that you and the players are learning the game together. Even if you are an amazing wife that wants to run her first game for your husband who has been running RPGs for years, it is still a learning experience for everyone involved. Your world, your preferences, and your own interpretation of the rules are all undiscovered.
A big part of learning an RPG, especially if you have never played one before, is learning how to roleplay. Discovering a new character is hard, and a GM has many NPCs to cover. Unless you are a professional voice actor, you probably want to limit playing complicated voices for each individual NPC. Start with small changes you are more comfortable with: a tick, habit, or posture to set each NPC apart. Try not to outshine your players’ attempts to roleplay, as they are the stars of the story anyway.
Make sure that your first session is open book. You want to be able to look up things that matter. Having a reference to page numbers for tricky rules may actually be a better outline for your first session than a notebook of copied rules and stats. But if things get bogged down by looking up the rules, feel free to say “I’m going to rule that it works this way, but I will check after tonight to make sure that’s how it works.”
I know we are always asking for feedback in the form of questions and stories to share, but especially for this post I would encourage you to share. There are a LOT of people that want to participate in our hobby, and the more we can do to help include them the better we are all going to be!