Twystoff's GM Tips!
This guide was written by a brilliant Redditor called Twystoff who has 20 year
experience as a GM. In fact we can consider Twystoff a 20th level Games Master!
Know your players. While I've seen pick-up games
between strangers work well (sometimes with hilarious consequences), most people I've met game with a set
group of people. It's important to know what they enjoy in the game. Be it the combat, conversation, puzzle
solving, what have you. If your group is as diverse as mine, you'll want to include all of the above and
rotate through so that everyone gets a chance to do what they love.
everyone. Many times I've seen a group that grows too large for
a GM to handle. My trick is to go around the room/table, making sure everyone is heard. For players that are
shy/quiet, I'll even make sure to include scenarios that focus on that player so they don't feel left
3) Know what you want to
do. It's important to know if you want to do a short or long
game, quirky or serious, fast or slow paced, action oriented or something else.
4) Be prepared / know your
world. The longer you plan on the gaming going, the more you
should know about your "world", whatever it might be. I typically do campaigns that last a year minimum playing 4
hours a week. I plan out every major NPC, every villain, every location. I have pages of history, lore, equipment,
events. On the other hand, I once GM'd a game of Paranoia where my writeup was "Cafeteria that tries to kill
everyone" for a once shot game. This point is really important to the next one...
5) Choose between open world or
rails. You'll need to know just how much leading your players
will need. Are they self motivated to the point where they feel the need to explore and go off on their own, or do
you need to provide plot hooks and rails at every opportunity? If the former (in the case of my primary group), it
helps to design the whole world in a way that every place they could conceivably go is already created. My trick
that I also use with this is to create a time-line of events that will happen without player interference (that I
fix and alter as the players interfere, or if I want them to encounter a particular event). If you're leading them,
write out a story. Have plenty of material to draw upon in case the story progresses faster than you
6) Plot hooks are your
friend. You've got a group of players, you've managed to get
them together, but how do you get them to the adventure? There's a few methods. Rumors, the ever popular
tavern/cantina, prophecy, ect...Basically you need to feed the players information in way that suits your world. If
you make them look for it, they'll never find it. You need to stick it right in their faces like "Hey! Look at me!
Do this or die!"
7) Getting your PC's
together. This is always the challenge with my group. Everyone
likes to create such unique and mismatched PC's that in ordinary circumstances they'd never join together. This is
probably the hardest problem to solve. You can say the group is already formed by being
friends or fellow soldiers or what have you, but I find letting the PC's come together naturally through a
mutual problem leads to more interesting roleplaying. One of my standard strategies is to have the PC's all
in an area they would conceivably be in, and set up a situation (like a fight or a trap) that requires
cooperation to survive, then throw the plot hook at them that's strong enough to convince them to stick
together. Except Hank, I tell that asshole to just go with it because he always makes an asshole loner.
Sometimes you've got to be forceful just to get the game going.
8) Have more than one
villain. Hard to do with one-shots, and not usually needed for
those. But with a campaign, a fellow GM taught me this trick. Set up the campaign in 3 arcs. 1st arc, introduce
each villain, one after another. They don't necessarily need to be working together (actually it helps if they're
not). 2nd arc, find what's needed to stop each villain. Be it better equipment, ancient artifact, reversing what
the PC's accidentally turned on that's threatening to create a supernova next to Coruscant. Give the PC's time to
explore your world and feel like they understand the place. 3rd arc, showdown time. Have the PC's address each
villain in turn, who hopefully each one is unique and feels like an original struggle.
9) Boss fights are
unique. If your game includes combat, don't make a boss that you
just roll dice at until it dies. A member of my group does this in his games that he GM's. Our reaction is
generally "Woooooo, a boss. Now taking bets how many rounds until we turn it into a bloody mess on the wall." Nor
should a boss be defeated by pressing a button. Been there too. Break up the fight with dialog, add special
mechanics (boss runs away to a different room, pass traps to get to him), instead of fighting talk him down with an
epic speech, something. But whatever the case, make sure your players know they barely beat him. If it's not a hard fought
victory, it feels shallow.
10) Spice things up with RANDOM
ENCOUNTERS! I notice sometimes my players start to relax a bit
too much, maybe even start dozing off if it's an investigation part of the story and I have one or two players that
just want combat. I've noticed that it really helps to wait for that moment when the players think they're nice and
comfortably safe to pop up with some urgent event. Whether it be a fight, a fire, the ship sinking, a raid by
mutant zombie pigmies. If your players are calm, and it's an adventure, you're doing something wrong.
11) Don't be afraid to throw
away the books One of the best games I ever played in. We were
doing a Marvel System superhero game, and about 6 sessions in we were all teleported to an alternate dimension that
happened to use Warhammer rules. To be able to function within the physics of this reality, we all had to roll up
new characters, trying to stick as closely as possible to our previous characters. Each session after that we ended
up in a new reality, using a different system, and making new character each time. Eventually we ended up in a
chaotic reality, so our GM said to roll up a new character. We asked which system, and he said "You have no idea.
Just write something up and we'll go from there." Everyone made a completely custom system. Some were D20 styled,
another was Rifts. I wanted to see just how far I could go, so I made a brand new system for myself that involved
rolling a d20 to pick a digit of Pi, then rolling a d10. If the d10 beat the digit, I succeeded. We ended up having
all of us fighting our nemesis group who was similarly mismatched, and had a blast trying to compare systems to
figure out who was doing what and who was winning.
0) Most important rule of
all. Have fun. If you're not having fun, if your players are not
having fun, change something. This rule trumps every rule in every book. If you need to modify some rules to make
your world more interesting, do it. If one of your players wants a rule bent/broken so they can play their idea of
a fun character, do it. Don't let the rules dictate your game. A GM is a god. Gods cheat, break rules, rewrite
rules. The players are your people. Give them what they want. Be it an easy adventure, a challenge, an impossible
task, or a cakewalk. Ask every night if they had fun, and if there's anything they'd like to see. Paint a world and
let them live in it.