I first played BX/Moldvay Basic D&D 40 years ago which began a lifelong love of tabletop role playing games. Since then I have played in and run countless games. I am happy to say that I have made many friends across the table and taught many how to play. Principles of a good GM I credit Ben Milton with the following list which outlines the duties of a Game Master. I embrace these as my guiding principles. Prepare For Sessions • Places: Create environments for the PCs to explore. Seed these environments with treasures to collect, enemies to fight, devices to tinker with, people to talk to, wonders to gawk at, terrors to flee, problems to solve, and powder-keg situations to explode. • People: Give NPCs and monsters personalities, loyalties, and motivations, and entangle their lives together. • Things: Create tools, spells, weapons, and magical artifacts that evoke wonder and promote creative problem-solving. Host The Game • Facilitate: Host the game like you’d host a party. Present opportunities, but let the players guide the action. • Check in: Check in with the players to make sure everyone (including you) is having a good time. If not, adjust the game or have a conversation about the campaign’s expectations. Play The World • Arbitrate: Be impartial and consistent when you make rulings. The players should be playing against the world, not against you. Roll dice in the open, unless the PCs would not know the results. • Verisimilitude: Strive to pull the players into the world by making it a living, internally consistent place. Use random tables and generators to keep things fresh and surprising. • When to roll: Never roll dice when common sense tells you the logical outcome. • Reward player creativity: Allow the players’ actions to have a major impact on the campaign, especially when they come up with ingenious solutions that bypass or eliminate obstacles. • Reveal the world: Give the players plenty of information about what is happening in the game world. When in doubt, give them more. Without information, players cannot make smart choices. • Signpost danger: The more dangerous a thing is, the more obvious it should be. Don’t penalize players with consequences they could not have avoided. Keep Time Records • Maintain urgency: Time is a resource for players, so it should be tracked carefully. Wasting it should have consequences. • Calendar: Make a calendar and track the days. What are other NPCs and factions up to while the players are adventuring? What holidays are NPCs celebrating? What threats are growing closer?
The GM carries the flag for a successful game. I understand that I hold the line for the schedule, the pace, the difficulty, and the clarity of the game. Together we can write epic stories, exciting encounters, and memorable endeavors. I most enjoy running an open sandbox-style campaign where players are allowed to explore a collaboratively created world full of fantastic and memorable locations and personalities. Your characters make their mark on the world and it certainly leaves its mark on them.
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