First Time GM Tips? (Tabletop- 5e) - Myth-Weavers

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First Time GM Tips? (Tabletop- 5e)

First Time GM Tips? (Tabletop- 5e)

Hey Weavers,

I've been a player here for a long time- taken a sabbatical then come back to play some more. I used to play tabletop in high school, but only as a player. I've gotten together a group of willing ladies to play in an all-girl game with me as the DM. I am imploring you wise GMs for advice, first-timer tips, good ideas for table rules and how to explain things and keep things interesting for players who are completely new to tabletop games. We are playing the Lost Mine of Phandelver to start so any specific tips on this campaign are also welcome!

Congrats! Always great to see another graduating to GM.

#1 rule is have fun.
#2 the rules in the book are there to promote rule 1. If the rules in the book don't promote rule 1, change them.

You've taken the big step and gotten a group together. You will make mistakes. You will run into situations that you don't know what the rules in the book are. Make up whatever seems to make sense, look it up later, and decide which is a better rule.

You don't need to explain everything before you start to play. Start to play, and as things come up, you can explain how things work. "OK, at this time, we're going to roll initiative to see who goes first in combat. You roll the d20 and add your Initiative bonus to it, which most likely is your Dexterity bonus."

Before you ask your players to roll the dice, ask yourself why. If it is just to roll dice, handwave it. If there is no cost of failure, there is no need to roll.

Remember that not every situation needs to be handled with fighting. If your players opt to negotiate or talk, let them.

Read up on what will happen in the next chapter of the story. If the next Chapter has...mind up on mind flayers and their abilities.

Don't want to overwhelm you. I am sure others will chime in. The BIGGEST thing is everyone should have fun. Do just that and take your time. Make things up that you don't know. And PLEASE, come back here occasionally and let us know how things are going.

Tattered covers all the major bases, so I'll chime in with my own bit.

-Make sure you understand the basics of your system, more so than your players. It's okay not to know all the nitty-gritty detailed rules or corner case rules, but you should know how the basics are supposed to play out.

-Don't plan too detailed. More than anything, players are incredibly great at completely and utterly ignoring any plans you've come up with. Be ready to adapt and improvise. I always recommend planning 'loosely' - nothing concrete to avoid being caught with your pants down when the players throw you a curve.

-Any content, encounters, and/or plans can be recycled if you don't use them. If the aforementioned derailing occurs, you can re-use those ideas down the line. You'll have to re-flavor as needed, more often than not, but you don't have to scrap your plans all together.

-Take breaks when you need to. If you don't know how to proceed and need a few minutes to think, take a break. This is also ideal when the group needs to break for bathroom, drinks, snacks, or smokes. It's okay to need a few minutes to plot and scheme anew.

That about covers my advice, I think.

Oh, here's another.

Learn stalling tactics. One thing I have done is plan a handful of 'random' encounters to drop into a session to stall until the end of the night. That gives me until the next week to plan.

Originally Posted by TatteredKing View Post
Oh, here's another.

Learn stalling tactics. One thing I have done is plan a handful of 'random' encounters to drop into a session to stall until the end of the night. That gives me until the next week to plan.

Great advices have been given, I heartfully agree with all of them. What can I add?

* Give a voice to your NPCs. I mean that litteraly. You don't need to have Critical Role-level voice actor skills, but setting a particular tone, a few mannerisms of speaking, fleshes out a character way faster and more effectively than any long description you will make. Plus, it's awfully fun.

* Learn from the best you know. You've been a player for years, that means you've have experiences with various GMs already. You probably had a better time with some more than others. Ask yourself who, and why, and what you can try to replicate or emulate, based on what made you tick when you were on that side of the board.

* While you have the upper hand as the GM, don't hesitate to ask your players, in between sessions, what they thought of what you did, what they liked, what they'd want next or see emphasized. If all your players aren't new to this, if by any chance one of them even has more experience, knows the mechanical rules better than you do, there's no shame in leaning a bit on her, including during the game.

* Don't despair if you're not immediately as great as a GM as you'd wish to be. We're all newbies at some point.

Speaking of that, already written scenarios are convenient especially when you begin (I guess we're a lot who started with that), but in case you'd feel the limits of the exercise over time, here's two more advices, for the same price. They're more aimed at GMs writing their own adventures, although I guess some parts of it may apply there too.
* Vary your pleasures. Investigation, social interactions and atmosphere; exploration and "dungeoneering"; fight and dices rolling... There are different possible aspects in roleplay and in a campaign, and not everyone enjoys the same ones the same way at the same time. Don't hesitate to put a stress on what you like the most; but don't stay stuck on it excluding everything else: one single tone going on forever isn't music, it's noise. If all is going well, your tastes and your players' tastes should be reasonably aligned, but even then, few people like to eat their favourite meal twenty times in a row. Be it during a session or from one to another, try to devote time to different types of play.

* "Railroaded" scenarios are the easier to prepare, but demand skills to prevent the players to feel constricted in roles they didn't script, whose choices do not really matter. "Sandbox" scenarios, on the other hand —where you define in your notes the playground, the stakes, the NPCs, what would happen if no one interferes... and then drop the PCs in the middle of all that with the freedom to act as they see fit—, are certainly more immersive and tend to be more rewarding for the players, but they suppose a tremendous amount of upstream work and preparation, a good part of which will probably never serve (this is where Yamazaki's advice about recycling comes handy...!). Once again, try to keep a balance between the two approaches during different phases of your game.

Have fun, and as the Tattered King said, please keep us informed of your adventures.

Thank you all for the wonderful advice!! My group will be meeting for the first time tomorrow- just a planning meeting so far to get to know each other, chat about what we're interested in and explain the basics of the game. Any DND ice breaker ideas?

Honestly D&D 5e, Dungeon Master Guide is one of the best DMG ever released. It is actually so good, that all the advice applies to multiple games of different genres. I'd really recommend trying to get your hands on it.

But anyway besides that, just have a strong start. Think of it like a movie or new tv show, while many DM falls into the trap of talking about 1000 years worth of history, most of the time, your players don't care about it. Essentially you are trying to hook your players in. Starting with combat is often easy and grab all your players attention really quick.

Festival of pig? Have a dire boar shows up.
A wedding? have some wedding crashers show up.
The sky turns dark because of an eclipse? have nocturnal creatures show up.

etc...then go from there.

For what it's worth, my advice for being a GM can be summarized in one simple phrase: find a way to say yes.

If your players want to try it, let them try it. Sure, it might kill them, but that's what rolling up new PCs is for. At the end of the day, the most important thing for you to do as a GM is to make the players feel like they have complete agency in your world and can literally try anything.

Find a way to say yes.

Chiming in a bit late here, I suppose, but here's my two cents:

Immersion. I find that the more work I, as GM, put into immersive details, the more everyone has a better time. When they're drawn into the world and the scenario before them, they are also drawn more into their character. You can increase immersion in a lot of ways, some more painstaking than others depending on your available time between sessions.

Having the right music and lighting can go a long way toward setting the mood for the scenario. Don't be afraid to get dramatic. Someone above already mentioned giving your NPCs voices, and giving your locations soundtracks is just an extension of the same idea.

Play aids like tokens and maps can also help a lot. This isn't to say you can't have a good time with a hand-drawn marker map, using colored rocks as tokens. You absolutely can. But if you have the time to go the extra mile and provide an actual map, or miniatures that at least resemble the character being played, it just goes another step toward drawing the players in. A brief personal anecdote here: I once was running a game where the players were in a gladiatorial arena and there was an elaborate scaffolding setup and an athletic competition in addition to the combat. Running it with tokens for elevation and a hand-drawn map would have been fine, but I wanted to get them into the fun of jumping around on the platforms, so I put together a series of stand-up cardstock-and-tongue-depressor platforms that would hold their minis. I didn't get so elaborate as to color it or print it with images of wooden posts, it was just plain white cardstock printed with 1-inch squares... but the immersion it provided for my players, being able to actually see the three-dimensional platforms and move their miniatures around, led to a much more dynamic and interesting session.

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