Confessions of an RPG Nerd, Part 5

So, you want to be a god….

Congratulations!  You now know what an RPG is, some terminology, what genre you want to play, and how crunchy of a system you want to use.  Let me walk you over to the scary cliff known as…GMimg.

Every GM I have ever known has confessed this little tidbit: they were TERRIFIED the first time they ran a game.  My first game was a module for the (at the time soon to be released) game of Earthdawn.  Who would have thought that three little pamphlets of no more than 20 pages total could have me quaking in my boots?  My friends were totally prepared to be kind and gentle to me, and we all ended up having a great time.  With a little advice, you can have a lot of fun too.

  • First, you do not have to be Matthew Mercer, Matt Colville, or Wil Wheaton in your presentation.  Just stop watching their YouTube videos.  The voices they do are cool and they look so organized, but that is so not reality.  Ad-libbing is hard to do at first, unless you are a natural born actor.  Don’t worry if you pull out a premade module and read the parts that it tells you to.  My voice shook so much, and I felt like a gibbering idiot.  Just take your time, breathe, and go with what feels natural.
  • Second, do a little prep.  If you have chosen to use a Quickstart module (which I highly recommend) or some other prepared module, read it through at least three times.  Why three?  The first read through is just to get the gist of the module.  The second is to go back and find the stuff you don’t understand so you can get it clarified through the rules or online.  The third time is so you can highlight text and add notes to make life easier on yourself when you run the session.  If you are brave enough to be running something you wrote on your own, then have a list of important people (with stat blocks), plot points, and photocopies of monsters.  There is nothing worse than having to look up a monster’s abilities in the middle of a combat.
  • Third, take notes.  This can be done during the session or after the session is done.  It will help you keep track of what happened, the people the players met, treasure they acquired (assuming they wrote it down on their sheet), and odd things that happened.  I also highlight things my players did that could come back to haunt them, and things that players have said that could turn into a cool encounter or plot point.  I don’t know how many times players have said something that I ended up turning into a major crux of my campaign.  Once, I used a Two Page Mini Delve (found out on, and one of the treasures in the module was a key.  One of the players became totally obsessed with finding out what the key was for that I ended up making finding 12 keys and the item they went to the whole goal of the campaign.
  • Fourth, remember you are in charge.  Some players will try to challenge everything you say so they can get what they want.  They will find little nitpicky things in the rules, or find some obscure thing on the internet that they want to try.  IT IS YOUR CHOICE.  If you don’t want to allow stuff from the internet, tell your players that.  If you don’t want to stop the action to debate a rule, just make a ruling for the moment and then hash it out after the session is over.  You don’t have to make them follow the module closely, but you don’t have to let them do crazy stuff without consequences.  Now, sometimes they will do things that derail the planned module events, but are super cool.  In my adult library group, I had 2 combats planned for a session.  They talked their way out of the first combat, and then killed the big bad guy after he gave his big speech (or monologued) with a couple lucky rolls and got his henchmen to work for them instead.

It seems scary, but you will have a great time.  Just let your players know that this is your first time GMing, and ask them to be kind.  Most gamers will cut you some slack because they are grateful that someone is willing to run a game.  Take a breath and relax.  You’ve got this. 

What questions do you have about GMing?

Christine Martin-Resotko is a Library Assistant with the Mason Branch of the
Capital Area District Libraries in Michigan. She has been a lifelong nerd, starting
when she saw Star Wars at the age of 5. She started playing RPGs when she was
in college, and within 4 years was invited by a gaming company to run their game
at GenCon, the biggest gaming convention in the country. She has run games in
over a dozen systems, and personally owns more than 30 game systems at this
time. Christine created the CADL Adventurers Club for her library system, which
encompasses a teen chapter at her branch which she runs and adult and kids
chapters at another branch that she assists with. Christine has a B.S. in
Anthropology from Michigan State University. She lives with her husband, son,
and their crazy cat.

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