My Advice For First Time GMs

I was bit bummed yesterday. Things are not great in my country right now and someone I knew seemed to get the worst of it this week, and I haven’t done much of anything except playing a bit of Minecraft to try and empty my thoughts. I didn’t come here because I really, really, don’t want to end up writing about that. Since the thing that actually worked to distract me from how much the world sucks was chatting to Doomed about RP stuff I decided that, for the sake of keeping this blog active, I’m going to write a little something about RPing. Because you know what… RPing makes me happy and I need that right about now. ^^”

I’ve been looking back on my roleplay material for a few days while copying it from Roleplay Gateway and… Well… I realize I’ve come to a point where GMing a roleplay is not something I find at all intimidating, but I remember; vividly, how terrifying it felt to get started. It did. If you look at the OOC forum from SOE and compare my behavior to say, mid-SOP, or SOF, you’ll see my level of batshit crazy excitement was toned down a few hundred notches. And that’s because me being ‘excited’ on SOE was actually me panicking. A LOT. It took quite a lot of time for that panicky feeling to go away entirely and as I said; the memory is still very fresh in my mind. For that reason I came up with some advice I wish someone had given me back then. Maybe it’ll help someone somewhere.

Be Fearless

I know this sounds like one of those ‘easier said than done’ advices that just makes you roll your eyes and groan in frustration, but bear with me. GMing is a lot of responsibility and it’s a bit of a gamble considering about 90% of roleplays tend to wither and die rather quickly. Putting effort into something like this may turn out to be a waste of energy in the end. I believe, personally, there’s nothing more painful for a writer than pouring their heart and soul into a story only to realize it’s not really going anywhere. I think that in collaborative writing or on our own we all go through that in some way. It sucks. And there’s a great chance that’s how your GMing experience will end.

That’s something you should know BEFORE starting a roleplay; not because you shouldn’t do it, or because you need to be ABSOLUTELY sure. No. It’s because you need to let the fact sink in… The worst thing that can happen is the RP will die. It’ll suck and you’ll possibly feel like a failure for a little bit, but you know… And I say this with almost five years and countless sleepless nights of obsessive plotting to back me… It’s only a game. If you go in for the very first time knowing that hey, it’s okay if you mess up here and there, you won’t be afraid to throw your most insane ideas into a story and watch them go ‘boom’. That’s important. Because a RP, like I said, is a game. First and foremost it needs to be fun. It needs to be interesting. The moment it stops being fun and becomes stress… It’s time to pack up and go home. That goes for you and your players alike.

Be Open/Be Flexible

This isn’t just your story. That’s a notion a lot of people in the roleplaying community need to drill deep into their brains in my opinion. GMs especially. I understand being possessive over a world or a story, but at the same time trying to control everything is the easiest way to alienate your players. This is something comes easy to me, I love ideas, and I don’t make very strict plans… Ever, but I do understand that some GMs think of everything before starting a RP. That’s not a bad  thing either as long as you don’t mind adapting those plans. Because putting a lot of creative minds in one project is a recipe for either awesome or a clusterfuck… Or both, if you’re as lucky as I am.

At the end of SOE, I’d grown very attached to Valcrest. That little mess of a country was my baby and so I had a lot of little ideas of how it was going to evolve during the course of SOP. None of that happened like I planned. None. Zero. Nada. Yet it was that roleplay that defined Valcrest’s ‘personality’ so to speak. Valcrest became its own living breathing entity during SOP and none of that would have happened with my ideas alone. From the whole of the country’s mythology to everyday expressions, I could make the longest list I’ve ever made in my life containing every little bit of awesome in that world that I had very little or absolutely no involvement in. Those things took the story and the world places I could have never imagined, and therefore could never have achieved on my own.

Being willing to accommodate ideas is only half the work though. The most important thing is to be open, approachable, to players coming to you with ideas. That is making it absolutely clear from the start that they are more than welcome to pitch in, because a lot of players will be hesitant to approach a GM with plot or world building ideas right when first joining or starting a roleplay. They don’t know what kind of writer you are, and they don’t know how you’ll react to them wanting to have a say in ‘your vision’. Encouraging players to become more involved in the creation of the RP is important. Not only for how much they can contribute but also because it leads to them becoming as invested as you in moving the story forward and seeing the roleplay succeed.

Be Present

RPG has a unique tab system for roleplays. Its a very nifty little concept really. The RP has its own page with different tabs for the Introduction, Characters, Locations, Activity, and so on… When you create one of these Roleplays it also starts an OOC thread in the forums automatically and it gives an automated message along the lines of “This is the auto-generated OOC topic for the roleplay ‘Insert Name Here’.  You may edit this first post as you see fit.” And one thing I noticed is that most GMs never do edit that post. In the middle of SOP one of my players asked me to look at her RP and give suggestions. I didn’t consider myself all that savvy at the time, but I complied. The first advice I gave her was to edit that goddamn post. Otherwise possible players might think that the GM of that RP just didn’t care enough to post a simple welcome message.

Being a constant presence OOC, answering to private messages and just keeping an eye on your players to make sure no one’s having trouble fitting in or getting their character involved is very important. It is, in my opinion, the most important part of GMing a roleplay. And the most time consuming.

During most of SOP I had up to 10 PMs in line to be answered at any given moment and it took me some time, but I made sure to read carefully and answer all of them.

And that’s why you should also…

Start Small and Work Your Way Up To Epic

Make your first roleplay something simple and aim for a group of no more than five players including yourself. If I had started off with something as big and complicated as SOP, or God forbid SOF, I would have gone insane. I was not ready for that amount of responsibility and work. SOE was tiny and had a simple ‘there’s a killer; we need to go get him’ type of plot. While SOF has a sort of ‘everybody’s evil and we’re all gonna die omg omg omg’ type of… Feels weird to call it a plot when I say it like that, but yeah; plot.

Something like this would be inconceivable for me if I hadn’t earned the experience of SOE and SOP. I would have failed REALLY hard in attempting to keep such a confusing mess of convoluted schemes running without losing my mind. And I don’t encourage anyone to attempt it either. o.O

Be The Motherf*cking GM!

Be open, be flexible, be your players’ best friend if you can (*waves* loves ya Wifey), but don’t forget you still have the final say in everything and just as you need to be open to your players’ ideas, they need to be open to the possibility of you saying no if you think they’re too much. And trust, the more you like them the more difficult it’ll be to deny some players their fun, Still, it’s important to be firm about some things because… Well… Ideas can get out of control really, really, really, fast.

To give an example of where I failed  to do this. In SOP, just after we created and published Valcrest’s Mythology Thread, we had two players cause direct interference by the Gods in the story’s events. Something me and Doomed had explicitly said wasn’t allowed because the Gods were not indisputably real entities in Valcrest and having them interfere would make them real, which killed the whole point of what we hoped to accomplish with the Myths. The first interference we could easily rectify as being a dream by the character, but the second one… Oh boy… That took a lot of headaches and generated a mess that was only entirely cleaned in SOF.

Doomed got the worst of the clean up I’m afraid (the perks of having a Co-GM; more on that later), but still I wasn’t happy with myself for not having it in me to just have the player delete the post he made in the first place. All of that mess would have been avoided if I hadn’t tried to accommodate an idea that I knew didn’t quite fit in with the whole of the story. If something like that were to happen now I would have never allowed it to go that far. That was important learning process for me, but you don’t have to suffer through a situation like that. Just tell yourself; “I’m the motherfucking GM in this thing!” and in the wise words of a certain Lady; go with your gut. If an idea doesn’t quite feel right and you’re reluctant to say yes… Don’t go through with it.

Co-GMs Are The Greatest (but know how to pick them!)

SOE was supposed to have a Co-GM, it didn’t quite work out. The player who was supposed to be my partner in that endeavor nodded me along the basic creative process and then, after a few posts, dropped off the face of the Earth forever as far as I’m concerned. I moved on with the story and… Around the middle of that ‘almost failure’ of a RP I can certainly say I found my RP soulmate. And I’d be worried about that sounding creepy, but you know… I think we’re way past that at this point. lol

I’ve had secondary Co-GMs on both SOP and SOF, and they have been just as helpful in keeping things nice and tidy, but Doomed is the guy I’ve put in the same level of authority as me. And I like to stress the fact that I feel lucky that he joined my RP to begin with, because I consider finding a writing partner that you have a certain level of affinity with to be a matter of… Fate, really. That’s why I don’t advise picking someone you’ve never written with before as a Co-GM. Don’t scout the forums asking for someone willing to GM an RP with you as though it was a matter of interviewing someone for a job. My take on Co-GMing is that you choose the person you consider to be the internet equivalent of that friend you feel comfortable leaving alone in your room while you’re out of the house. What I mean by that is, consider that a Co-GM needs to be someone you’d trust to run things on their own in case you need to step aside for some time. We all have personal things that happen that get in the way of writing one way or another. If you can’t trust your Co-GM to pick up the slack in those moments, then there’s really no point in having one.

Now, as far as chemistry goes, I was incredibly lucky with almost all my players over the course of these RPs, but that’s not all it takes. You also need someone willing to share the workload and who is just as enthusiastic as you are about brainstorming and bringing new things to the mix. It also helps if they’re a bit of a sadist, especially if you have a tendency for being too nice (not my case). I mean, you have to tort-, eh… Challenge your players after all, and the longer a roleplay runs the more you need to up the stakes.

Keep The Spark Alive

Your RP will live for as long as you remain interested and invested. I think the main reason the Shadows Series lived as long as it has it’s because we still have so much fun with it. Both planning and writing. I mean, we’re moving the story at a sluggish pace at the moment and that’s something that usually kills RPs dead. An yet, not only are we still invested, but we’re planning ahead with the same level of excitement we did at the beginning, if not more.

Brand New Toy

Here’s us planning for the next RP, just to illustrate my point a bit.

There are better examples, but the above section is the most spoiler free one I could find. It serves a purpose though, as you can see we still have a good bit of excitement left for future fictional lives we may destroy in the future.

Don’t Fear The Reaper

I can’t stress this enough… If it stops being fun it’s time to pack up and go home. There’s nothing wrong with closing or leaving a roleplay ‘just because’ you don’t enjoy it anymore. Enjoyment is the whole purpose of roleplaying. It’s a game. Of course, if you’re running a roleplay with active players the considerate thing to do is try to find a way to keep it running without you, but if you’re not willing to pass the GMing rights to someone else, well… There’s nothing else that can be done about that. Maybe some players will take it badly, but most likely they’ll understand. After all, stuff happens.

Now, our little group… We joked often about how we’ll still be writing together when we’re in our fifties and you know, if it’s up to me; we sure as hell will. Because it’s fun. It makes me happy. And aside from the occasional fictional character… It hurts no one.

We may be writing together indefinitely (or we may not; we don’t know what the future holds), but the Shadows Series is about to see its end. It was very clear from the start of SOF that we couldn’t keep these characters’ story going on indefinitely. If we kept going, we were going to have to do something new in some way and so I decided that I was either going to fast forward some years past everyone’s expiration date and expand on this existing world with new characters ooor, do something entirely apart from Valcrest.

Well, as it turns out, I’m not ready to let Valcrest go just yet. It still feels like it has stories to be told, but for my characters… SOF is where we part ways. Officially anyways. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to stop writing these guys on the side. After all… They never shut up. >.>

And well, that was my two cents when it comes to being a GM and running a roleplay. It’s not supposed to be a guide or tutorial, but rather some friendly advice. Hopefully it’ll be useful to someone and… Thanks for letting me ramble on about this to take my mind off of stuff. You guys are awesome. 😉



2 thoughts on “My Advice For First Time GMs

  1. Pingback: Valuable Lessons About Writing (I Learned As a Roleplayer) | Blackbird's Nest

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