The First Time GM

Sending your PC into hordes of rampaging monsters: easily done without a second thought.

Wielding Magic that has the potential to tear worlds apart: Sure, what is the worst that could happen?

Stepping behind the screen and GMing a session: Terror has never been so real.

It’s a scenario I’ve seen over and over again: a player wants to become gm, but they don’t know where to start. Either that, or they are so intimidated by the prospect that they stay away from it indefinitely. The idea seems staggering. So much power! So much responsibility!

I swear, y’all. It’s really not that bad. The absolute worst thing that can happen is your first game isn’t perfect. No lives hang in the balance. There will be no long lasting repercussions. Chances are, you’ll likely do better than you thought you would. You might even have fun.

I have a little saying I must remind myself of often: “You have to be okay with sucking.” Those words have gotten me into all kinds of interests in life. Look, chances are you’re not a prodigy. Most people aren’t. You’ll likely only get better through practice, and part of that is being okay with not being the greatest or possibly even good.

There might be self deprecating thoughts that rear their ugly heads to make you feel shameful and bad. Don’t ignore them, just put them in their proper place. Just ask yourself, what can you do better next time? Realize that to do well, you’ll continue to ask yourself that question for the rest of your life. Those thoughts aren’t as big as they want you to think they are.

Crushing self doubt aside, it will honestly probably even be fun. Isn’t that the point? Whatever else happens, you are getting together with your friends to tell stories and roll dice.  RPGs are still entertaining on the other side of that screen. For some people, it’s even more fun when you’re moving entire worlds and crafting epics for the other players. Remember, you’re still going to be playing a game.

You got this. It is not as bad as you fear it might be.

Pep talk aside, lets talk about the practical. How do you start? Well, my theory for starting anything new is start small. Savor the first bits of it. Give each part its due rather than speeding along to the next. You don’t have to create an entire campaign world complete with 50 NPCs and 30 side quests right off the bat. A handful of goblins will likely do.

Whenever I start a new system, I like to run a published scenario.  This helps in a few ways. First, it’s going to take a huge chunk of planning off your plate and free you up to concentrate more on running the adventure itself. Extra attention can be put toward things like mechanics and interacting with your players.

Secondly, you get to see how others organize their thoughts when it comes to running an adventure. When you do get around to writing your own scenario, you’ll have a format you can steal. How did the scenario divide up its different sections? What did its pacing feel like? How did it organize its maps? You don’t have to worry about these things now, but you have a great resource for the future. After you run it, you’ll know what you liked and didn’t like about it as well. Both of those are equally important if you want to find your own style.

There are plenty of beginner scenarios out there for most any system you’re interested in. I don’t have too much advice for picking between them other than go with what you think looks cool. If it intrigues you, do it. If it ends up being a bad scenario, that’s not on you. Your players will understand.

Just because you bought a published scenario doesn’t mean there is a lack of prep to attend to, however. Read that thing all the way through. It’s good to know where the entire story is going to end up. Then, reread the parts you think will happen during the first session. Don’t be afraid to take notes or mark pages. The more of this you do, the more prepared you feel. It’ll lend you greater confidence when it comes time to actually run the game

If you’ve gotten this far, I’m going to let you in on one of my biggest secrets. I’ve told this to pretty much every first time GM who has asked me for advice. It is simple, but oh so true.

The player’s don’t know what is supposed to happen.

That’s right. It is hard to really screw up because the players have no idea where this story is “supposed” to go. If you are reacting to what they are throwing your way, you can really do no wrong. If they were supposed to slay the ogre but ended up making friends with it instead, so what? They don’t know that. You put them in the driver seat and that is where they took you. That is a success. They had no idea what was actually intended.

Which brings us to the next point: it’s not solely your job to drive the action. Let the players do that as much as possible. Your job is to react and move things along when needed. If a player character wants to do something, don’t say no; let them roll for it! You can make it exceedingly difficult, but give them a chance. If they succeed, it might mean you have to change plans. It’s easy to get locked into a single outcome in your head. If it suddenly doesn’t work for the story, throw it away.

If the players have stalled out, that is when you step in. Remind them where they were going. Throw an encounter at them, social or combative. If they aren’t latching onto the clues, give them another one that is more blatant. If you have to spell it out, so be it. If worse comes to worse, throwing a fight at them gives you more time to plan what your next move is.

Okay, lets sum this all up:

  • Nothing horrible is going to happen.
  • You’re playing a game, and games are fun.
  • Be okay with sucking. It’s how you get better.
  • Grab a prepared scenario, and take some work off your plate.
  • The players don’t know what’s supposed to happen.
  • Let the characters tell the story as much as possible.
  • Have fun. You’re doing great.
  • I think you look great doing it too.


Questions? Let me know. I’m more than happy to share some thoughts. Ultimately, you got this and you’re only going to get better.


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Digging in the Sand

Bones. So many bones. How many people have been buried here?

You find a rusty long sword and a small, golden vulture head worth 250 gp.

Red Sand

The sand here on the edge of the sacrificial ground is loose and looks recently churned.

Vulture Priest

The Vulture Priests are the enemy of knowledge and enlightenment. They seek to bring the eternal silence, the end of all things. Decay and obedience is their only god.

Armor Class 6 [13]
Hit Dice 1 (4hp)
Attacks 1 × Beak (1d4 or by weapon)
THAC0 19 [0]
Movement 120’ (40’)
Saving Throws D12 W13 P14 B15 S16 (1)
Morale 8 (11 when at their temple)
Alignment Lawful
XP 10 
Number Appearing 2d4 (1d6 × 10)
Treasure Type D
Immune to the Divine: The spells and powers of clerics and paladins have no effect on them.
Weapons: They frequently use wickedly curved daggers, which they use for sacrificial purposes.
Soul Clouders: There is a 10% chance that any Vulture Priest can use the sleep spell once per day. The targets are still awake, but they are beset by such a deep depression that it has the same effect as sleep. They may only watch what unfurls around them.