Now Available: How to Gamemaster (Director’s Cut)

My first experience with tabletop roleplaying games was as the gamemaster. The year was 1979, and my friends and I had pooled our money to buy the Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set. None of us had ever played before. There was no one else to run for us or teach us how things were supposed to work. I read the rules and made up some characters, but I had no idea what I was supposed to do. After picking some monsters that looked cool to fight and drawing a rudimentary map, I made it up as I went along. The game was a lot of fun, but it took a while before I felt like I knew what I was doing.

The Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Masters Guide was available, and that was the first roleplaying book I ever bought for myself. While packed with information, it didn’t show me how to run the game. Most of my friends loved playing, so they were patient with me as I stumbled along and figured things out. A few quit because my stilted, faltering style as a baby gamemaster understandably put them off. They blamed the complexity of the system rather than my lack of experience, but I knew the truth. I just wasn’t particularly good at running games early on.

My friends and I persevered and always managed to have fun despite my clumsiness. Years passed before I honestly thought I was any good. When I got the chance to be a player in other groups, I was finally able to pick the brains of other gamemasters and witness how they did things. As I began to experience more games, I learned more about running games effectively.

At this point, I’ve been running tabletop roleplaying games for decades. I’ve run long campaigns using several systems. There have been dozens of one-shots, run only to try out different games. My experience encompasses a range of styles, game design philosophies, and approaches to what roleplaying is or could be.

If I’d had a book to show me what to do, I wouldn’t have spent so much time figuring things out on my own. I could have been sharpening other skills rather than sorting out the fundamentals. That’s why I wrote this system-neutral How to Gamemaster. I wanted to create the how-to manual I wish I’d had over 40 years ago.

Experienced gamemasters might find this basic to which I say: exactly. You’ll still find helpful tips, bits of wisdom, or reminders of why you do things a particular way. New gamemasters, welcome. I wrote this for you. I’m hoping to spare you some of the awkwardness and discomfort I’ve suffered over the decades. No matter what system, setting, or genre you want to run, the information here should help you with the fundamentals of running a game.

This book includes:

  • Being the Gamemaster: Everything you need to know about your job as the gamemaster, the roles of players, organizing your game group, and handling the most common out-of-character situations.
  • What You Need to Play: Materials required to run a tabletop roleplaying game. Optional items and props to enhance the experience if you choose to use them.
  • Understanding Players: A look at different types of players and what they are looking for in a tabletop roleplaying game. This chapter covers things groups contribute and challenges they can present.
  • Preparation: Gamemasters can spend a lot of time preparing to run a game. This section covers what is essential to do, what is nice to have, and how to make things up on the fly.
  • Session Zero: The first session of the game, where the players get to know each other. This session is where you set expectations, ensure everyone is comfortable, and lay essential groundwork.
  • Running a Game Session: From preparing an adventure to handling unforeseen problems that arise during play, everything you need to know to gamemaster any tabletop roleplaying game.
  • Being Human: Everyone makes mistakes. This section covers how to fail fast and fail forward, correct bad rulings, deal with problem players, and just let yourself be an imperfect human being.
  • Teaching New Players: A significant part of the gamemaster’s job is educating new players about the game system. It extends to the setting and the rules and boundaries established within the group.
  • Glossary: This section presents a selection of the most commonly used words and phrases found in tabletop roleplaying games. Most games utilize some variation of these terms and concepts.

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