What are the biggest mistakes a newbie GM can make?
I've played with GMs who I had bad experiences with, but I've never had to see the game from their side of the table so its hard to make judgement calls on where they went wrong. As an up-and-coming first time GM, what are the biggest mistakes to avoid? What are the worst experiences you've had with GMs or as GMs, and how could they have been avoided in your opinion?
One common early GM mistake is to have a simple solution to every problem they throw at the players, and then when the players figure out an alternative solution, they just go arbitrarily go "nope, you can't do that", for no real reason.
See also "you all wake up in a cell", and then there's two hours of the players trying to figure out the exact solution the GM came up with, and the GM throwing a fit whenever the players try to do things a different way.
This has happened like trice with new GMs I've played with.
There's a famous quote that I can't find, something along the lines of every young author writing themselves into their stories as either god or the devil.
That's basically the biggest newbie mistake; making a character or a setting or a storyline that you feel is too cool to let the players destroy. I have been guilty of it myself, and would say >90% of DM fuckery has that at the root.
Lack of preparation.
Too much preparation.
Not wanting to throw out preparation when players do something unexpected that is completely in character.
Telling players to make a roll when the plot depends on the roll going a specific way. For example, having players make an awareness test to overhear a conversation that the plot requires them to hear. Either make players automatically pass the roll or have a plan for them to come across the information in a different way should they all fail.
Running an investigation plotline without having read this:
Be unwilling to learn or adjust.
It's all well and good to know your own limitations, keep good boundaries and be able to say "No, sorry" to players when it's absolutely necessary.
But if a player wants to do a thing and it's not in spite of the game, do your best to find a way to make that happen in a way you're comfortable with.
Have stories and stuff ready that tie into the motivations of the characters (Character A is greedy? Offer cash reward, Character B has a little sister? Try to play on that character's empathy), offering nothing (whether benefit or penalty for failure to act) will net you no action from the group.
Lastly, ask for feedback. Every session. You often get nothing of use from your players, and that usually means you're doing good. But ask, let them know that you just want to make the game more fun all around, so even complaints are welcome.
First and foremost, don't overprepare. That means mainly two things:
1. Don't build a road, build gas stations. If the advancement of your story depends on the PCs doing something specific (no matter how surefire it seems that they would do this thing), DON'T. You'll only end up with either a stalled game or a bunch of now useless plot. Your story should be less of a line and more of a bunch of hypethetical scenarios that can be moved around in time and location. If zombie infestation is in town B but the Players go to town A, then the zombie infestation should be in town A instead.
2. Don't waste time building shit the PCs won't see. If you're a biologist and you have the ecosystem of your world down to the letter, it won't mean jack shit if your PCs want to sit in the city. Make main points of interest and build around where the PCs want to go.
Also, DON'T MAKE A DMPC. If you think that you'll just add in a character that you control to balance encounters or some horseshit; shut the fuck up and stop. DMPCs never work well, they're either dead eyes and dead weight or flashy spotlight hogs. Maybe SOMEDAY you'll make a DMPC that isn't complete shit, but do not make one now.
1. Thinking you're smart enough to DM well.
2. Thinking you're smart enough to invent a setting.
3. Thinking anyone will ever like your setiting.
4. Being defensive about your shitty setting.
5. Having retarded notions about "rairoading" and "player agency" ingrained in your idiot mind by /tg/.
6. Thinking you're capable of improv.
7. Thinking that a good session can come from not planning and just improv'ing everything.
Trying to tell a story. If you're a GM, you don't tell a story. That's the job of a writer or storyteller. You set up a situation, and the story flows from the actions of your players in a situation. Sometimes you predict the outcome well, and other times it goes completely sideways and upside-down from where you thought they were going to go. Just run with it, because the minute you get mad because the players aren't following your story, you're in Bad GM territory.
> If you think that you'll just add in a character that you control to balance encounters or some horseshit; shut the fuck up and stop. DMPCs never work well, they're either dead eyes and dead weight or flashy spotlight hogs. Maybe SOMEDAY you'll make a DMPC that isn't complete shit, but do not make one now.
NPC's that hang around to help a party out are generally fine. But you have to design them to be background NPC's. Banner wavers or buffers that don't do much direct damage but boost the players, healers to patch up parties that don't have one, a knowledgeable guy the party can turn to because all of them are combat meatslabs with nary a knowledge skill between them, etc. Shoring up holes in the party or giving them some recurring or even in-party NPC support is fine. Just remember that your NPC is a non-player character. As the DM you don't get to be a player, so don't try as it will end with a DMPC and it'll be terrible. Just let your NPC's aid your party and don't hesitate to have them leave, killed, or used like every other prop and tool in your bag to set up interesting stories and situations for your party to react to.
Holy fuck this happened but it was a seasoned gm. Two players had abilities to get us out of the cell, but they never pay attention to what their characters can do (gm always helps them make characters). So hours later after trying every jailbreak trope in the book and some new ones (that could have worked and moved the game along) the gm just starts a prison riot to get us out.
Never reveal anything that you aren't willing to see destroyed instantly. Your PCs will always surprise you and manage to somehow undo everything you've prepared, no matter how many precautions you take.
1. Putting in NPCs that are not-so-subtly a reason for them to have a boner while they GM
2. Forcing character development upon PC(s) by manipulating events to traumatize them
3. Throwing Save-Or-Die encounters at low levels, or straight in the beginning parts of the campaign.
4. Thinking the campaign is all about your efforts put into telling your original story to the players, aka force people on the ride and not let them have fun/engage
I'm a pretty new GM myself, just going to spew stuff I've learned.
Your players will latch on to the most random things you say. If you say the word "library" they will go to it and read every single book they can get their hands on. Even if you had no intention of having them go to the library, or if the damn thing was days away. This applies to other significant structures as well.
Your players are trying to win. Don't try to make their lives miserable, but know that your encounters can be tough but still easily doable.
Force your players to have backstories, flaws, and ideals. They're great for sessions when you want to force them into decisions, and they make it easy to create villains they will want to kill. Racism is your friend.
If they decide to work for the BBEG, you better be ready to let them.
NEVER assume it is a GM vs player game. It ISNT. You are NOT there to kill them just for lels. You are there to tell the story and send them against challenges. Some may die, sure. But that's part of any epic story. But NEVER assume its a versus game.
If a mechanic is getting in the way of the story, fudge it. The story is more important than pure dice play. Rules can be discarded. Never rely too much on one NPC to drive the story, because if a murderhobo rogue decides to kill him (fuck you Trevor), then the plot could get ruined. So have a basic backup.
Be willing to listen to your players OOC as to where they think the plot may go. They may have better ideas than you did! Write and revise as you go, just make sure it is consistent.
Keep groups of 4 plus or minus one. Seriously, party size creep sucks really bad.
Never give them permanent NPCs. I just ban followers in 3.5 outright. I am not tracking your 70 random peasant mob for you. What I mean specifically is never make them permanent party editions. They can be frequent for quests relevant to their arcs, but they don't travel permanently with the party.
For a low level campaign it is perfectly acceptable to just say "now you are level 3" without calculating XP and stuff. Most XP penalties come at super high levels anyway once you start casting miracle or wish or dimension door stuff.
Try to make sure people have to use more than just one skill. If you are a fighter, it's really boring to be told to jump and ONLY do that. Or a rogue OnLY getting to lock pick. Diversify sessions so everyone has an opportunity, realizing that some may get more than others.
Players will bitch that X in combat is OP. I'm sorry you chose to be a wizard, don't expect to be able to tank like the barbarian, it ain't fucking happening.
If you give the players something they cannot defeat, at least have a reason plot wise (and don't kill them for failing the mission they were supposed to fail).
To be clear I'm not advising railroading. But make sure you have a basic framework, but be flexible with it. If you are drastically changing the plot every session, you probably made it too structured and the house of cards can't hold up.
Just be flexible and ready to offer the players choices, them try to predict from their behavior where the story will progress with that particular party. Plot should always be adjusted for new happenings.
Players are having fun
Be prepared to frustrate yourself over making rooms and encounters only to have the players completely ignore them
Don't make NPCs you get attached to
Don't get mad because the players do stuff you think they shouldn't
Be prepared to run skill checks and combats on the fly
Don't get mad when the players thwart you or by being overpowered
Discuss a bit with the players beforehand, in terms of what they might like to do. if you know them well enough from playing with them, you may be able to fudge it, but it's generally a bad idea to go into a campaign with a plan for any sort of story or plot arc unless you've checked if anyone is interested in that premise. If one or more of them aren't, you'll be stuck railroading or ditching the whole shebang.
Also, /tg/ is partly right: DMPCs shouldn't really exist. if they do, make them inferior to the party, or else support-based. The main plot shouldn't revolve around them. Be harder on them than anyone else--fudge rolls and rules for players if you really have to, but never for your DMPC. If death and total failure in their quest aren't options for other players, they still are for the DMPC.
Most of all, pick a system you know well. If there are rules you don't like, change them up-front and let people know how they've changed. Simplify and impose limits at the very start, to make the campaign something your'e comfortable running. If the other players don't like it, tough--you're there to have fun, too, and NOTHING is less fun for everyone involved than a confused, frazzled, and increasingly-disinterested DM. Ideally, if you followed the first piece of advice, there should still be enough in the campaign that they were interested in that they'll forgive a few restrictions.
Being a GM is being a storyteller. You can fudge rolls, fake your way through encounters, and blatently ignore almost anything... if you are a good story teller.
Bad story tellers will NOT consider their audience (everyone else sitting at the table). Always, ALWAYS work to make the game fun for everyone.
Sometimes the players will do something to derail you (going full on henderson). If you can roll with it and incorporate it, do so.
Finally, try to encourage players to work as a team - you are in a collaborative narrative event together - it's not I WIN U LOSE, it's WE WIN or WE LOSE.
Scope. Keep It Simple, Stupid. You will waste years chasing the dragon of the Big Long Campaign, and it'll never happen. Focus on short one shot adventures instead. Trust me.
-You Don't Find The Trap, You Find Goats-
Unfortunately, the required search for traps every turn only has two outcomes. The player finds the trap, or they don't find the trap. Remember that searching for traps every single chance the player gets is practically required, because this is the only (intended) option players have against the traps. If the search for the trap fails, that's it. There isn't more. Those are the outcomes, and the only choice is to continue searching for traps. There is always the chance of failure in searching for traps, and this has unintended consequences on gameplay. The thing about players is that they like to be sure of things, and rightfully so, as information is the most critical component of making the correct decisions in gameplay. So what happens when a player can't ever be sure of something? You get creative solutions. Intensely upset about their being put to sleep for 10 minutes by stepping on a tile, your players have killed the local goat farmer and unleashed his herd upon the dungeon floor. Now your well thought story has devolved into a tale of stealing goats and running them into their deaths because Steve is very upset about making everyone sandwiches instead of playing the game. No goats available? That's okay, because the players will literally try anything to disarm traps with certainty. There is no rulebook capable of handling all the inane ideas your players will come up with to defeat uncertainty, and as previously mentioned, this will waste a large amount of time. So what do you get by forcing the burden of traps on your players? An army of goats. Goats that will shit all over your dungeons, and your plans for having anything resembling a coherent playing experience.
-You Are Put to Sleep-
One of the laziest, and worst mechanics of a trap is disabling a players character. However, this is often one of the very first kind of traps a player will encounter. It should be blatantly obvious to a game developer that everyone comes to a session wanting to play the game, but I guess they didn't get the memo. Despite this overwhelmingly simple concept of players actually wanting to play the game, on the first page of the 3.5e Rule Book from the Dungeons and Dragons starter kit, is a description of a trap that puts a player to sleep for 10 minutes, or 100 turns. It's not surprising they didn't include an account of this in the example gameplay flow in the rule books, because it would probably go like this.
Dungeon Master: "Your character, Regdar, opens up the treasure chest hastily with a smile of excitement on his face, and is impatient to discover the contents of the dust covered container."
Regdar: "Oh dude I hope I get a +4 strength, +4 constitution leather belt! Ahh yeah!"
Dungeon Master rolls dice to check the loot table.
Regdar: "So what did I get?"
Dungeon Master: "You have to make a Will saving throw, Regdar."
Regdar rolls a 4.
Dungeon Master: "Instead of uncovering loot, your character is put to sleep for the next 100 turns, you get to go make everyone else sandwiches now Steve. Also, grab me a Mountain Dew."
Regdar's player, Steve, is visibly upset.
Dungeon Master: "Don't look so upset Steve, you get 120 experience points for getting put to sleep for 10 minutes. Do this another 30 times and you'll be able to hit level 3!"
Just to reiterate, a game mechanic that prevents the players from actually playing the game they came to play, is a bad game mechanic.
-Just Get on With It-
Sessions should be measured by the progress the players have made, and what they had to do in order to accomplish that progress. It should be assumed that all players have a desire to both advance their characters, and the story fueling their string of encounters. Understanding this desire of normal gameplay and progression is important in understanding why traps fail in their efforts of being fun. The absolute worst thing about putting traps into a dungeon is that they end up taking a disproportionate amounts of time during gameplay. This is a direct result of the underlying mechanics of traps, in that each trap is hidden to the players, and they must use skills to search for them or risk being disadvantaged. This means the only correct option for an experienced group of players is to check for traps in every room and corridor of a dungeon. If traps are present in every room and corridor of a dungeon, each check, the following interaction, skillchecks, and result can take up to a minute altogether. It adds up extra time when you can't remember exactly where every trap is, when you have to make every player declare their movement one tile at a time to check for the trap, when you have to dig through your documents to find the saving throws and damage of a trap, or worst of all having to roll to generate a trap. Sometimes you will find you are dealing with this gameplay element 30 or more minutes inside a single session, delaying other content that players actually want to experience. The bottom line is, traps enforce slow progression and don't add much to a dungeon.
I wrote the above three posts a while ago just because I hated dealing with traps as a GM, but here is some other advice that will help for running a campaign.
1: Talk to each player and decide what the personal goal of their player character is.
There is literally nothing more dangerous to a session than a player character without a purpose.
I currently have a retarded half orc PC that's quietly stringing along the campaign simply because he thinks his party will be the only ones that help him kill a cavetroll and get a magical club he's wanted since he was a child. This has to be something relevant to the actual player themselves obviously, but once you establish that their character has a goal that the player themselves want to have, you get players will act towards that goal.
2: Plan on either how to not make an NPC die, or plan on what happens when an NPC dies.
Let's say I have a necromancer elf that's been exiled, and the players are raiding the dungeon they live in because reasons. I can either assume that they will try to kill the elf, even if he wants to reason with them, or that they will listen to him. If he dies, they'll search for loot with a 100% probability, so they just end up finding a journal on him that would explain what he would say while trying to reason with them anyways. It's the same result in progression, they've gained the knowledge I wanted them to.
3: Play on the greed of players.
If I have a town under attack, and the orcs are trying to burn down an orphanage or the inn that is currently storing the players gold and items, the players will always choose the inn that is storing their items. Make the incentives for progressing the story much larger than any sort of sidequest, and the players will tend to pick those stories. If all else fails, then all roads lead to Rome, and the players end up going to the dungeon you wanted them in anyways.
Expanding on playing on the greed of the players, I had a Dark Heresy campaign where the players were volatile. They were pretty unruly and were likely to derail the story, but the NPC giving them quests said he could get them anything they wanted. The players told the NPC what they wanted, bargained with them so they agreed on what items the players would get for being successful, and then magically the items the players asked for just happened to not be found in any of the local stores. When the NPC only handed out major items one player at a time, and gave everyone else smaller items for each successful mission, the players pushed each other towards completing the objectives in order to get the items they wanted. It turned a potential derailment into a coherent story.
>Force your players to have backstories, flaws, and ideals
How can you force that without seeming like "serious, no-fun-allowed" GM?
I personally do my best to create worlds and adventures that give incentives to roleplay and build backstories, but there are always players who just don't seem to care and just want the next combat or whatever.
To list a few:
>Railroading when players go their own way
>DMPCs right off the bat, or sometimes at all can be bad. Depends on your group
>NPCs with zero personality
>NPCs more detailed than the characters' backstories
>NPCs who are all important in their own way, leaving party with no choice in how to interact
>Overly hard combat encounters
>Overly easy combat encounters
Also, be prepared to sacrifice your plot in the early game a bit. I find that parties do best when they feel they can do whatever and explore wherever for a little while. Introduce the plot during this time, and eventually the party will ask YOU (or NPCs) what they can do to stop BBEG, advance plot, etc.
Don't forget to give the players a reason to want to stop the BBEG. Ex: in my campaign he's a shit ruler who has fucked with each of the PCs in his own way.
If making your players build actual, competent characters that have actual connections to the setting and realistic reasons for existing and doing things is "no fun allowed", then something is really fucking wrong with you.
>but there are always players who just don't seem to care and just want the next combat or whatever.
Kick them out, you dense fucktard.
Plans are worthless, but planning is invaluable, to steal from Eisenhower.
Or put another way, a newbie GM will often set down concrete plans that will get shattered the moment it interacts with the players, forcing the GM to adapt or railroad, and both are bad for the new GM. To counter this, the new GM might decide to wing it, which is equally bad when there's no material or consistency ready.
The best way to go about planning is to be modular. Have names, plot hooks, trap ideas, npcs, lots of content that can be shuffled around and used anyway, even if the PCs opt to skip town and go somewhere else. As long as the players can still choose to avoid plot hooks they don't care for, they still have full agency.
Make it known to your players the sort of game that you're going to run. Some people won't like it. That's ok.
Ask questions. Instead of having them write out a whole backstory ask questions like "why are you running" "Where did you get your skills and gear" "why did you stop doing that" are some of my favorites, and all you really need.
You can get some basic info that way and fill in the blanks for your encounters and plot.
"It's X from the old days, BBEG has his hooks in me, and I need you to do Y!" Is a common plot point in any media. So if you asked the parties loltroll samurai the above questions they might shrug and say "Ex military, for refusing an unethical command, Because he wants to make money." You could have a soldier from the old days tell him his old CO has gone rogue, and they need him to take him down... have soldiers try to capture and silence him to complicate a run, have someone they refused to bomb show up to thank him... or as a villain if you want some drama.
What I'm getting at is you only need a few kernels of info to work them into a plot, not a whole backstory. Like the bit in >>43466775 with the hat implies, characters only need a little bit more than "Evil soldier from troll's past who wants to kill troll." or the like to make a memorable NPC. I remember a character named squinty the dwarf from a campaign a long time ago. He was a dwarf who squinted, via the DM. That's all you need.
As for the character's flaws that usually ends up working itself out on it's own...