There are two probable situations that you’d be in if you hear that. Either you’ve played a RPG for a while and now have the opportunity to GM or someone found a game on the internet or in a bookstore, thought it looked interesting and now someone has to GM. If you’ve played for a while, you have an idea of what you need to do. If you’re just picking up a book, you might not know what to do next. I’m going to describe things from the later situation because I think that potential GM will need the most help. There is usually a “How to GM” section of a book but that section is usually competing for pages that could be going to other things.
The Big Scary Book
Usually the first hurdle to vault over is all the reading you need to do in the rule book. From what I’ve seen, usually well before anyone even knows you want to play someone is reading through it trying to wrap their head around it. This works if you’re making progress but the tragedy is that what can happen is the reader hits a snag and then never plays because they don’t know how to get past it.
The better solution is to bring your players in early. When you’ve just decided you’d like to try this, reach out to some friends and say “I found this game and I’d like to try it out.” First explain what made you interested and then what you’ve been able to figure out so far. If the game is a PDF and it’s legal to do so, give all the potential players a copy of it. If it’s a hard copy or you can’t copy it, that’s okay too, get together and read through things while everyone else hangs out. When you get to something you don’t understand pull someone off to the side and discuss it with them. Saying something like “Hey look at this, I’m not sure how this is supposed to work, how would you use this?”
When you find something you think will be fun to use, show it to everyone. Explain why you think it will be fun, it could be a bad guy the players may have to face or an ability they could get or a rule that looks like it will make game play interesting. Share that early on and get the players excited.
This does two things, I lets you offload some of the difficulty but it also gets the players somewhat familiar with the game well before you play. If one or two of the potential players take particular interest in how to play then that’s great. Their interest will translate into knowledgeable players that can help those guys that aren’t really paying attention.
What Do You Need To Know?
First of all, don’t overload yourself right off the bat. There’s a lot of effort put into making detailed worlds in RPGs, you don’t have to have all of it under your belt. You also don’t have to use every rule that’s in the book, it’s usually fine to read through and say, “I’m not sure I want to start off using this,” to some rules if they seem complicated or confusing.
The biggest thing you’ll have to tackle is character creation. You can’t get very far without it and it will probably be what takes up your first session.
The next thing you need to know is how the system determines what your characters can do. This is sometimes called event resolution. For an example if a player says “I want to jump over this pit” how do you figure out if their character can actually do that? There is usually a core mechanic used to decide success or failure. You’ll have to get a good understanding of how that works. Thankfully that’s usually pretty simple by itself.
Up Next – Your First Game