I’m new to GMing, and it’s pretty fun, but I also feel like I can do it better than I am right now.

I’m new to GMing, and it’s pretty fun, but I also feel like I can do it better than I am right now.

I’m new to GMing, and it’s pretty fun, but I also feel like I can do it better than I am right now. Mostly, I feel like I have a hard time giving my players opportunities to talk in character, and also like I can do a lot better at making fights more exciting and challenging without making monsters too strong. If anyone has any resources that they think witless help I’d appreciate hearing about them – I’m especially interested in ideas for how to practice my DM skills between sessions.

11 thoughts on “I’m new to GMing, and it’s pretty fun, but I also feel like I can do it better than I am right now.”

  1. You can give players opportunity to talk In Character by taking time to direct questions at the characters about other characters. When someone’s character does something interesting, surprising, stupid, brave, whatever — turn to a PC and go “so, hey, you’re the cleric and this fighter just managed to charge through a hail of arrows without taking a single shot… luck, skill, or the grace of your god? I mean: you gotta have something to say about that, right?” or you play some NPC who is a total tool, and when the PCs are on their own you look at the Bard and go “So that guy was pretty impressive, but you know he’s full of shit. How do you communicate that to the party, what do you say?” The secret to talking In Character is to have something worth talking about, and that’s something you can help with as GM by paying attention to what the characters are all about (their class, race, alignment, backstory) and finding places they intersect with other characters or the action happening in the scene… then you just push those buttons.

    For making combat more interesting without making the monsters much more powerful, you need to keep in mind that fights happen for a reason. Lots of times, GMs will throw some monsters together for a fight and thats a blast, but you get really intense combats when the fight has a purpose. What do the enemies want? What are the enemies doing? What is their objective? Specifically: rarely does anyone fight just because they want to bloody their knuckles. Usually, a fight is a tool — its a means to an end. Those ends are how fights become exciting, because suddenly something is at stake: these zombies are fighting the party while that evil cleric climbs out the window with the divine idol, now what do you do party? You’re fighting this ogre, but meanwhile those goblins are figuring out how to set off all the traps around the room to mess your party up. I guess, basically, fights are their most interesting when they have choices that have to be made.

  2. This is for my D&D campaign, but you might get some use out of it for Dungeon World, too. This is a roleplaying prompter that I give the players. In D&D, they have to do one scene for a short rest, two scenes for a long one. In DW, I suppose you could make it a custom move (maybe even a GM soft move: “Have the players do a roleplaying scene” or something):


  3. As for practicing your GM skills, I have two nuggets of advice for you: one, play whenever you can. Play everyday of the weekend. Play online games during the week. Host meetups in public. Whatever it takes. There’s nothing that can replace good ol’ experience.

    Secondly, do a lot of prep. A lot of DW fanatics think that the game’s improvisational nature means you can’t prepare anything, but that’s not true: you can prepare all kinds of stuff, you just can’t force it on the players, and you have to be ready to flexible and adaptive to your prep. Write up little narrative readalouds for describing a dungeon, tavern, or ruin. Think of some scenarios that offer the PCs an opportunity at a cost. Write down some scenarios where you can conceivably set the PCs up for taking away their stuff. You know, things like that. I like to handwrite those little bits of prep on index cards, organize them by move, and then drop one when I need to. Sometimes I burn through all my prep in an hour. Other times, I don’t touch a single card.

  4. Thanks for all the tips, everyone! They’ll be very helpful.

    As for the 16 HP dragon, I have read it, and everyone always points to it, but I think the one thing wrong with the whole scenario is that when the players deal some damage to it, as they are stated to do, it doesn’t kill it, which they very easily could 😛

  5. The trick with good fights in DW is that dealing enough damage to kill is the easy part. Getting into a position to deal the damage is the hard bit.

  6. What J LeClair said.

    Many monsters (especially big bads like dragons, treants, golems, vampire lords, etc.) have “blocks” built into their tags, qualities, and moves. Each of those “blocks” has to be overcome, via moves and/or fictional positioning, in order to get a shot off.

    Like, a dragon is huge, has reach, is terrifying, and flies.

    When facing a dragon, one of your first GM moves is to describe their terror: the gut-seizing paralysis, their shaking hands, their desire to just run and hide, and ask them what they do. That’s a block. If they much of anything other than run or cower, they’re defying danger.

    Okay, so the ranger and fighter get 10+ to overcome their fear. In the meantime, you’re making a soft move with the dragon and they’ll have to react to it. Like, the dragon takes a deep breath and makes to incinerate them! What do they do?

    That, right there, is putting them on the defensive. Their reacting and making moves to save themselves from being incinerated, and to react to the fallout of any 7-9s or misses that happen. 

    Eventually, the ranger gets a chance to draw his bow and take aim. The GM then plays tell them the requirements or consequences, and is like “this thing is bigger than a house, your arrows aren’t gonna do squat unless you manage to find a juicy, soft target.” You just threw up another block, now the player has to overcome it.  Maybe they Discern Realities, maybe they Spout Lore about a dragon’s soft spots, maybe they go for the eye and you ask them to Defy Danger with WIS to hold steady until they can take a clear shot! 

    Throw up blocks based on the monster and the fiction, and don’t let the players roll Hack & Slash or Volley or Cast a Spell or whatever until those blocks are overcome.

  7. It’s a small thing, but I don’t really like that moves are called moves. The term suggests something a player explicitly does, like in a board game. I prefer “events”, as the term suggests something that simply happens during play. In a game like DW, rolling happens as a way to resolve some part of the story where you don’t want to railroad the players. And bad outcomes are just as good (and probably even more interesting) as successes. Has anyone run a heist adventure in DW? I’m curious to hear how that style of adventure would go. 

  8. Play Blades in the Dark Sean Kelly, its rather heavily inspired from AW and uses the same Hit / hit with consequence / miss and a bad consequence paradigm specifically for heists in a steampunk fantasy world. The ideas are easily adaptable to DW.

  9. Read and play apocalypse world, I love the style of GMing it suggests. than play some of Ron Edwards games like trollbabe, sorcerer, or circle of hands. I also think “Don’t rest your head”, “full light a d full steam”, and TechNior were helpful. Play and run lots of games, well designed games have something to teach, that you can incorporate, or know why you don’t like it.

    I also really like the play sorcerer blog, https://playsorcerer.wordpress.com/tag/play-sorcerer/

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