GM Basics: What is a GM?

As a GM, you have a number of roles to fill to facilitate gameplay. Let’s take a closer look at some of the big three:

WORLD BUILDER
One of the first things a GM needs to do is provide a background. As a world-builder, the most important thing is not scale but consistency. As the GM it’s your job to keep everything tied together. For those of us without eidetic memory, the best way to preserve the integrity of a setting is by keeping notes. Rough maps and short-descriptions of NPCs, events, and locations enable you to preserve a higher level of detail for your setting as your players move through it – both geographically and temporally.

But of course, you can’t (nor should you) try to predict every interaction your players will have with your setting. This is where random tables come in. Random tables of names and features allow you to populate your setting with memorable (literally notable) NPCs and locations in real-time! Your players will always go somewhere that you haven’t “mapped.” Giving that impromptu tavern a name and a barmaid with especially hairy knuckles enhances the illusion that every corner of your setting already exists in full for your players to explore. Since this is rarely the case, random tables encourage player exploration and creativity in a way that only an absurd amount of GM preparation can replicate!

PLAYING OPPOSITE THE PLAYERS
The most obvious task for the GM is to “play” opposite the players. This means managing, coordinating, and making decisions for all of your setting’s NPCs and monsters/enemies. As the conductor of your setting’s various personae, there are two important things to keep in mind: NPCs/Enemies are active both on AND off-screen and they all have specific goals/motivations. Having your NPCs act outside of direct player interactions highlights the fourth dimension (time) of your setting. Understanding your NPCs’ short and long-term goals is essential for maintaining this 4D setting, reinforcing your world’s dynamic, changing nature, and thus encouraging players to be actively involved in its shaping. More than that, it provides more opportunities for creative action. Knowing that the giant spider is more interested in protecting her eggs than chasing off unfortunate wanderers, or that the goblin scouts guarding the cave entrance are both cowardly and underpaid makes it easy to provide alternative options for your party to tackle any given problem.

SESSION MODERATOR
This is sort of the “catch-all” story-teller category. As moderators, GMs facilitate PC play by preparing a sessionnarrating events/environmentsadjudicating actions, and maintaining pace. GM moderation will vary a lot depending on both your style of play and the in-game circumstances, so we won’t go into too much detail here. Most of our articles for GMs, however, will relate to moderation in some way and would be worth checking out if you want some more info on any given topic!

Be sure to check out our other GM Basics: [x] [x] [x]

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