My good friend Leah is preparing to run her first game on Sunday and so I thought I’d throw out some tips on running your first one-shot.
First, don’t fuss with the rules. There are few things that can kill a game’s momentum as quickly and irrevocably as stopping to look stuff up every five minutes. Now, this isn’t to say that you need to KNOW ALL THE RULES. Instead, have a good GM’s screen/cheat sheet that has the essentials on it. Reference (quickly) when necessary. If you can’t figure it out in 15 seconds, hand wave and move on… but the trick is not letting on that you don’t know what you’re doing.
My trick is to use the “that’s lots” rule: Have the player give me a roll and add the applicable modifiers. If, when they give me the number, I think, “That’s lots,” then they succeed. Easy as that.
Second, don’t over prepare. Players are going to take your adventure and go all Godzilla on your beautifully crafted plot. As such, have a solid starting and ending point. After you’ve introduced the first scene, let the players run with it and, when you’ve got an hour left, find a way to shunt them off to the ending point.
Often, I find it helpful to figure out what the players will be fighting in the end scene, but don’t make that fight location-specific. That way, no matter where the players take the adventure, you can bring the plot to them to wrap up the story.
Third, never apologize about being a noob. Nothing will kill your confidence faster than saying to your table of players, “Sorry if this sucks, I’m new to this.” You might think you’re adjusting their expectations by preparing them for something that will be lackluster and delivering something just above mediocre, but – TRUST ME – by attempting to rig their expectations, you’re rigging your own as well.
If you feel the need to explain your novice nature to the players, tell them you’re a seasoned player, but new behind the screen. Use it as a tool to get them comfortable asking questions about the system and setting, rather than a crutch to mitigate the potential suckiness of your game.
Fourth, have handouts. Give each character a simple handout that describes the basic mechanic of the game. Seems simple, but – if your players are used to d20 systems and you’re running HEX – they’re going to look at the Ubiquity dice and go, “WTF?”
Make your life (and your players’ lives) easier by providing a note card that gives them broken down examples of how to roll an attack, calculate damage, perform a skill check, and cast a spell.
Fifth, remember it’s just a game. Everyone’s there to have fun, so don’t get too worked up about it.
What tips would you add for first timers? Any questions for the seasoned GMs here at TheIlluminerdy?