Tips for the New GM (or DM).. How to start...

One question that keeps coming up to me is, how did you get started as a DM/GM? Also what tips can you give me to be a better one in the old school games? How do you handle changing things if a player goes this way and you planned that way?

Well, first I would like to say, I am by far the leading expert in being a DM. What can tell you is that I have over 20 years experience under my belt as a DM or GM.

OK, so you have a group you are playing in, and your DM is starting to feel DM burn out, which happens to most people after a while. You decide you want to step up to give that person a break. First things first, ask yourself this one important question, "CAN YOU MAKE A DECISION UNDER PRESSURE AND QUICKLY?" and "DO YOU THE RULES WELL ENOUGH?"

These in *my* eyes is the key factor for being a good DM. If you can pull these off, your games will draw the players in and keep the flow of the fantasy going. Its OK to look up something in the book if need be, but only if its truly needed, otherwise move on. Remember, you are the DM, you control the game, make a decision in your mind that is fair, and will keep the game going.

OK you want an example to further nail this in. You are the DM, you come up to a situation where the fighter wants to dive across the table and grab the large gem out of the hand of the guy who is displaying it. Well, what does it say in the book for this? Nothing really, especially for B/X or AD&D 1E, you can flip through the book and maybe find something close to it.... 10 to 15 minutes later of paused gaming OR you as the DM can say, "OK, fighter roll 3d6 and get under your dex and you will be able to leap across the table and grab hold of the gem..." Fair enough, players are happy, keeps the flow going, and makes for an exciting roll.. DM is also happy, because it didn't break the rules of the game.

Far as tips for being a better DM at old school games, the best advice I can give on that subject, is if you can role play a situation out, instead of rolling dice, then use that.

An example would be, a Magic User is searching for a magical gem in this creepy old house, he found a possible lead of it being in this old creepy dusty study. You as the DM describe the study in as much detail so the player can form an image in their minds, and allow the player to ask questions to help further form that image. You described the desk, and the MU, decided that is where he wants to start. So he says, I will search the desk. A good response for an old school DM would be, "How? Tell me what you do?" Then the player will describe his methods to searching the desk. Modern day games would have stopped at I search the desk, as the DM would simply say, roll dX.

Last thing I'd like to cover is, what happens if the party goes X direction, when you planned out Y direction, or the Party went to room 12 where the big bad is, instead of roaming the dungeon like you planned?

Its very simple, just move things around. You are the DM, right? Only YOU know where things are in your adventure, right? OK so move it.

So if the players go direction X, let them, have them travel that way, and have direction X lead into direction Y down the road.

If the players go to room 12 where the big bad is, move him. Push him to room 20. Very simple, players will not know, only you will know.

One last tip I can give you before I stop this, is never, ever railroad players or tell them "No you can't do that."


  1. "Just move things around" sounds awfully railroady, in and of itself. It's the Quantum Ogre.


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