Iím not the most eloquent person in the world, and I know it. I get into arguments like everyone, and am opinionated. So I know that this is only one way to do things, but Iím going to post it anyway.
To give some background, Iím 24, and have been GameMastering for the past nine and a half years. I was introduced to roleplaying games for the first time the summer just before I turned fifteen, and it will be my 10th anniversary of that chance encounter as of June. I will say, my start was rocky. I was introduced to 3.0 Dungeons & Dragons by one of the most vindictive, controlling GMs that I have ever encountered. We werenít allowed to look at half of the books for several sessions, when it was too late to go toward particular advancements, and the second session he killed my character without a second thought in an encounter that was supposed to challenge the eight player party, when three of us were there. And it was simply supposed to capture us, no less. Seven sessions after that he showed up, killed every character there, and left, never coming back or telling anyone he was canceling the game.
I loved the game, in spite of the jerk who introduced me to the game. For that I will always thank him. I learned what I loved and what I shouldnít do. Since I couldnít find a gaming group to join, my friend and I chipped in to buy a set of the core three books ourselves. Which was silly, since 3.5 D&D came out two months later, and we had to update. I ended up GMing our first game, in spite of not knowing the rules, and we kept going, gaining new players, losing old ones, and joining new groups throughout High School. Even my friend drifted in and out, while I kept going with a passion that has never faded. Iíve played under a dozen different Game Masters at this point, and each has had their own quirks and problems. But each has had a love for the game that Iíve respected, even if I couldnít stand the rules.
But through all of this I have run games. Save for two six month periods, I have never not been running a game. Iíve run everything from low level games, starting at 1st level, and running an Epic Level game for a year and a half that started at 21st. Iíve run short Exalted games with limited success, as well as the Hero System and a number of others. Now I play Pathfinder for the most part, which is the successor in my mind to the game in which I began. This is who I am.
Now Iím going to get to the part that others may disagree with. These are lessons that I have learned over the years, and my golden rules of GMing. Most of them apply most directly to TableTop Roleplaying, but many can be applied to gaming of any sort, whether on forums or by Instant Messaging. Theyíre also most applicable to System games, but can help in Freeform as well. Here they are, many of my thoughts on how I should Game Master games. And I should say that I do not mention the rule of 'Have Fun' because I view that as the entire point of Roleplaying.
1) The first and most important thing. Roll with the punches. Donít directly railroad, but rather attempt to guide a group, if thatís what you are trying for. Have multiple plot hooks that all lead to the same place in the end, or simply scrap your first idea and roll with it. If you canít, youíll likely burn out in short order.
2) Unless you tell the players from the outset, adapt the plot to the players. Donít try to force them into a storyline that they will hate, or which completely negates their characters. They only have their characters. You have the whole world.
3) Make the world live around them. Donít make it a cardboard cutout. Try to make the characters live and breathe around them. Donít smother the players, but try to make them care about the world their character is in.
4) When a game is going slow, and you aren't certain what to do, try a murder attempt on someone in the vicinity. It tends to cause reactions from everyone in a hurry. And remember, it doesnít have to be a PC.
5) When the party wants to go off course, and your hints don't work, let them. Let them deal with the consequences of a villain's plan going right.
6) Sometimes perception is everything. The party wants to loot the evil temple? Let them. And let them suffer when the evil artifact possesses one of them.
7) When a player has a neat idea that might work, let him try it. And if itís a bad ideaÖwell, let him anyway. Either way, let him suffer the consequences.
8) Never build an adventure around a single PC. It kills the game for everyone else much of the time, and you lose much of the plot if they vanish off the face of the earth.
9) Never force characters down a single path. It usually upsets them and makes your job much harder. Instead, make them want it, and curse when they get it.
10) When the dice come up to kill someone, maybe hesitate, but remember this. Without a sense of risk, many players lose interest. Kill characters, yes, but donít be vindictive about it.
11) Make clear expectations. Find out what your group expects, and make certain they know what you expect. Donít leave it up in the air until it comes up. If you do, you may lose friends.
12) If you are concerned about the validity of a characterís actions, you should speak to them privately about it, rather than bringing it up in front of everyone. Donít be the enemy, try to understand why, and help them figure out why, as well as learn why. Only take things up in public if you have to, or it is something unimportant that you forgot.
13) Beware of powerful NPCs. They should exist, but they should be part of the background of the world. The PCs are heroes in most games, and should feel like theyíre heroes. Donít upstage them.
14) And last, take responsibility. Donít make yourself out to be infallible. Be consistent in your rulings, and admit it when you make mistakes. It gains the trust of your players, and eliminates much of the stress of your position.
These are mostly the ones that came to mind at 3 AM in the morning, but these are what Iíve based my gaming around. And I must be doing something right, because I have never lacked for a group, and Iím still contacted by those whom I havenít GMed for in five years.