[GUIDE] C&M's Guide to GMing for OPs

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[GUIDE] C&M's Guide to GMing for OPs

Postby Cerillium » Mon Jun 23, 2014 6:36 pm

How to Ref your RP
- Or –
Cerillium and Mincaldenteans’ Guide to GMing

(with input by Tiltjuice and Swith Witherward.)

Do you want to run your own RP? Seems easy! Seems Daunting! Smells like an adventure! Yes to all three. It will also test your patience, resolve and determination.


The term OP stands for Original Poster; however, in the RP community, the OP is commonly the DM or GM. DM stands for Dungeon Master and was coined by Dungeons & Dragons© in the early 70s. The DM (Dungeon Master) title is usually reserved for Dungeons and Dragons, whereas GM (Game Master) is a broader term covering nearly all RPG games other than Dungeons and Dragons. In this guide, I’ll refer to the role as GM rather than OP.

Many people think being a GM is extremely easy. Hey, those are the guys who control everything and tell people what they’re allow to do and what’s forbidden, right? That’s the guy who thinks up a good concept for a game and makes the OOC thread and is god, right?

Nope. You are charged with both creating the details and challenges of the adventure while maintaining a realistic continuity of events in your game. You need to define the rules for that game, and if that game is based heavily on existing genre, you need to be the expert who is capable of settling disputes, keeping the setting in line with that genre (out of respect for it, unless you’re running a “spoof” game) and who helps those new to the genre understand it better.

A knowledgeable and evenhanded GM can make the RP a pleasant experience. A crappy GM can (and usually does) decimate any game regardless of the theme.

The following information is a guide to help both the experienced and inexperienced GM run a better game.

The GM influences and operates everything and everyone that is not a Player Character (PC). It’s a massive responsibility. That said, the goal of any RPG should be fun; there is no room for tyrants or constrained thinking because no one enjoys a GM who is a total jerk.

You should strive to balance the following IC and OOC:
Responses to the players
Responses to the situations you present
Responses to the challenges you create
Outlining the stories you and your players weave as a team

If you can fairly balance all those things while addressing your players’ needs (and, at times, even anticipating those needs), your game will rock.

I can’t hammer this in often enough. I’ve run across so many games where the GM behaves as if he is a player. Understand this: none of your characters are PCs. Every single one of them is an NPC (Non-Player Character). NPCs are what the GM uses to guide players along or set up events. Period. Your NPCs also serve as foes for your players to clash against. You, the GM, are not the star with the character that saves the day all the time.

Your role isn’t to destroy the PCs or discourage players. If your goal is to destroy the PCs and ride around as hero, then you are doing it wrong. Your style is bad and you should feel bad.

A GM is the master of the game but also the impartial judge that attempts to be fair to all, reasonable, and accommodating to player requests or needs. A judge can’t do their job if he’s unfamiliar with the law. This means that a GM should have a good grasp of RP etiquette, how RP actually works, and how to properly behave himself in an RP setting.

You need to know your setting before you slap up that first OOC thread. Define it, even if it’s a rough sketch. Don’t turn around and ask players to define it for you. That’s lazy and – at a later time – you’ll find players challenging you when you go astray of their concept. (Note: some RP are based around a group effort for world building. This is fine. The GM needs to be familiar with what players have come up with.)

You need to know your game. You describe the surroundings, manage the plot, and administer all of the elements of the game, including determining the outcome of battles between players and the things they encounter. Players don’t godmod results. That’s poor form. I personally smite players who do that because, unbeknownst to them, they might have just godmodded the death of the only means out of their dungeon/situation. Foolish player, don’t ever attempt to control fate!

You need to know your genre. I can run a WH40K game in my sleep; I can run a MLP-based game in my sleep; I can not run a Pokemon game to save my life. I can run horror and military; I suck at video game based games. My knowledge deficiency means that I can’t convey the setting properly or capture the proper feel. There’s a difference between creative license and ‘winging it’, if you’re truly set to making an RP with a genre you’re not too familiar with then researching it extensively, ask around for advice, and prepare yourself well before launching an OOC thread for recruitment and active play, is HIGHLY advised. You must be ready for the intended crowd you want to attract and no amount of winging it will pass.

Keep in mind, researching a new genre you’re unfamiliar with does not stop the moment you think you’re ready to launch an RP. It is continuous; your research likely started long before you even outlined your basic setting and will undoubtedly keep going as the RP is shaped, launched, running and maintained. A new genre that you’re not familiar with is both risky and rewarding, and its a bit of personal pride for yourself as a capable OP that isn’t afraid to venture into something new and learn from it. The research, by and by, is done to help get that balance and pave the way for a functional and fun RP.

You need to use your own judgment when determining results. That’s your job. Players will encounter situations and usually work out their plan of action (character takes a hit, character succeeds but it's not perfect etc), but it might come down to you to determine their exact fate when encountering those Mary Sues that perform flawlessly every time. When in doubt, I roll a dice or flip a coin. However, your own judgment is needed if you want to work out an outcome that best maintains plot continuity and game flow. It seems overwhelming at first but it does get easier the more experience you get. Remember, people on the other side of your monitor are human beings prone to doing foolish things without considering the final outcome.

It sounds silly but you really do need to take the time to prepare before you post, especially if you’re new to GMing. This means reading over posts made while you were offline, refreshing your memory by reading your own posts, and checking your TG and OOC for any player-related concerns or questions that sprang up while you were gone. I frequently GM off the cuff so I make a few notes to myself before I log off; I review them the next time I’m ready to post so I can recapture where I was going with my concept. Continuity is your friend when GMing.

Also be prepared for the realization that every GM has their own style. Players, especially new ones, may be familiar with another GM’s style and some may have had a crappy GM prior to your game. You might log on to find utter pandemonium occurred while you were at work or school, or while you were sleeping. “So-and-so” went to Moderation, “Player X” screwed over the entire party with a godmod move, and so on. Worse, two may have advanced the entire story out of context by posting a metric crapton of one-liner dialog.

This ties in to my next point: prepare your players. Let them know what is or isn’t kosher with you. Enlighten them to your style so they understand whatever boundaries you might have established for them.

Remember: GM Stress is the overwhelming desire to choke the living shit out of players AND remaining objective enough to not take it out on their characters IC or flame them in your OOC! Players are human beings who can’t guess your thoughts or read your emotions clearly in print. Do not abuse their trust; never abuse them or berate them; never humiliate them in a public setting such as your OOC. Respect. Respect. Respect.

Everyone will be comfortable with different ways and it is best to only use what works for you. Don't try to force something that doesn't feel right. Again, the end result should always be a fun game for everyone.

Think of RP as a play or movie. You have characters portrayed by actors (players) and you have scenes. Each scene should contribute to the overall story. Your game should have highs and lows. This means that it’s not always on one level. Intensity is lost if the game is constantly ramped up to high adrenaline levels. It becomes dull if it’s nothing but dialog and flirting.

No RP plot survives contact with players. Ever. They breathe life into your game. They act out the story. They insert nifty things into the setting. They are the little butterfly wings that flap and change the weather in Tokyo. Always bear that in mind.

Players expect you to contribute. Don’t slap up a thread and wander away. Don’t slap up the first idea that comes to mind and then bail when you’re bored: players invest time in your game and you’ll get a bad reputation if you abuse their time and talent. You are GM. This means that you will invest equal time – ten players = ten times the amount of time one player would put into it. You must be there. If you can’t be there, make sure you have a CoOP in your corner to run things in your stead.

There will be times when you can not be online. You would do well to have a responsible and impartial CoOP beside you. Your CoOP has your authority to attempt dispute resolution, to advance a story, to keep things flowing, to do whatever you approve them to do. You MUST make an effort to communicate with your CoOP. That person needs to be in the loop in order to do their job properly. Communicate, communicate, communicate: its not that hard, it is only ‘hard’ when there’s a lack thereof.

I normally have only one CoOP in a game unless it’s a megathread or highly complex. I usually run with two if the game is that ramped. One CoOP has an idea of where the story needs to go, the other rides herd in the OOC. Both CoOPs work together to keep balance and harmony. I trust them explicitly. My CoOPs are experienced players who know how to GM. I might have a few genre experts in my thread but my CoOPs aren’t there to support my knowledge; they are my right hands when dealing with players and game mechanics.

What rules do you want established? Some GMs list the basics:

  • OP is god
  • Don’t be that guy
  • Post expectations
You don’t want to fashion an extensive list unless you are running a complex game or a game for beginners. Most of the people in our community understand the unspoken rules such as “don’t godmod”. You might add, “Do not run my NPCs” if you think it might become a problem.

Some GMs have lengthy applications. Others have a basic application. The details are up to you. Some basics that I recommend to save your sanity:

Character Name: yes, you need to know it.

Character Age: yes, you need to know it in order to determine how much knowledge that character would actually have. A 16 year old race car driver won’t be as good or as experienced as a 30 year old race car driver.

Character Powers/Skills: PLEASE ask your players to define powers and skills. This alleviates any temptation on the player’s part to pull crap out of their asses. I can’t tell you how often I run into young players who abuse the hell out of their character’s powers. You need to know those abilities and limitations in order to keep balance. Some GMs use a power scale. Others eyeball it. This also is your tool for settling OOC disputes between players. You can point to that app and clearly state: your character is NOT able to dodge bullets based on what you’ve described here. Keep in mind that real life RPG always ask players to outline their stats for reference in games.

Links: Don’t complain about a player’s ability if you approved him without taking a look at his skills. I ask for links to RP examples. Specifically, I ask for them to link their IC posts that I can browse them and determine if they fit my criteria. Remember: you allowed that problem player into your game by not checking his references. Don’t be so eager to have a game that you put aside discretion.

You need to spend some time outlining a scene for your players. You can expect them to need to know the very basics and you MUST provide enough details for them to play off of. In return, they must supply you with enough information to base your posts off of. Make sure you clarify or ask for clarification when doubts arise. RP is like a tennis match where the ball is exchanged between two parties over the course of the game. The ball needs to remain in motion for the game to be played.

Make EVERY post count. Utilize your NPCs to advance a story. Don’t throw in some crap just to fill space.

You, as the GM, can expect to pick up the ball players drop. Your NPCs can be used to work a new player in. I usually develop a few NPCs with their own personalities and quirks for this purpose. These would normally be PCs if you were the player but they function as tools.

Please note this nifty fact if you are running a game where characters have powers: NOTHING is as powerful as one of your NPCs. Pick one, place him on the good guy’s side, and only use him to control a situation before it gets out of hand. You might extend that courtesy to your CoOP (who also is running his character as an NPC when the need arises). My powerful NPC is never listed in an application. Players will analyze that app to look for weaknesses to exploit. This chosen NPC is usually quiet and humble unless provoked. This character is capable of doing a game reset by restoring life unfairly taken (godmodded death by an opposing player), negating poorly played magic, or putting a stop to characters run by problem players intent on destroying your carefully crafted world.


Here are a few tips I use when I GM:

You killed NPC Kenny, you bastards!
Sometimes players do asinine things when they godmod. I prefer to drop a quick note to the player which says, “Killing John Smith is a bad idea. You’ve just godmodded my NPC. Please don’t do that again. Can you please REDACT your post?” I do it via TG rather than singling the player out – the FIRST time he pulls it. This negates the sense of public humiliation. Shaming players over a fairly common mistake is never good. However, I’ll take him to task in my OOC if he does it again. It goes from a private matter to a public one. Players who habitually godmod are shown the door after that second infraction of my rules. Remember: your goal is to provide a fair, fun and balanced game environment; no one enjoys a godmodder.

Uh, I have no idea what comes next!
Believe me, this happens to me more often than people realize. The trick is to roll with it. You have mastery of your setting, right? You know the end goal. Now you’re stumped because you decided to detour “off the cuff” and have been boxed in. Don’t fear! There isn’t any shame in admitting that your players stumped you. I tend to laugh it off when they do, and I congratulate them. That said, don’t let it become a habit.

Now, how do you get out of that box? Honesty matters here. You want players to trust your ability. Something as simple as “Well, my brain’s fried. Let me get some rest and I’ll post a reply tomorrow” goes a long way towards building that trust. Walk away from it for a bit. Let your mind rest. An idea will come to you. Sometimes players chatter about the situation in the OOC and I take a cue from that. Also, if you have a trusty CoOP by your side, you’ll do well to farm some ideas by them. My CoOPs are my saviors when I’m exhausted or busy. Remember: Your job is to be fair and to weave a story; don’t rush it - a calculated response is at times much better than slapping up BS. Players know BS when they encounter it.

I can’t believe the player just did that!
Players do stupid things. Often. I set up a situation where the door leading to a room is booby-trapped and a player has his character just walk into the room. My game, my rules, my setting, my call. Players need to THINK before they post nonsense. If I’ve been very fair all along, players might fuss but, because I’m fair, they’ll be less prone to pitching a fit. I’m very up front however: PCs can and will die if they do stupid things.

You must also use your common sense here. Mary is running a military character but she has no actual military experience. We can’t hold that against her. I’ll drop a TG to her to explain that her character would know to check for tripwires. I might ask other players to hold off actions until she can fix her post. This will help her learn tactics and will make for a better game because other newer players will start to understand mechanics. Remember: Players are not their own characters; their knowledge is limited to what they personally know. Take that into account, always.

I can’t believe the players aren't doing ANYTHING!
Yeah, that happens. Players wander off to play video games or else are so caught up in snuggle-fest chatter that they cause your entire game to drag, thereby stalling the story and pissing off the players who are waiting on them to make a move. There are times when I've had to physically pluck characters out of one scene and drop them into the next because of stall. Guess what? I'll remember those players. They aren't allowed into my next event. I might even boot them from my current game if their performance becomes obnoxious enough.

There is a difference between an uncreative/unimaginative player and a player with RL duties and obligations. I have no issue when it comes to school or work or family taking priority over my game. I'll excuse players from play and find creative ways to either move their character along or park that character someplace safe.

Oh crap! Someone went to Moderation while I was gone!
Yeah, players do that. Moderators will not settle in-game disputes between players. That is your responsibility. Remember, you must be a fair and impartial judge. Players expect you to referee to keep things balanced. Don’t freak if you find a report in Moderation.

Stay Sane:
You are the OP – you own that thread. It’s okay to post in the Moderation report to let Moderators know you’re the OP and GM and are now aware of the problem (if Mods have not already resolved it). Doing that goes a long way towards building communication bridges. Whatever you do, please don’t flame any players in your Moderation post, and try to refrain from whinging. Remain calm and polite. Yes, a player has aired dirty laundry in public but that doesn’t give you the right to be an ogre. (Caveat: on the rare occasion where you are the GM but another player is OP, please allow that OP to update Moderation on your behalf. A GM and an OP are two different things in that situation!)

Approach your OOC and the players with objectivity. Don’t automatically assume one player is guilty. Take the time to read through the IC and OOC to collect information before confronting a player/players. The more you know, the better you’ll handle things. Try to TG problem players first, and if that fails, publically address them in the OOC. Remain civil. Remain objective. Remember that your responsibility is to keep balance. Don’t lose your cool.

Oh, that little twerp is so out of here!
No GM wants to kick someone from their game. It upsets balance and creates hard feelings but, at times, a player needs to be booted. Do it with grace. You have the right, as OP, to ask them to leave.

There are a variety of approaches.
Civil: “You know, John, I don’t think this is the right group for you. Perhaps it would be best if you found a new game.”
Mature: “John, your behavior is a bit too extreme. Please leave.”
Stern: “JohnNation is officially banned from the game due to [insert issue here]. Do not return.”

I’ve only taken a stern approach three times in all the years I’ve been doing this. In each case, the player was banned for an action that would have warranted removal from the site itself if I so chose to bark up the chain of command (report to Moderation). You do NOT have to tolerate players who flame, harass, troll, blackmail or grief other players.

Nobody wants to play my game anymore!
That happens. It’s all part of RP life.

Having an active OOC helps your game stay active. Don’t discourage players from chatting off topic (but don’t let it get excessive to the point where necessary game-related posts are buried under too much banter).

How do I make an OOC that works?
There’s a guide for that. This guide isn’t it. Go to the How to Build a Better OOC thread.

How do I…
There are other tricks of the trade you should be aware of. I highly recommend Book of the Multiverse 2 for general RP how-to’s.

The P2TM community is an excellent place for learning tricks of the trade, and for developing your role playing and GMing skills. Don't let a lack of GMing experience keep you sequestered. Breathe deep. Make that initial OOC thread. See who shows interest. Most of all, have fun.
Last edited by Cerillium on Tue Jul 28, 2015 3:26 am, edited 4 times in total.

User avatar
Posts: 12456
Founded: Oct 27, 2012
New York Times Democracy

Postby Cerillium » Mon Jun 23, 2014 6:36 pm


User avatar
Posts: 12456
Founded: Oct 27, 2012
New York Times Democracy

Postby Cerillium » Mon Jun 23, 2014 6:37 pm

Last edited by Cerillium on Mon Jun 23, 2014 6:37 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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