It can be difficult to switch over, to cross the table and GM for the first time. Long ago, I wrote Introductory Games for New Roleplayers  for a young GM and a table of all new players. This time we’re looking at a different situation—training new GMs who may be nervous about running for tables of experienced players and strangers.
Instead of apprenticing to a GM and getting a peek behind the curtain between sessions, a group of experienced GMs are going to hold a GMing seminar. It’s not just a collection of tricks and tips for experienced GMs, but a concerted push to “top up” our number of GMs for organized play. Plus… I think that experiencing the table from a GM’s point of view—even if only for a session—helps players understand what their GMs are doing. Even if they choose not to GM, they’ll appreciate what goes on a little more.
We have a good sized community of players (15-20 most weeks) and GMs. We have three “always on” GMs who run over half the sessions, and a few others who step up to GM occasionally. (I’m speaking specifically of our D&D Adventurer’s League Expeditions GMs. We are lucky in that there’s some cross over with our Pathfinder organized play GMs, plus Pathfinder has several more that only play or GM Pathfinder, which keeps its organized play also running smoothly.)
Because 5e is less than a year old, there’s not a vast gulf of experience between “old hands” and new GMs, at least from a D&D rules perspective. (In fact, I suspect that many of the new players have a better mastery of the rules than GMs who have “hangovers” of rules from previous editions of D&D, including Pathfinder.) By reaching out now, we can build a more balanced expectation of running games before GMs start to burn out.
Organized play seems particularly prone to burning GMs out. Organized play rules substitute for some of a normal GM’s boundary drawing and campaign defining. Some of it is the feeling of ownership; in organized play, you run scenarios that have been worked out by others, instead of crafting the adventure to a particular group. Some of it is the “take all comers” perspective; you’re more often running for strangers.
In a perfect world, every player would GM sometimes. If tables of 5 are common, then a player would expect to run every 5th or 6th time. On the other hand, a GM who runs petulantly, because they’re forced, or without preparing can ruin an entire table’s fun at once. We’re looking to strike a balance—get enough new GMs so that all GMs (new and old) can play characters regularly (and enjoy that side of the game), while having a predictable schedule of GMing. Since we run twice a month (the first and third Saturdays), a pool of 16 or so GMs would require each to run only once every two months. Play 3, run 1 is a ratio that should be sustainable.
To do so, we’re going to hold a GM’s workshop. Here’s what we’re planning.
A week before the new Expeditions season begins, we’re inviting players to try their hand at GMing. Both D&D and Pathfinder have short scenarios for new players and characters (in Pathfinder, it’s the Silverhex Chronicles , for the current D&D season, it’s City of Danger .) The mini-scenarios are short; 4-5 pages long, with an expected run time of 60-90 minutes. The City of Danger has 5 mini-scenarios.
A few “old hands” are going to be ready to run the first mini-scenario to kick off the workshop. Each of the attendees—the novice GMs attending the workshop—will get to run a character through the story like normal. The old hands/presenters will each handle a scene, so they can demonstrate a variety of approaches and techniques, and show how conversations, fights, and everything else are handled.
At the end of the mini-adventure, we’ll hand out copies to all of the players so they can read what we were working from. Then we’ll discuss how we handled their going off script, adjudicating rules, etc.
Then we’ll dragoon a few workshop attendees into reading the second mini-adventure and running it for their fellow players, while the presenters remain available to serve as rules references and offer reassurance. Each attendee will run only a scene at a time, then pass the baton to the next. We might break it down even finer for combat and have each apprentice GM handle one round of combat before passing control to the next GM.
If we have attendees who didn’t run anything during the first mini-adventure, they’ll run scenes during the second. If turnout is smaller, we’ll switch the apprentice GM responsibilities and encourage the GM who did the talky intro to run some of the combat (and vice versa).
The last two scenarios should be almost completely normal, with half of the new GMs running for the other half as players, switching GMs every scene or two.
The Best Laid Plans
I’m really looking forward to working with Josh and Bill on our presentation. Bill has great “keep pace” techniques that I’d love to master… how better than by GMing at his side?
Some players expressed interest already, and we’re going to make another announcement for it at Saturday’s organized play. I hope we have good turnout at the workshop and that the workshop goes as well as we’re planning.
Of course, no plan survives contact with the players. I suspect that quote will prove true even for a workshop like this. Have you been a part of a GMing workshop as a player, GM, presenter or attendee? What are some things that we should keep in mind, or be sure to present? What would have reassured you and encouraged you to try GMing a little sooner?