Playing with a First Time GM

When it’s your first time running a game, you’re very likely to have no idea what the hell you’re doing.  Everything looks different from the other side of the screen, and there are a lot of things to worry about that used to be someone else’s problem.  I’ve talked before about ways a fresh GM can make their lives easier, but what I don’t see people talk about often is how player etiquette changes, or at least how it should change, when it’s your GMs first time.  To start with, let’s acknowledge that…

1. A New GM is Probably Going to Suck

A new GM is probably going to suck.  Running an RPG is a skill, and just like any other skill it takes time to get good.  They have to not only tell a story but also manage all of the characters in that story, while interpreting rules and refereeing conflicts.  Pretty much all of my advice for first-time GMs is an attempt to compensate for this, but there will still be mistakes made and experienced players should be ready to accept that a first time GM is probably not going to run the best game that they’ve ever played in.  So, what should a player do, or avoid doing?  Let’s start with…

2. Keep Your Character Simple

If its your GMs first time, they’re learning to do a lot of new things and the easiest way to ease the transition is to play a basic character.  I’m not saying your character can’t have some flavor to them or a cool style, but keep it simple.  If you use a first time GM to test out that build you found on the internet that requires five different classes, two alternate abilities, a third party thing you found on the internet, and a feat that’s hidden away in some splat book nobody reads, then you’re an asshole and shouldn’t be allowed at the gaming table.

Limit your characters to the core mechanics, and try not to multiclass more than once.  Your GM is already balancing a lot of stuff, and they don’t need to have to dig up a series of obscure feats or figure out archetypes.  As a general rule, if you would ask a normal GM permission to do a thing then just assume a first-time GM will tell you no.  Not because they WILL tell you no, because they’ll probably tell you yes, and because they will no doubt regret telling you yes.

  1. Don’t Go Off Book

If your GM is running a module for their first adventure, or even if they’ve written out their own little thing, don’t decide to make them add extra stuff on the fly.  If the GM has set up an adventure where you go into a palace and fight an evil wizard, don’t try to find every detail about the history of the wizard or the realm he’s terrorizing.  If that’s a thing “you character would do” then don’t play that character for a first time GM.  Play a character who has an interest in going into a palace and fighting an evil wizard, because the GM isn’t experienced enough to be ready for your bullshit.

Having to answer questions that are not a part of the story you intended to tell can get frustrating, even for experienced GMs.   This is extra true if there’s only one player demanding the answers, because then you’re not even shifting the story, you’re just dealing with Frank’s bullshit and trying to find a polite way to say “Shut up Frank, if you really want to take a three hour class on Ancient Mystaran History you can pay me four-hundred dollars and show up for an hour and a half on tuesdays and thursday.  Right now, we’re adventuring!”  New GMs, though, are likely to be more polite, trying to do whatever they can to keep their players happy even if it actually ruins everything for everyone except Frank.

  1. Don’t Ask the GM to House Rule

When a GM is implementing a house rule, it’s important for them to have a solid understanding of the rule as it is normally.  They need to know how the rule works and why it works that way, and if all of their previous experience is as a player then they probably don’t.  There are a lot of rules that you may never interact with directly as a player, most notably monster abilities and how they work, or the features of any class that you’ve never played.  A first time GM is likely at the point where they still have to look up how certain rules interact with each other, and they don’t need the extra pressure of having to figure out how a rule should interact with a rule that only exists because you asked them to do it.

An addendum to this is that the GM is free to implement house rules.  I don’t necessarily think that they should implement a house rule if it’s their first time, but experimenting with house rules is part of the learning process.  They should just be doing it because they want to, and not because they’re being asked to.

  1. Don’t Be Afraid to Offer Advice

First time GMs are going to make mistakes.  If you’re an experienced GM, don’t be afraid to offer advice.  As a player, you can also tell them what might make their games more fun in the future.  Advice and constructive criticism is good.  You can even safely point out rules that a new GM might not know, like how breath weapons or pounce work.

Of course, understand that a GM may not take your advice.  Someone’s first few times running a game are a learning experience, with them finding their own voice and style as a GM and that may be nothing like your style.  Understand that just because they do not make the same decisions as a GM that you would that it doesn’t mean they’re bad or even that they have no idea what they’re doing.  It just means that they’re still finding their style, and it’s not the same as yours.

It IS a realistic possibility that they WILL be bad, though.  Some people do just kind of suck at GMing, but you shouldn’t assume that until they’ve had the chance to run a game or two and if you’re an experienced player with a new GM, it’s important to support them and help them avoid developing bad habits.  A first GMing experience can shape how someone runs their games in the future, so keep that in mind as a player.

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