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Last night we played our first RPG (ever!) and I'm not sure if it went well.

The game was Deathwatch and the basic story was to find someone. There were three possible places where he could be; then the players hot wire a truck and escape the area - a simple story for an intro game. Here's how it went:

It took an hour and a half to roll up 4 characters - can this just be put down to inexperience with the rules?

After 3 hours they had just made it to the first place the target could be. I said yes to my player's "I'm an 8 foot super human, can I burst through the wall?", saying "sure; take a strength test to get through and a toughness test to see if you're hurt."

I can't ever see them completing the mission at this rate :( Am I doing something wrong or is this just how it goes when you're learning?

They did however love it and want to continue next week.

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90 minutes to roll up characters might not be that long if everyone's new to the game, but it will also depend on the RPG you're playing. Was it fun to do? –  ioanwigmore Sep 6 '12 at 10:06
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An hour and a half for a Deathwatch character certainly isn't out of line, especially the first time. It's a pretty crunchy game, I'd probably obsess over it for longer than that. As for the rest of the time spent - you're not saying what the "time waster" was so no one can give you very on target advice. Why did it take three hours to get to the first place? They were busy roleplaying? They fought people on the way? They were busy dicking around IRL and not making headway on the game? What? –  mxyzplk Sep 8 '12 at 14:19
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Note to other editors: Please don't add the [deathwatch] tag without giving a compelling argument for why this question is inherently about that game and needs the tag. It's just extra information for context for the benefit of answerers, which means it belongs in the body, not the tags. It would not help other Deathwatch players for this to show up in a search on that tag. –  SevenSidedDie Sep 11 '12 at 17:57
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6 Answers 6

They did however love it and want to continue next week.

I am afraid you have answered your own question. The first rule of playing RPGs (or anything) is to have fun, so just make sure you also have your share of it.

Now, you are new players, so it is obvious you are going to spend time learning the system, learning how to play with each other, learning how to play at all, learning what type of playing you like most, and learning how to have more fun, and learning... You know the drill.

If you think the game didn't proceed far enough you expected it, you can employ some of these tricks:

  1. Do not be afraid to skip unimportant stuff. Your players want to get from West City Of The Western Edge Of The World, to East City Which Is Billion Days Of Walk From The West One, do the transition in a snap: "After a few days of travelling, you reach your destination, [proceed to describe it or throw an angry mob at them]"
  2. Do not hesitate to modify your plot. If it took them a day worth of playing to reach City A, but their target is at City D, perhaps it will be better to move the target to where they are right now?
  3. If they spend most of their time discussing things between each other, leaving you a bit out, why not throw an NPC to travel with them? Or encounters, people getting interested by what they are talking about, robbers, muggers, pickpockets, wandering salesmen, spontaneous dragons, et cetera.

To quote numerous smart people who used the same quote I will now paraphrase:

It's the journey that's important, not the destination.

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To answer the primary point first: Sounds like you did a good GMing job, especially for a first time. The most important question is the one you answer yourself: Did your players have fun? (And the matching question, did you have fun?) If everyone's having fun then by definition you're all doing it right.

With that said, some analysis of your more detailed points:

  1. An hour and a half to create four characters doesn't seem excessive, for a first game.

    It depends very much on what rules you're using and how well everyone knows the universe. For a first game in a new universe and a complicated rules system (Eclipse Phase, say), I'd allow anything up to an entire evening - it's not unheard of to start with an entire session just for character creation. On the other hand, in a simple game that the players already know well, twenty minutes can be more than enough. Sounds like you judged it about right.

  2. The concrete example of play you gave looks like pretty good GMing to me. A player wanted to do something with his superhuman power; you said yes and told him what rolls to pass to pull it off.

    That's the basis of most good GMing. (When in doubt, it's usually better to say "yes" than "no". Then make the "yes" lead to somewhere challenging or interesting.)

  3. "I can't ever see them completing the mission at this rate."

    Sometimes that is how it goes when you're learning. Sometimes that's how it goes even with a really experienced group. Whether it's a problem depends on your group dynamic. If you think there's a pacing problem, begin by asking why the group didn't get on with the mission:

    • Slow play due to fumbling with the rules? Not a problem; practice with the system should take care of this.

    • Players having trouble seeing how to solve the problem / advance the plot? This might need addressing. If it's important to the plot that players accomplish something (such as finding your missing person), try to make sure there are always several different ways it can be done. (Being stuck is less fun than making progress!) As Maurycy says, don't be afraid to change your plot planning - why not move your missing person to the second place they look?

    • Players taking forever to plan their actions and instead of doing it? Could be a problem if it slows the pace too much, but it's a good sign that the players are involved. With completely new groups I like to give each player an "emergency help" poker chip, which they can turn in to get a hint if they're stuck or a miraculous survival if they're about to die. This lets players try things with more confidence. (In some games there's a similar mechanic built in; you can use that instead.)

    • Players finding other ideas and following them up instead of the search you expected? This isn't a problem; this is great news - it means the players are getting involved in your world.

I'd give it another session or two before worrying about this though; your group may simply be taking time to get started. It sounds like you have a pretty good grasp of the basics.

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This! In my game group, everyone was somewhere between veteran and all-star status when we met, we've gamed now for almost 15 years, and we STILL can take a 1 night plot and turn it into a year-long "campaign". Pace should almost never be an issue as long as people are enjoying things! –  Pulsehead Sep 6 '12 at 13:29
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"Am I doing something wrong or is this just how it goes when you're learning?"

It goes exactly like that.

If your question was "What are some of your greatest GMing failures" I could regail you with some real whoppers, but I digress.

It may help you feel better about the work you've done if you define some goals.

Popular goals may include:

  1. Having FUN!
  2. Helping others have FUN!
  3. Accomplishing Plot Advancement.
  4. Making the serious moments serious.
  5. Allowing Humor to happen without it getting away from you.
  6. Recognizing Achievements with due rewards.
  7. Challenging players without squashing them.
  8. Having the players challenge/surprise you!
  9. HAVING MORE FUN!

Setting up goals in this manner beforehand may help you learn your strengths or weaknesses and allow you to see it is not all bad when a specific thing about the game doesn't go well.

When you first start you are bound to make mistakes. Take your time and enjoy those mistakes as much as you possibly can. Learning from your mistakes will make you a better GM and teach you a lot about how you want to run a game. Knowing this will also tell you when there may be a problem with a game mechanic, a certain type of player, or when a plot just simply won't work for you.

To quote G.I. JOE:

AND KNOWING IS HALF THE BATTLE!

If you're looking for more tips:

  • Improvise.
  • Build NPCs, but don't write biographies
  • Read through the book a couple of times/ obtain a GM screen.
  • Players Never go where you want them to when they have a choice.
  • Never.
  • Training wheels are good. Railroads are bad.
  • Metagaming is usually bad.

(P.S., Railroad: to coerce players to act by removing their ability to choose their own actions. Similar concept: Being Mind Controlled. Not fun. Metagaming: Using out of character knowledge to accomplish a goal when it is not available in character. Similar concept: Cheating. If you didn't learn it, you shouldn't know it.)

TLDR; Yes, learning takes time. No, you did it right. That's how it usually goes.

  • Have Fun.
  • Learn Lots.
  • Improvise Often.
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I would like to give you a slightly different answer (at least from the others you received). They are not wrong, but in my opinion the whole thing can be seen from another point of view.

You said:

They did however love it and want to continue next week.

Someone said that this is the answer to your question… but I have to disagree. Being a GM is something completely different from entertaining people in a tourist resort. The fun that is built around a table is not up to a GM, but the whole group. Believe me, you will also have fun playing Snakes and Ladders with your closest friends.

You're a GM and this means you're a player like everyone else. I already said that isn't up to you to entertain the others, but it's plain that your role is different. So… how to know if you did well? Change the point of view.

Did you have fun? Probably you did. Were you satisfied by the game?

I can't ever see them completing the mission at this rate :(

From that sad smile, it seems you were not. It seems you ended up a bit frustrated – so frustrated you decided to ask on this site if you did a good job and how you can improve your gamemastering. Ask yourself if you are OK with the idea of doing another ten session like that, or if you think that two more will be enough for you to screw up everything and kill some of your players.

So, I don't want to be rude, but you would like to say that you didn't do a good job.

On the other hand, that's normal. It was your first time. Every one of us had their first time as GM – none of us did a good job. Why? Because the books and forums teach us that a GM has a great responsibility and that it's up to them to entertain the players.

So, our first time (and that's probably what happened to you, and, believe me, to everyone), we want to have everything under control. We know where clues are to be found, we know where bad people are hiding, we know how many children the smith has, we know how many flowers there are in city hall garden, we even know which tavern has the most bitter beer.

And then? Then players ignore everything. They do something completely different from everything we have prepared and they take three hours to do what could be done in twenty minutes. We took three weeks to prepare a perfect world for them and they ignore it. That's frustrating. Where did we go wrong?

Where we went wrong was in wanting or thinking we had to be the ruler. We are not expecting or prepared to be surprised by them. We think that we have to surprise them with our best while it's a bad thing if we are surprised: otherwise it means we didn't prepare well. Wrong! Wrong! Wrong!

Approach you gamemastering as if you're going to watch a movie. You've already watched the trailer: you know what the movie is about, you know who the characters are, you can imagine fairly well how it ends (come on, everybody knew that Frodo would throw that damned ring into Mount Doom even before the beginning of the first movie, and this is true even of people who didn't read the books). What are you missing? What will happen in the middle. You know the beginning, you know the end, but do not try to imagine how they will get to the end. This is entirely up to them. Just write down some checkpoints, but be prepared: it's likely they will bypass them.

Be ready to be surprised. Be ready to endorse all they propose to you. Let them build the world. Let them gamemaster you. You're like a writer with just a start of an idea, who creates the characters but then sees them start to live and to decide how things will happen. This is the greatest thing about being a gamemaster: you let the players thinking you're ruling them, while they are writing an incredible story for you.

Once the story is finished, you'll read it with a certain satisfaction and you'll know you did a great job as a gamemaster.

Paraphrasing Le Moulin Rouge (with a small liberty taken):

The greatest thing you'll ever learn is just to master, and be mastered in return.


PS: Just a side note: only one-and-a-half hours to build PCs?? Great. I admire your group.

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@sevensideddie, Thank you very much for your edit! –  Zagorax Oct 1 '12 at 8:47
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In short: No, you did a fine job!

About Character Creation: Character creation is notoriously long in most RPGs. I've spent entire evenings where we didn't even finish creating all our characters in time to game before everyone had to leave. Don't worry, it's normal. In time, when everyone knows the rules, character creation will be much faster. Planning a session to build characters before the game is one trick, as is creating characters on your own before the game starts. Given that everyone was new to the game, I think you made the best possible choice there (everyone can help each other out and see what the others are doing).

About Rules Calls: My advice would be to just keep plugging away at it. Eventually you'll get a good feel for what to gloss over and what to call dice rolls for. In my experience, you don't have to call for rolls for mundane tasks such as: getting from A. to B., walking, eating, talking, and so forth.

However, if the players are trying to bash through walls and such, you have a different set of options. If you want it to be tough, you can call for a single rolls (yes, you can bust through all walls or no, you cannot bust through any walls). If it's a singular event such as one wall you could call for a roll each time it's attempted. This will mean the player will eventually fail. The final option is, allow them to bash as many walls as they want automatically.

Based on your OP, I'd say you figured he should be able to bust through all walls, but felt compelled to roll each single time (bogging down the game and taking forever). My recommendation (in that case) would be to call for the initial roll. If it's failed, he can't bash through any walls. If it succeeds, he can bash through all similar walls without making infinite dice rolls. If you think it should wear him down, you can simply say: you can only bash through x walls before you collapse from fatigue or assign it a certain amount of damage to his fists or whatever.

It sounds like the player thinks he should be able to do it automatically (they always do). If you completely agree with him, you can skip dice rolling altogether. Personally, I'm in favor of the single roll.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, if you really think he 'shouldn't' be able to bash through walls you can allow him a roll every time but as soon as he fails one he can't bash through any more. If you think it would be impossible, you can simply say, "you bash the wall and hurt yourself."


Above all, my recommendation would be to keep playing. You'll become more familiar with the rules, faster, and better used to making improvised rulings.

Part of the key to being a good GM is to use your best judgement on occasion. While the rules might call for x dice and modifiers (and attempt to cover everything) sometimes it's simply best to consider all relevant factors, assign it a dice roll (like you did) and then describe the results.

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Since you had fun, you obviously didn't do badly. ;>

I take exception to one nearly unanimous comment from the other posters. If simply making characters for a First Game takes 90 minutes, there's something wrong. (And I find the complacency about that to be shocking.)

In the many games I've run for first-timers, I hand out premade characters and we start playing within 5 minutes. If anyone asks about the details on the sheets (and if those are less than obvious), the answer is simple: "Don't worry about those yet. Let's find out together how those details are actually used during the game... when they come up!"

Detailed characters with depth and long-term viability are the least thing you should worry about in a First Game. Explain the added details when their use actually arises. That's far easier than burying the players with all the explanations at once... and faster too.

The fun's in the roleplaying. The rules are only a framework to help that happen.

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