I haven't played a table top RPG before. I've played RPGs in video game form for my entire life, though. I also write a good deal, and I've won like... two contests for short stories. I assume that's why a friend of mine approached me to play D&D with a group of people I know. She wants me to write the scenario for the game... be the GM, I guess. I'm unsure. It isn't that I've been uninterested in table top RPGs... I have been, but I never went out of my way to learn anything about them. So I know literally nothing about playing a table top RPG. But I'd like to play, since it sounds fun! But I... don't know about the GM part.

Like I said, I've never played D&D or any RPG similar to it before... But I'd assume based on reading questions and answers here that it's way different from playing video games. My friend seems to be thinking that because I like writing and write often, I will be a good GM. But I'm not particularly sure my writing is a) the required style of story-telling for GMing a game and b) going to enrich the situations better than someone who isn't a writer/knows what they're doing. I keep thinking it'd be better for the GM to just consult me rather than have me be the GM if they think I would bring something good to the table since I don't know what I'm doing. My friend says it's fine if I play and they'll walk me through it, but I'm still not having it.

But all that aside, I don't really want to know how to become a "good" GM per se-- I mean, I do want to be good, but that's not what I'm worried about here. I'm certain my friend will walk me through being a "good" GM, but I'm wondering about actually being a GM. My friend seems to have asked me to be GM because I write, but I don't know if I should be GM for that reason alone. How do I determine if being the GM is right for me?

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    \$\begingroup\$ This question's likely to be closed, because it's just way too much to be answer-able concisely and authoritatively. Entire books could be (and have been) written on the subject of DMing well. It also depends heavily on the people you're playing with, the system you're using, the type of game you all want to play, and so on. And even then, a lot of what makes a "good" DM is more preference than fact, which makes it hard to say "this is the correct answer," which this site depends on to function correctly. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Apr 2, 2014 at 17:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ What I'm getting at is that this site is not a good fit for this. We'd be happy to Role-playing Games Chat about it, and it's conceivable that you could refine the question a great deal to make it a good fit, but ultimately it looks like you're more interested in discussing DMing than getting a specific question answered. For discussions, this site isn't good, but a discussion forum shines. There are a few questions here about finding good discussion forums for various systems. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Apr 2, 2014 at 17:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ As a piece of advice to keep this open, perhaps consider retitling it. As an experienced RPGer reading this, it seems to me that the most important question you have is whether or not, and how to find out, you actually want to GM. How to be a GM once you've decided seems to be secondary (and is very broad in any case). Perhaps retitling this How can I decide whether being the GM is right for me? or something to that effect may give it more legs. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 2, 2014 at 18:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie Okay, I'll do that then. Thanks! \$\endgroup\$
    – Ice-9
    Apr 2, 2014 at 18:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ If this is your first exposure to RPGs, you may want to try being a player first, if that is an option. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 2, 2014 at 20:03

2 Answers 2


You're right that GMing is not just about writing—in fact, "frustrated writer syndrome" is often a problem that bad GMs have, since roleplaying is a shared creation and sticking to a specific plot is often un-fun for the rest of the players, and doesn't really suit the medium. When writing you control the protagonists, but in roleplaying the GM by definition doesn't control them, and protagonists have to have agency and choice to be protagonists. Consequently a GM is more of a creative director, collecting and orchestrating their own and the other players' creative input into a (semi-) coherent whole. It has some affinity with writing, but as an activity is it much more closely related to improv acting because nobody actually knows what will happen next, and finding out is much of the fun.

To get an idea of what GMing actually entails, the most complete, accessible, and all-in-one packaged reference is How to Run Roleplaying Games by Greg Stolze. He's an accomplished game designer that has worked with many different RPGs, and he wrote it specifically to be an introduction and instruction manual to the non-rules parts of being the GM—exactly what you're asking about—and in a way that will be useful for almost any specific RPG you choose.

Read that, and see if what it describes actually suits you. Then you'll have a better idea of whether GMing is actually something you want to do.

If it is, the actual RPG you would be playing will have a section or a whole book devoted to rules and advice for the GM. If you decide to take up the responsibility and privileges of the GM role, the rule books for the actual RPG you'd be player should be your next destination. And more generally than that, there's a whole internet full of advice for novice GMs. If you take up the GM mantle and get more acquainted with the role, you're certain to come up with more specific questions, and specific questions are easier to answer.

An alternative to GMing that's still RPGs

In the case that you decide that being GM is not what you want to do (and I'm assuming your friend doesn't either given the hard sell she's made to you), you don't have to give up on RPGs, as there's an alternative that may satisfy her and let you still explore/adopt the hobby: not every RPG requires a GM.

Because roleplaying games are very related to improv acting, there are games that take this similarity to heart and arrange their rules such that the game just ... works, without needing a central director, the same way some improv guidelines can allow every actor to be working on stage at once without needing one to be a non-acting coordinator.

These RPGs are called "GM-less", and there are a lot of them. A few ways to find out about them:

  • We have a tag that you can browse through to get a small sample of what's out there, based on what ones people ask questions about here.
  • RPGGeek hosts a searchable, categorised database of RPGs—their GM-less category lists almost 500 RPGs (in the "Linked Items" list at the bottom of the page).
  • Pluggin gmless rpg into your favourite Internet search engine will get you many options, as well as interesting discussions about how GM-less games work.

As a bonus, GM-less games often have shorter rules than traditional "GM-ful" games, so it'll be quicker to actually get from zero knowledge to playing. As an end in themselves they are very satisfying RPGs, but they are also an easy way to get into the hobby, since they demand less organisation before play, and don't require the up-front commitment of one player to a role they can't know will suit them beforehand.

  • \$\begingroup\$ The reference was really helpful! In turns out my friend was really looking for a GM for the group since no one in the group wanted to GM much so we're going to play a gm-less game so I can get used to playing. But thank you for translating my super-broad question into something managable. I don't feel nearly as lost as when I was asked to play in the first place. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ice-9
    Apr 4, 2014 at 13:23

Go Play!

I haven't played a table top RPG before

Do that. You have friends who according to what you wrote, want you to play. Ask them if you can be a player first, or at least watch them play.

Being a player isn't the same as being a GM, but since the GM sets the game up for the players, if you get some experience playing you will understand a lot more easily what the GM is expected to do.

Being a GM is Great, If...

I'm the GM in a game right now, and the players are having fun. I'm having fun. So it's going well. But getting everyone to that point requires a lot of flexibility. The key difference between video game RPGs and tabletop RPGs is that in this kind of game, the players are only limited by their imaginations.

There is no programming code saying that the meteor won't fall until they get to the final city, or that they have to go talk to a given NPC to advance the plot. They might decide to kill that NPC. They might decide to go do something else. They might take challenges you come up with and invent solutions you never thought of. This requires the GM to be flexible, and willing to react to what the players do. The GM is setting up the world and having it interact with the players, but everyone at the table is collectively writing the story through what they do.

So, a writing background can be really helpful. It can also be really harmful. If you get it in your head as a GM that the players are supposed to do things a certain way (or even do a certain thing), you will be disappointed because inevitably the players won't do what you want at some point. If you try to force them down a certain path too harshly, it takes away their freedom and makes the game less fun. (You can guide them within reason, of course. They don't necessarily get to run around just robbing and murdering everybody without the city guards reacting, as an example.)

But if you use your writing background to set up an environment, a general plot line, and some interesting characters, and then let the PCs interact with it? You're well on the way to having a fun campaign.

It also helps as a GM if you're organized (as there can be a lot to keep track of), and if you're good at thinking on your feet (with creative players, improv is a pretty handy skill).

But Seriously, Go Play

Having said all that, I don't think I can actually answer the question until you play a bit first. It's one thing to tell you what a GM does, it's another to show you. When you see a GM and a game in action, you'll probably be able to decide on your own if you want to try it or not.


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