I play a Pokemon tabletop game with a few friends. We're all in college, and our GM recently stepped down due to falling grades. I offered to take over if there were no objections, and as you can likely guess, I got the position. Now, I have a few ideas of my own and our old GM will be providing me with everything he has, but I'm still rather nervous as this is my first time GMing. What advice do you have for a completely new GM taking over in the middle of a campaign?
You've got two separate challenges/opportunities:
- It is your first time as GM.
- You're inheriting a game-world.
There is good news on both fronts! First, you'll be playing with the same folks you've always adventured with and know something about how they play. And you already actually know how the game works, the main PC's interact, and some of the quirks of the universe. The transition will be a little awkward at first, but mostly for you - since the players still just show up, drink soda, and roll dice.
Make your training a group project:
Work with your group - tell them that you'll need help as a GM, and forgiveness as you evolve the storyline/sandbox to become your own. Tell them you'll need lots of reminders about previous game history, how the rules work, and how and when to make certain rolls and decisions. Invite them (and you too!) to share how what they liked about the previous GM's techniques and what changes they would like to see going forward.
You'll still be the GM, who's word is law, but this should be a honeymoon period - take advantage of it!
Most of all, have fun!
This should be a very exciting time for you and the group - a chance to take things in a fresh, updated direction. Give yourself permission to make mistakes and correct them later.
If it's possible, run your first session like it's the first episode of a new season of a TV show. Run the session in a way that spotlights the core elements of the characters in a relatively familiar circumstance. This way, the players can see how you handle their PCs in a typical game, and you can start to show them what your GM style is like.
Don't try to be the old GM. Everyone has their own style and it can take a while to figure out what that style is. But don't try do something a certain way because the previous guy did. Make it your own, with your own flair. Talk to the previous GM about what his ideas and goals were for the campaign, and then turn them into your own campaign. Keep the primary goal at least close to the same for the purpose of continuity. But for everything else, keep what you like, alter what you want to change, toss out what you don't like.
I think it's especially important to make abundant changes if the previous GM is staying with the group as a player. You want to make it clear very quickly that you are the one at the helm now. If you don't, you'll be constantly struggling with "that's not what was supposed to happen" kind of situations from them.
But even if they aren't staying in the group, it's important for any GM to make it their own to at least some extent. That gives you more motivation to be a genuine and enthusiastic story teller than you would be if all you did was read from the script. And I think for the players that can make a huge difference in their enjoyment.
It might be a good idea if you played something different for the first session. If you have the time, prepare a quick one-shot (either a pre-gen adventure, or something you cooked up yourself using the five room model) with low-level characters. This allows you to try out some of the base mechanics, and it allows you and the players to get used to one another without jeopardizing the main campaign. It also makes for a cleaner break with the past, and you'll be more confident and quicker when you resume the old campaign.
I'm a GM of an endless (six years now) campaign and I'm tutoring my brother before he becomes the main GM; I moved to another city meanwhile and I won't be able to continue playing with that group forever. So I'll try to add my experience - if it's too late for you, then for others in a similar situation.
First: you need to maintain the universe, but not necessarily the area where most adventures take place.
One of the two would-be GMs for our campaign is my brother, who already ran a story arc in eastern wilderness, where the party have never been before. We regularly discuss everything about our gaming world outside sessions, so I'm sure he will be able to run games in the well-known lands as well, but having first few sessions in new, though not so distant, area helped him with the first steps.
So do something less radical, but similar to what Jonas suggested: take some place you know better than any other player (because it's connected to your former PC's backstory, because you have created the area, or because it's a module you just slightly modified to fit into your game world) and run your first few sessions there. This decreases the chance that someone else would tell you (or, what's worse, silently feel disappointed) that something is different than ever before.
You already know the PCs, so playing for other characters can have only one advantage: if you are not sure whether your adventure is well suited for their level, using different characters reduces the anger after eventual party wipe. But I would rather suggest to start with slightly easier adventure and then increase the difficulty, when you get the sense of adequate challenge.
Making the party travel somewhere else will also help the players understand that there's a new GM and that slight differences in gaming style are OK. Make this story arc not "forever", so that players liking their old homes and NPCs wouldn't feel too disappointed, but long enough so that you can say "it's a long time, they have changed" whenever you roleplay some NPC in a way other players see as inconsistent with the way the previous GM roleplayed them.
Also, ask other players for help, mercy and feedback, as Randall suggested.