In our group we have several new players. They have played about 5-10 sessions so far, and one of them has shown interest in GMing and has begun the process of becoming a GM. However, the player has also shown that he has trouble with "paperwork" (Has a hard time keeping track of his spells, finds it difficult to look things up from a book or the internet, etc.).

The player himself does not really know where to start, and I want to help him with that. I do not want to keep the player from trying to GM something, but I am afraid that I will quickly give too much advice, or too much "homework", in the sense of "Read this article!", "Read this book!" and "Look at these useful websites!" I do not want to overwhelm the player, and make GMing seem scary.

How do I mentor a GM to-be, without overwhelming him?

So far, I have only advised the player to read the Dungeon Master's Guide. He is aware of the huge amount of supplements available to him, but hasn't made a character with content outside of core, which leads me to believe he is not familiar with many books. How do I introduce him into the extra books without overwhelming him?

Furthermore, the player doesn't seem to realise how much work should be put into preparations. Is there some way I can ease it up for him at first, or should I just throw him into the deep?

I do NOT need advice on how to encourage my player to become a DM. He already wants to become a DM, the process has already started. I am asking how I should guide him, without changing this.

I do NOT need advice for my player; I will give this advice myself. I want advice on how I should guide him.

I want answers that can be backed by personal experiences or blogs/articles.


5 Answers 5


There are a couple of aspects to the way you have worded your question which ring alarm bells to me. I have extensive experience as a teacher and GM, although I have never mentored another GM beyond giving general informal advice. However, I feel I can satisfactorily answer your question by applying the general principles and skills I have learned as a teacher and GM myself.

The majority of the art of GMing can only really be learned by doing rather than by reading. Sure, there are a lot of how-to books and advice forums, but these only go so far as contact with the particular group you are working with. It takes putting things in to practice to understand something like GMing.

Does he NEED to use the books outside of core for his first game? Why do you feel this is necessary? As a mentor, I would be looking to ease someone in gently, and landing them with a ton of books they have absolutely no hope of remembering things from is not the way to do that. There is nothing wrong with encouraging them to start very small to begin with. Don't overwhelm them, keep it as simple as possible for you and for them. This will allow them to learn some of the core skills of GMing that apply in any system, such as ensuring player agency, evocative and appropriate descriptions etc.

Once they have the basics down, let them decide the direction they want to take things in, don't dictate it for them. Every single person involved in this hobby gets something slightly different out of it. What you enjoy is not going to be the same thing they will. Some GMs love the process of preparing for a session, others detest it. For this reason, there are as many approaches to preparation as there are GMs running games.

In particular, I question your assertion that you understand how much work 'should' go into their preparations. You never know, they might be fantastic at improvisation, and run games with less focus on the rules than you might, which is a completely legitimate way of doing things.

An additional approach is to let them co-GM for you for a while, taking responsibility of those parts that interest them at first, and slowly drip-feeding them responsibility as they get comfortable. In this way, you are there by their side as they learn on the job, and can offer help as and when they need it.

To sum up, I think it is great that you want to mentor this person. However, try not to mandate things just because its the way you do them. Guide them as gently as you can so that they can be allowed to find their own tempo, their own rhythm and their own way of doing things. Encourage them to start as small as they can to begin with. There's nothing wrong with using pregens in their first session if they find character creation overwhelming and want to focus on learning to run the game itself for example.


GMing isn't just about the system.

Yes, the GMs guide for D&D does have some useful information for new GMs, but this is hidden amoungst vast amounts of system related information. For certain systems you need to know the games backwards but for this person it sounds like they're not organised enough for that (yet?) - maybe they are still creative or can run great games, but D&D is unlikely to be their bag until they can get more familiar with it, it's not a forgiving system (in my experience) to start running a game with.

What I'd suggest you get them to do is run a simple one-shot game as a taster (and nice break for everyone) in a really simple system that everyone can follow. Get them to use you as a springboard for ideas for that game and then you can help them do things like designing encounters, how to manage NPCs and the like.

TOON is ideal for this, or Roll for Shoes - the number of rules are minimal and the new GM can concentrate on running some crazy/fun game where they won't get constantly bogged down with looking up the rules from supplement no. 43 where the fishmaster can produce haddock at twice the normal rate of a normal fishwarrior or whatever.

If they want to read a book they should look at something like Robin Laws Good Gamemastering for technique before they look at a system to play and watch some examples of online play.

TLDR: Read books on Gamemastering, not systems; watch videos. Run a one-shot game.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Your first sentence of "GMing is not system related" probably is meant to mean something other than what it sounds like, because... GMing is always system-related. It has very system-specific tasks, and may look completely different depending on the system you're using. (A D&D GM, a Fate GM and a Great Ork Gods GM are all doing very different things in practice.) I suggest you consider what you really mean to say, and rephrase. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 18, 2015 at 17:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ Point. What my title was about is that GMing isn't just about knowing about the system and knowing what rule is on what page - if you start with a (relatively, dnd isn't Dandanon or Rolemaster) complicated system then picking up the other skills you need of story creation, player management, how to use NPCs et al not to mention having fun are going to be a hell of a lot harder. \$\endgroup\$
    – Rob
    Commented Dec 18, 2015 at 18:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ I suggest you edit to clarify or pick a different leading line; I'm not sure what to suggest. GMing not being system related seems contrary to the point you just said. Maybe you want to mention pick something simple so they can learn the ubiquitous core principles? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 19, 2015 at 17:48

In this case, I would back off a lot.

You have a specific style of GMing. You want a bunch of books and rules. You value tracking and paperwork. You have a prep heavy style. These are NOT the only or the best way of GMing. There's a whole low-prep/zero-prep gaming movement, for example. Not everyone GMs D&D the way you do, nor should they. Let him find his own way, if he or the group has a specific complaint about an aspect of it, offer your advice when asked. Otherwise, zip it.

My old gaming group in Memphis, when 3e came out, we decided to have everyone GM one adventure - many had never GMed or had only when they were kids. What we did was not give guidance at all. Though many people had some issues with their style, they all did something amazingly well that they were naturally good at. When they needed help they could ask, though usually people know what it is their GM does and can put 2+2 together if they're having a problem that something they see their GM has done solves. And it was a positive experience for everyone, without the experienced GMs being all up in their business all the time - which made more of them willing to take up more GMing later.

You can help him the most by focusing on being a good player (facilitating others, being easy for the GM to work with) - which given your inclination to manage his GM process, may be more challenging for you than you think right now.


Don't Worry, It'll All Be Fine

One thing I've learned as a GM with a handful of other GM's that have come from my group is the same thing I've learned as a teacher and educator: cognition builds skill.

When I try to help my players transition into becoming GM's of their own, mostly for the sake of not being the forever GM, I try to teach them to think about the process of actually running a game. Once that's done, we identify areas of concern and ways to work through them.


For your question, it sounds like the player in question has issues with paperwork. That's true for a lot of novices, and even some more advanced GM's, especially those with a focus more on storytelling than on mechanics.

My advice would be to help them find ways that work for them. There's any number of "spell card" style products where you can buy printed spells, and the reason for that is that they're a great tool for novices. While I'm not a fan of them personally, encourage the GM to write down things (or type them up if they use a device).

Also, I know this may be irritating, but the only way I've ever known novice GM's to start doing paperwork is after they've had some embarrassing mishap, myself included. Now, I use a tablet or laptop whenever I run a game (or, if I can't have that, a smartphone), so I tend to have a digital rulebook or a SRD and I've gotten pretty handy with CTRL-F, but people don't always have those skills. It comes with time and experience, and you might need to gently point out times when it would've been better to have stuff written down when you see lapses in bookkeeping.


With regards to books, I would encourage you to let him explore at his own pace. A core rulebook and some room to expand and explore works better than necessarily having a full library of rules and content. Likewise, although a novice may make system-related mistakes when first transitioning from playing in a game to running the game, and that's especially common when playing in a game that has a lot of front-loaded preparation (for instance, D&D, which has a focus on balance and power levels in 3.5 that can make it easy to accidentally smash a party of adventurers).

As a general rule, people will move on to new content when they are comfortable with what they know: if you're talking with the GM and they say "So, I'd like to include something like this..." you might want to say "Oh, the Book of Intellectual Property Neutral Stuff, Volume 8 has something like that.", but otherwise let the GM go at their own pace. For instance, I'm a speedreader and a former featured reviewer on DriveThruRPG: I can go through a game in a matter of hours, run through a few scenarios, and have a grasp of some ideas for how I'd run an adventure. Someone who isn't a speedreader, doesn't have a whole lot of experience with game systems, and doesn't have a whole lot of time might get through a book a month.

Just handing someone books doesn't make them better at a game, and while people who can use a ton of books can bring both setting elements and mechanics together in beautiful, optimal harmony, I've found that just handing a newbie more books (or, in this case, getting fifteen books when I grab a system, since I'm willing to confess) doesn't always make them a better GM.

Giving Advice

One of the best ways to improve a GM is to be honest with them. Give them anecdotes from experience, suggestions for improvement, and identify the areas of concern with what you've seen. Do so in a way that isn't pushy:

"That encounter really stomped us into the ground! I remember back when I was running a game, and I accidentally put a Tarrasque in with five level 1 adventurers. The DMG has some advice on how to make encounters that are a little less one-sided."

That's not exactly how I'd word it, but you get the general point: don't be like "Dude, that was awful, those trolls were five levels too high for us and we just got wrecked. Make the encounters easier!", because that's not helpful. I've done the unhelpful criticism with vague action step thing enough times to know that it just frustrates a new GM.

One thing to consider as well is that some GM's just prefer certain systems. For instance, while I enjoy playing D&D 3.5, I wind up horribly murdering or boring my players if I run most d20 games, just because I'm not as comfortable or adept with those systems. In all the games my group of eight(ish) has gone through, only a few of us will ditto each others' games; we started with Shadowrun and three of us have run that, two of us have run Dark Heresy, and two of us have run Pathfinder.

That doesn't mean that you need to switch systems to accommodate a new GM, especially if the new GM wants to run 3.5, but you might be seeing a case where the GM isn't really aligned with the design philosophy of the game, and that can be a hard thing to work through.


I'm new here, but I might try encouraging better habits related to paperwork as a player. Try to give him advice that is applicable to both playing and GMing (such as better note taking and research) that will be easier to undertake now as a player, and then be habit when he attempts GMing. This will of course depend on how soon he hopes to GM, but I'd recommend making him aware that these mistakes will hamper him as a GM and he will probably be more willing to work on improving now, and it will probably happen quicker. Sorry that this isn't exactly a personal experience, but I hope it helps! :)

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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to the site! RPG.Stackexchange is a website dedicated to providing expert answers to specific questions. It is paramount that the answers reflect personal experience or refer reliable sources. As it is, this answer is little more than speculation. Maybe you could try to back it up with actual experience? Also, I invite you to take the Tour and look at How to write a good answer guide. \$\endgroup\$
    – eimyr
    Commented Dec 16, 2015 at 10:51

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