Disclaimer (Move your mouse to the spoiler area to reveal the content) In most of my guides, I typically avow a lack of absolute knowledge on the topic at hand. In this guide, however, this disclaimer is a little different. First: I am a GM, and have been for years. Ten years to the date, to be exact. I was terrible at it for the first couple of years, too, so don't worry if you're fretting over all of your role plays dying—I've had dozens die on me. Even two here on Iwaku by the names of “Sanguine State” and “Animus Veritas” went and died, though the latter I intentionally killed off. That said, I'm versed and experienced in GMing anything from tabletops, to chat role plays, to forum role plays. I am highly experienced in this area and thus actually qualified to speak with concrete knowledge which I learned through trial and error. I've completed multiple role plays, two of which were forum role plays. The longest role play I've run to completion lasted over four and a half years. Second: There will be biases here and there. They're unavoidable when talking about subjective topics—such as storytelling. I will do my best to prevent them from slipping in, but keep in mind that my way is not the only way. There are at least dozens of other ways and interpretations on how to GM properly by experienced people. Therefore, think of this guide as a concrete foundation from which to build your own style and methods. Take what you need, dispose of the rest, and don't be afraid to refer to it multiple times. Core Concepts/Rules Plots & Premises World-Building NPCs Player Tips Core Concepts/Rules These are the core concepts & rules that you should understand before you attempt to tackle anything else about being a GM. If everything else is how you construct a house, then this is the foundation upon which that house is built. If you haven't read how posts are constructed yet, you should do that now. You'll need to be able to disseminate how posts are constructed properly before you can even begin to write constructively for your players. The KISS Principle: KISS, or “Keep It Simple, Stupid” is a central tenet to any GM's plot and world building repertoire. The simpler you can make something, the easier it is for others to understand and join you. Complexity will come about naturally as several simple concepts collide together, and the story progresses past its simple roots. If you're going to use stats and traits, use the simplest maths and concepts you can. Make sure you can summarize the premise of your plot in two lines or less. Ensure that the world is grounded in reality by using tropes which are easily and readily understood, and symbolism that is widely understood. Speaking of which... Tropes are tools: There's a TVTropes page on this very topic. Tropes and stereotypes are not your enemy. I'm going to reaffirm what I said in the second point of the disclaimer here: There is no one perfect way of storytelling, but, having a foundation to build from makes your life easier. Consider tropes your building blocks—stuff which you will use as a baseline for a concept, which you can modify and build up from—especially for NPC's. Originality is a bittersweet deceit: No idea is completely original. There is never an absolutely true “first” of anything—just a person who managed to achieve something first. Plane designs were inspired by birds, the science of medicine is taking what is already in the environment and manipulating it, and storytelling is all about constantly evolving up from a predictable set or series of concepts. A genre, after all, is just a collection of tropes that define a common starting point for lots of writers. Star Wars is a stereotypical “princess trapped in a tower” story, recycled in space—yet it's one of the most influential stories of our time. Shakespeare wrote about plenty of very typical human experiences—romance, betrayal, and death—but that made his stories no less foundational for western literature. You're not looking to be original, you're looking to be unique. You also don't want to strive to be too unique either—the further off the beaten trail you go, the harder it will be for others to understand and follow. There's a reason anime role plays and high school role plays have been consistently popular choices no matter how you feel about them: They're easily, readily understood by the large teenage minority (and sometimes majority!) on every role playing site. This includes Iwaku! So just keep in mind that your primary objective should never be originality. Being unique is a byproduct of being successful and enjoying what you're doing. Seriously, Star Wars is one of the most stereotypical stories ever made, and that has not stopped it from becoming a unique science fiction juggernaut that has generated billions of dollars in profits, and tens of thousands of fan stories in its wake. Role playing is not writing: Before y'all get your pitchforks out and rip out my heart to sacrifice me to the ancient gods of Central America, please hear me out. Role playing is not writing in the sense of writing a novel. Stuff you would do in a role play butchers pacing in novels and vice versa. They require different, specific skill sets. Novel writing and role playing, however, share something with script writing, play writing, puppet shows, poetry, documentaries, and even writing for some music and video games: They're all derivatives of storytelling. Storytelling has two core objectives, of which you can achieve one or both at the same time. To be entertaining. To be informative. This distinct difference is important to make because storytelling has a core set of skills that are transferable to any medium. Knowing how to manipulate emotions and give information in an interesting way are core to storytelling, and core to all of its derivatives—which includes role playing and novel writing. So the two aren't one and the same—they're siblings! They have a common parent, but each has its own set of skills. There are great novel writers who are awful at role playing and vice versa. More on that below. Writing vs Gameplay: Role playing finds its unique niche in having both game elements and writing elements. On the one hand, PbPRP (Play-by-Post Role Playing—forum role playing) requires that the users understand the basic precepts of language. If you can't spell, and your grammar is atrocious, and you lack spatial contextual awareness, it will severely handicap your ability to role play in a PbPRP environment. (Sorry @Diana but literacy is important, no matter how many people use that word incorrectly!) On the other hand, players take “turns” via posts. Players are called “players” as a carryover from its D&D roots. Players have character ownership and taking control over other people's characters is often considered a form of god moding, or at the very least a major faux pas. Character sheets exist solely as a games element—allowing a GM to vet player characters out if they're too powerful, or commit a different faux pas that would make little sense to vet in novel writing. It's good to understand this, because a major decision you will have to make as a GM in your stylization choice is to figure out which side of the spectrum you're going to lean on more. Personally, I incorporate more games elements. For example: I like to include stats and traits in my role plays. There are GM's that prefer to stick more toward the writing side of it, and abolish ideas like character ownership. For example: @fatalrendezvous wrote a solid guide about “character hijacking”, which requires the violation of character ownership to function. Either way is a valid way to GM—just be aware there are always alternative methods to try if your way isn't working. Sometimes all it takes to get an idea working is a stylization change. Player Limits: That is, how many players you will allow in your RP. Generally, you never want more than twelve, so set the limit to ten. That way, if you have to make room for an extra player or two, it's within your limitations. Depending on the plot and world, you may want more or less players than twelve, but twelve is a good starting number. Remember that each additional player adds onto your work load. Steal Good Ideas: Just steal all of them. If you see formatting that someone else uses and you like it, steal it. If you see a trait system that someone else uses and you like it, steal it. Become like a raccoon and dive bomb for anything you can get your grubby little paws on. Steal mine if you'd like—you never get better unless you're willing to adapt and learn from those around you. Even those you think are worse than you, can probably teach you something, if you're willing to listen... Just... Don't steal anything that's copyrighted. Just don't. Posting Dates: This is something I see nobody doing, but which everyone really should be doing. It immeasurably improved the survival of my RP's, and it's incredibly simple. Put a hard date on when you're going to post the next IC post, then do it once you get there, skipping over any players that haven't posted yet. Giving a hard date encourages players to post within a set time frame. If you post once a week every Saturday, then players will know that they have until Saturday to get a post up, and are less likely to forget. Often the GM post is the one that's advancing the story ahead, as the GM typically controls most (if not all) of the NPC's in the story, so when you post, the story is forced to progress! Try to be reasonable with posting dates however. Figure out how often people can post in your RP. If you're posting every day, a lot of people will be hard pressed to keep up, including myself. Pacing: Pacing is your lord and savior. As a rule of thumb... In the opening OOC post, your opening exposition should never take more than five minutes to read at a comfortable pace. Ten minutes if you're aiming for a very large and richly detailed universe. (In short: Keep it between 500-1,000 words at the most. Anything more and you start pushing the limit.) You should be able to summarize the premise of your plot in two lines. At the very least, in less than a paragraph. If it takes more than five sentences, you've officially created a clusterfuck—cut it down. In the IC, you never want to go more than one paragraph without at least one reference to a player character. (Always involve your players when describing the scenery. Note if anyone spotted anything interesting or out of the ordinary—this gives players free material to work with and allows you to cleverly weave world building with player interaction.) Keep in mind your own abilities when judging other people. Be honest with yourself. You gain nothing by lying to yourself about your own abilities. The only way you will begin to improve is by learning to be humble about what it is you can do. So: If the average length of your posts is two paragraphs, don't ask for more than two paragraphs. Keep in mind that, being the GM, you will nearly always (hopefully) be interacting with all of your players. Your players don't have this same luxury. Their posts will usually be shorter than yours unless they fill them with fluff. Don't take this to mean that you're a superior writer: It just means you have more material to write. Nothing more, nothing less. Without your players, you are a nobody. Pacing is your lord and saviour. Edison's lightbulb: It took a thousand attempts to make the light bulb work. There are hundreds of figures in history who failed time and time again, who through sheer indeterminable willpower, pushed on until they succeeded. If your role play dies, don't despair: Rejoice! This means you have something to learn! Contact the players who stayed with you to the end, and talk about what you could do to make the RP better. Rewrite it from scratch, edit the idea. KISS it better, try one or two different tropes, try a stylization choice to incorporate more or less game elements—figure out how to make the idea tick. Keep what works, dispose of what doesn't. There's no such thing as a bad idea in storytelling, just bad execution. Heck, I made a giant fantasy RP that lasted four and a half years. It took six attempts to make that bastard finally work. Legend of Renalta 2, the sequel to the four and a half year long RP, took several rewrites and still failed on its first attempt. Second attempt, Legend of Renalta 2 took off and has now lasted over a year. The Last Bastion, which has lasted half a year now, took four or five attempts to finally get working and went through major changes in the process. That wraps up that. Now, let's get to the part that everyone thinks of when they think “GM.” Plots & Premises First, understand that a plot is a final byproduct of a story-making exercise. It is divided as thus, though keep in mind that others divide it differently. Premise: What your story is about. “John Doe must defeat the Dragon in order to save the Princess.” Plot: How your story accomplishes this task. IE: The progression of events. “John Doe must defeat the Dragon in order to save the Princess, by traversing dangerous lands to the castle the dragon occupies and slaying it with the [Plot Device], then freeing her by kissing her.” Story: The surface level. Every line of dialogue, every action, and every thought a character has. The story is slave to the plot—the more content the story has which doesn't contribute to the plot, the more weight the story will have. This can be good or bad—this can mean player characters receiving development and growth arcs, a romantic subplot which results in emotional fruition... Orrrrr a metric ton of garbage fluff that is choking and obscuring your plot until it becomes an incoherent mess that nobody can understand anymore. Weight can add depth, or it can snap your RP's plot in two with a sickening crack and leave it broken on the streets. As a rule of thumb, always have a clear way to achieve the next step towards an objective. So if your character needs to reach a castle with a dragon to slay, explain the next clear step to getting there. Ex: “Cross the swamps of time”. Once they do that, explain the next thing they need to do: “Take an airship to the village of screaming rainbow llamas.” Continue this until the story wraps up or the role play dies. This is also how you proceed with RP's that have no end goal point: Just explain the next objective the players should accomplish. Even if that's something as simple as “go to class.” Notably, this does put you at odds with the players from time to time. What's good for the players is not always good for your plot, and you have to give players room to play. Let players stretch out a scene if necessary to develop their characters. If they drive themselves into a corner, help them out with an NPC giving them directions, or reminding them of their objective. If necessary, outright tell them in the OOC what to do next. Yes, this is a form of railroading. No, railroading is not inherently bad—it merely depends on how often you use it. Like any tool it can be used too much, and it often is by new GM's. Speaking of dirty tricks that GM's do in plots, prepare to learn the most sickeningly evil trick you have at your disposal to keep the plot going even if players don't do as needed for the plot. Illusion of Choice: This is a storytelling device often used in video games, and it works perfectly for role playing. No matter what choice the players make, it ultimately leads to the same conclusion. There may be minor tweaks or differences, but the ultimate end result is the same. For example: If you give your players a choice between trying to save John Doe or Jane Doe, and both of them have a set of skills that allow the players to access the next area, this is an illusion of a choice. It doesn't matter who you pick, the end result is the same: Access to the next area. If they decide to take a third and save both, the result is still the same. If they decide to save neither of them (or if they fail to save either of them), just have one of their corpses have a key on it, or create a third NPC later down the line who will help them in exchange for some sort of compensation. Same end result to the plot. What's important to understand about this tool is that, when used cleverly, it can impact the player characters in critical ways without making any modifications or changes to the plot whatsoever. For instance, if the players save Jane Doe, they'll have to live with never knowing who John Doe ever was. That might impact their characters. Some heterosexual male characters or homosexual female characters might take romantic or sexual interest in Jane Doe—an interest they wouldn't have had for John Doe. If the player characters try and fail to save both, they might have a morality epiphany—that sometimes, they can't be perfect heroes. If they save both, then John Doe & Jane Doe can get back together and might give the players an added reward later. That third NPC might ask for unusual compensation, that will impact the player characters' collective sense of morals. All while achieving the same end result to the plot—get to the next area. Bioware and Bethesda use Illusion of Choice all throughout their games. If it works for them, it can probably work for you too. Now that we understand all of that, let's move onto the meat and potatoes that you've probably been taught in a high school English LA class: Plot structure. Keep in mind that the plot structure I'm going over is typical of stories with a determined start and end point. If you're writing a sandbox story with no discernible end, this won't be very useful for you, as your goal is merely to string an endless series of objectives for the players to achieve until they get bored and quit. I'll have a short piece for sandbox stories beneath this exposition about plots. Also keep in mind that world building and plots are inexorably linked to each other. The kind of world you have will dramatically affect what devices you will need to give players to resolve the conflict. Step 1: Determine a premise. We're already gone over that a premise is the core idea of your story, or what your story is about. Every story requires a conflict to make it interesting—this is a generally accepted rule across storytelling mediums. I really can't emphasize this enough: All stories require conflict to be interesting. Even if your story is a romantic comedy, you need a conflict—something that gets in the way of the romantic couple from going “let's get involved.” An obstacle to the end result of the plot. Angry parents? Fear of commitment in one or both parties? Inexorable ideological differences that causes friction? Et cetera. The premise can cause stories to become longer or shorter in length. A romantic comedy in which the ultimate end goal is “they get together” is going to be much shorter than a massive fantasy epic adventure by its sheer nature. This makes it neither superior or inferior, merely different. Keep in mind what you want out of it as you make it. Maybe the premise isn't enough for what you want, but you could make it a subplot to a bigger premise. That romantic couple might work better within the larger context of a civil war, for example. The premise is typically also tied to the genre/era of the world. A Romeo & Juliet type story can differ wildly in execution based on the genre it's in, just look at Spaceballs as an example. The comedic and sci-fi elements altered how the relationship developed and what devices were used to move the plot forward. Step 2: Start brainstorming and writing, develop an exposition. In a role play, you have a section in every OOC dedicated to explaining what the story is about. Most people call it the plot. Indeed, even I still use this term, even though it's technically not the entire plot—it's the exposition of the plot. In this, you need to establish the following. The Setting: Where and when the story is situated in. Remember: World building and plot are inexorably tied together. This is also how you set the overall tone of the story. After all, a story set in a post apocalyptic wasteland is very different from a tale set in a grand plot about diplomats on a space station trying to maintain their faction's interests, which is different from a plot about exploring ancient jungle ruins. The Characters: Who is starring in this tale, from the heroes (usually the PC's) to the villains. Players typically establish who the starring cast is, but you can give them an idea of who or what they should be playing via exposition. For example: If your premise is about survival and romance, mention it in the exposition. It doesn't have to be fancy either, it can be something as simple and blunt as “this story is about people attempting to hide from the [plot devices], and falling in love with each other to help cope! [Insert emoticon here].” Remember the KISS Principle, especially for the next point! The Conflict: What is the core, driving force behind your story? The conflict is the thing which makes your story interesting! It's the thing that players are attempting to overcome! The end objective is to ultimately overcome the conflict and resolve it, so keep in mind that the bigger the conflict is, the longer the story is likely to go on for. Also keep in mind that even if a story resolves itself, the universe is still present, and can be used for sequels—so not every story has to last twenty years. A story that lasts a year can be satisfying, especially if it leads to a sequel. Taking the previous example of love and survival, maybe the plot device are aliens attempting to scour the galaxy of the last remnants of humanity, akin to Titan AE. Maybe a plague wiped out most people, and you're a few scientists in a lab struggling to finish a cure to save the rest—including yourselves. Maybe you're a few mutants at an academy just trying to survive against a society that fears and hates you, like in X-Men. The possibilities are only as limited as your imagination. Step 3: The Rising Action. The brainstorming doesn't stop when your exposition is written. Imagine a few scenes in the RP first—a few potential objectives or obstacles that the players will have to bypass. So maybe in attempting to survive against the aliens trying to destroy them all, they ultimately have to escape. How will they do so? Do they need to gather parts to build a machine? Do they need to acquire a map to figure out where to go once the machine is assembled? Do they need to try and capture an alien to get alien security codes to break a blockade keeping them planet-bound? Et cetera. If you can't think of at least 2-3 major obstacles to put in the way of players, stop and reevaluate your premise—it may just be too narrow to build a plot upon! You will also want to write this stuff down somewhere. Don't lose it, and don't show it to your players! This is where you can derive suspense in the plot. Reveal obstacles one by one that players need to bypass, to give them a sense of progression. Try to reveal these obstacles in order of difficulty: The story should get harder on the player characters as it progresses, to keep upping the ante until the climax hits. Even if you think a potential obstacle sounds really stupid, write it anyway (@Minibit ), because once you've got it written down, you might be able to edit it into something useful. I repeat myself: There is no such thing as a bad idea, just bad execution. Also keep in mind the KISS Principle once again: The simpler the obstacle, the more flexible it will be to the players interacting with it, and the easier it will be on you to deploy it in a story. If your obstacle takes more than a paragraph to describe, it's massively overcomplicated: Cut it down into smaller pieces, and present them individually. The more freedom players have to act within your story, the easier it will be for them to start accomplishing objectives and pushing the plot forward—so long as they know what objective they need to achieve next and how to do so. Step 4: The Climax. This is the end of the world as we know it, the evil empire is about to face the full might of the revolution, the major romance plot with several characters each vying for the affection with the princess is finally about to be ended with a declaration of love! This is the end of the story. Your story, and the story of the player's characters, and their trials and tribulations. This is when you pull out all the stops and send the story out with the biggest bang appropriate for the conflict. This is where the players attempt their escape from the alien world and succeed (or fail and die painfully), having overcome all previous obstacles up to this point. There isn't much else to say about the Climax except to repeat an earlier point: That just because this story is over, doesn't mean there aren't future stories in the universe you can tell. The PC's could bring their characters back for a second tale, even, though this is thinking quite ahead of ourselves here: This is the end. Not much else to say. Step 5: Falling Action & Resolution. For role playing, these are often tied together. The falling action is where the players resolve any remaining romance subplots or other subplots of that nature with their characters. The resolution is where you wrap up the story with a neat ribbon, giving a short epilogue of how the characters achieved their goals and went off into the future. If you want to write a sequel, keep it vague. If you don't, feel free to dump as much exposition-fluff in here as you want. Then, close the RP. Congratulations, you've completed a story. Notice how you had to brainstorm and plan out at least half of it? Part of your duties as a GM is to give players a goal and a direction. If you don't know where to go next, how can your players? Therefore, you need to have at least... A clear beginning mapped out for your players. At least 2-3 major obstacles that the player characters must overcome. A clearly defined end point for the story. Ex: Escaping a planet, defeating the evil empire, et cetera. Lacking this, you have to pull story points out of your ass in order to keep it going, which typically results in massive plot holes. The entire story doesn't need to be set in concrete—au contraire, that's probably the quickest way to poison the well and sap all individual power away from your players. You do need at least a general guideline of who, what, when, where, how, and why. You're the one paving the road the players are driving on, make sure it's a pleasant drive, and try to avoid plot holes, it tends to upset the drivers. As a final word of advice on plots, you'll likely want to have multiple endings on hand. Players make their own choices, and part of your job is to give incentive to them to make choices. If players are made aware that there are multiple potential endings—some good, some bad, some inbetween—this is a major incentive: It gives real value to their actions. Which means that not every choice you give them can be an illusion of choice, as some choices have to affect the world in which they live. Be careful about the ratio of real choices to illusion of choices you give, too much of either will hurt your story. You'll also likely have to remain flexible enough to change some elements of your story if necessary to fit the choices the players make. Sadly, the only way to learn how much is too much, is to learn and adopt your own style. Some people like linearity more, some people like sandboxes more, some people like running a line down the middle. It's up to you to figure that out. On Sandbox Stories: Sandbox stories are stories that pretty much lack a defined plot. There is no “end” point except that which the players invent for themselves. Sandbox stories often make a critical mistake of thinking that they operate on infinite material, when no such tale has ever existed. Every story comes to an end, it's just that sandbox stories don't have one that is defined or clear. Therefore, the best application of sandbox stories is in very large sandboxes—designing an entire castle-city for example, and letting players out in it. Sandbox tales depend more heavily on a world that is rich with detail and which encourages players to manipulate it. Mysteries, especially, thrive within a sandbox environment: Anything that is vague enough to warrant exploration and interest. The supernatural works well here, as it often operates on inexplicable properties. You will also need to be well versed in how characters function, so that you can constantly create a veritable pallet of diverse and interesting NPC's. Lacking a central conflict to resolve, the NPC's will help immensely, since they can each have their own, smaller conflicts to attend to, and/or can help the players achieve their own objectives. Romance subplots thrive well here, as do rivalry subplots. You will want to involve the players a little bit in the world building. Specifically, get them to create characters that are part of the world—shop keepers, mercenaries, detectives, doctors—characters that exist independently of the world don't function well. You'll want to create established relationships between some NPC's and some player characters to help further the art of immersion, typically friendships or business associations more than anything else to leave room for development of other kinds of relationships. Finally, accept that your story will probably just die because everyone will get bored and leave. It's a consequence of stories without a determinable ending. Compare to Minecraft or The Sims—no matter how much you enjoy the sandbox, eventually, you walk away. Neither of these have a story ending. It just goes on forever until the fun ends. World-Building Ah, world-building. We're finally here! Alas, that you are tied inexorably to plots & premises to make a story work, for this can be the most interesting part of a GM's duties. First, let's take a diamond katana and impale a couple of myths in glorious combat. Freedom does not equal success: Absolute freedom in a story is what most game developers call a chaotic cluster fuck. In idealism, you have a world full of thousands of interesting choices. In practice, you have World of Warcraft. The issue with freedom is that there is such a thing as having too many choices. If you're working with a game system that gives you 100 class options for example, you'll have difficulty picking just one to play with. The same applies to role playing: If you're constantly surrounded by endless choices, you won't know which ones to pick. Atop that, the impact of each individual choice is drained as more choices present themselves. If you're constantly surrounded by choices, then it doesn't matter what you do now: Another choice will come along shortly that can make your previous choice entirely irrelevant. Besides that, a standard plot does not function even slightly with absolute freedom. You need, for example, obstacles for players to overcome to make the conflict interesting—there's no such thing as an obstacle in a story with characters who are too powerful to be even remotely imposed by the obstacles presented to them. Therefore, you're forced to institute power caps, to keep players from god moding. You often need to have players somewhat invested in the conflict of the story, so their character's history needs to be tied to the conflict. You can have choices, but they need to remain constrained within the context of the story—someone suddenly pulling out a gun and killing your exposition NPC “just for the lulz” is a terribly destructive thing. Sure, he technically had the freedom to do it, but even @Diana has labelled these types of players as nothing but chaos creators. Whatever universe you make must have constraints that keep the players on par to each other, and keeps the world interesting through barriers they have to overcome. Larger worlds are not necessarily better worlds: Keep in mind the scale of your conflict and the KISS Principle. There's no sense in creating this massive world full of dozens of nations if you're only ever going to use one or two of them. Also, the bigger your world is, the more exposition you have to deliver to the players. The more exposition you have to deliver to your players, the less players will likely read through it all and decide to join. Pacing is your God. After all, only 5,575 words into this guide, and I bet it's already at least a little tiring. So, now that we've got that out of the way, let's get to the fun stuff. Step 1: In tandem with your premise, decide on a genre. Genres are collections of tropes typically centered around a time period/theme. There are numerous permutations, descendents, and sibling-genres to many of the better known and established genres, and the mixing of genres together in single worlds is incredibly common. The easiest way to obtain a unique feeling story is to take a premise that is normally known in one genre and play it out in another. Star Wars is a Space Fantasy in Space with Western elements—this is why it is both easily understandable and unique. Genres also service to give everyone the same basic starting point. If you're doing a Tolkien-type high fantasy tale, that tells everyone that there's wizards, rogues, warriors, humans, elves, dwarves, orcs, giant mountains, sweeping forests, plains, swamps, medieval towns, et cetera. Even if the fine details differ—like you may or may not include guns in your fantasy—it allows the players to more readily understand what kind of story you're attempting to tell. Which allows the players to make better fitting characters to begin with. Your premise also needs to conform to the genre, too. After all, searching for the giant space gun doesn't make much sense within the context of a tolkien fantasy tale... Or does it? Step 2: Once you have genres listed, and your plot decided within that genre, decide how you're going to build the world. This is arguably the most creative aspect of being a GM. In a plot about a group of knights saving a princess for example, build from there. What is the dragon's name? Why did he kidnap the princess? Why doesn't he kill the princess? Who is the princess? From which kingdom does she hail? What is that kingdom like? What are her parents willing to pay to get her back? (IE: What is the reward.) Build this world up and keep in mind conservation of detail: Only include details which are relevant to the players within your OOC. Outside of that, keep whatever else you've written and cut out saved in a text document for later. If players ask you questions, it never hurts to have extra information on hand to answer those questions with. This is also a good time to hint at “something more” via mystery subplots, as mentioned earlier. Mysteries work best when built into the fabric of the world. Step 3: Decide on what the environment in this world is like. Deserts? Tundra? Forests? A strange and magical world filled with now socially unacceptable purple dinosaurs? Does it rain a lot? Is it naturally overcast or sunny? Is it Earth-like or an alien world? Right here is where you can make a lot of interesting choices about what kinds of small obstacles players will have to ready themselves for. However, remember: The more differences there are between your world and Earth, the more you'll have to explain. The more you have to explain, the more likely you'll encounter pacing troubles. Balance between what is known and typical, and what is an interesting twist on the formula. Step 4: Populate the world with races. Is it just humans? If there are more than humans, just how wildly different can they be? How many of these races are usable by players? Can players make up their own races? Et cetera. This is a quick but important detail to note in most instances unless you're going for a richly detailed sandbox universe. Step 5: How much change can the players affect on the world? Keep in mind that you will have people in this world (hopefully) doing things. Therefore, the more elements of your world are static and cannot be changed, the more invisible barriers the players will impact. Try to avoid including too many NPC's who cannot die and the like. The more change the players can effect upon the world, the more empowered your players become. Which, within reason, is a good thing. As said, world-building is very much fun creativity-driven stuff. Just keep it grounded to reality in manners others can understand and have as much fun with it as you can. NPC's This section should be shorter, as a lot of information I'd normally go over for NPC's has been covered by the previous two tabs. However, once again, I must grab my diamond katana and impale a silly myth. GMPC's are not Satan Incarnate: Just like railroading, GMPC's are a tool. Depending on the story, you may actually outright need a GMPC. If you have a story in which the players protect a VIP, like a group of knights protecting a princess as she travels home from a distant foreign kingdom, it's simply easiest and the most responsible to put the role of the princess upon yourself. A GMPC is just an NPC that has as much value as the player characters around them. The problem starts if the GMPC can resolve all problems without the PC's around them. Because at that point, the GMPC has rendered irrelevant the need for PC's—however, this kind of incredibly shitty storytelling can be done by players too. It's not a GM-only problem. Really, the thin veil between a GMPC and an NPC is slim when the NPC has any duties to assist the players whatsoever. It becomes slimmer still when several role plays feature players creating and controlling NPC's themselves. So if you think that GMPC's are cancer, then you've probably only seen them used poorly. They're a tool. Trust me. NPC's should always be service driven: NPC's are the side characters and antagonists of the story. They're only there, ideally, to supplement the players—not take over for them. Therefore, when creating an NPC, always ask yourself if that NPC suits a purpose that the players can either find useful or emotionally involving. If neither of those is a thing, toss it out and try again. NPC's and Conservation of Detail: Only devote as much time to an NPC as they're worth in importance. If players are simply talking to a shuttle pilot or shopkeeper, unless they'll see this NPC often, leave the physical description of this person to a minimum. They're only there to serve as a plot device to greater things. If the NPC is an important figure, such as a main antagonist, or an important political figure, give them some detail, but not too much. Give more details to NPC's that players interact with. Let players decide who the most interesting NPC's are, and build them up accordingly. This is where tropes come in very handy. You can set up basic characters that follow a trope, and easily grow them out of that trope as players begin to interact with them more. Large numbers of NPC's: If you have a large group of NPC's, such as in the case of a violent mob or a military squad, have only one NPC speak for them. That way, you can give the mob a face that the players can interact with. It makes their lives easier, and your own. Limit the number of NPC's you use: Especially if you're newer to GMing. Avoid the pratfall that “more is better”. You know what's better? Two well developed and interesting NPC's that you can easily control and write posts for in minutes, versus several dozen shallow NPC's that nobody cares about which takes you hours to finish writing for. Always give players the spotlight: Always. If an NPC is about to resolve a problem, ask yourself first: Could a player do that instead? If they can't, is it because you designed the situation so that only an NPC could resolve it? If you did, take a step back and learn not to do that again. The players are the main protagonists, the NPC's are the side characters. They're there to help, not to take glory unto themselves. For important NPC's, give them an ideology: Since writing several characters and keeping them distinct can be difficult, give each character a central tenet or ideology to follow. This can range from political, to ethical, to religious, to spiritual, to personal, and so on. Combine this with one or two dominant personality traits, and even the simplest of NPC's can become interesting and easy to expand upon. This way, instead of seeing “Sam and John” and trying to remember every minor detail about each, you simply have to think instead “Sam the Baptist and John the Liberal.” Remember to develop them out from there when players interact with them, or they'll become shallow stereotypes. See? Told you it'd be shorter. This is the last and probably most controversial part of this guide. Keep in mind that at this point, this entire section is comprised of suggestions rather than hard rules, and is aimed more at younger GM's than older ones. Mental Disorders: These are nearly always more trouble than they're worth. Unless you have confidence in a player's abilities to portray one, deny them on sight. Most people write them solely to get attention, rather than to create an interesting character, and they're narcissistic enough to fuck up your entire RP just to get the attention they want. It's unfortunate that this is common enough that I have to give this advice, because there are some people who play out mental disorders incredibly well—but for every one of them, there's at least five narcissists who don't give a shit about you or your RP. Accusatory Tone: Don't use an accusatory tone with players. If you're telling players that everything is their fault, they'll close up and become defensive instead of listening to you! Be gentle, offer compromises. Be kind. Treat them the way you would want to be treated. No matter how infuriatingly stupid someone might be acting, never sink down to the level of a raging troll. Always strive to uphold a friendly, outgoing attitude with your players. Say No: Do not be afraid to say no. You're the parent of the RP, trying to keep the kids in line—no matter how important they are to success, it's your job to be judge, jury, and executioner. I'm not going to tell you what the best way to do this is, because there are several legitimate ways to do it. However, my favourite method is to do soft rejects. If I have to reject a character, I explain why and how the person can fix their character. If I have to veto an action taken by a player in the story because it's godmoding or excessively stupid, I'm not going to beat them to death with a superiority complex. Instead, I explain what they did wrong, calmly, and explain why they can't do that—again, calmly. Avoid accusatory statements: Nobody wins that way. Take The Blame: It's typically a very safe negotiation strategy to take at least part of the blame for a failure (especially in the IC) upon yourself. It shows good character on your part too. Just don't let players bully you or push you around—you should be aiming to be a benevolent authority figure, not a push-over. Just imagine the ideal parent, and embody it. Avoid PvP: Player versus Player combat generally doesn't end well. Players typically spend several minutes to hours creating their characters and usually really care about them, so anything bad happening to them can upset them. Now, you have a situation where two players—who have this egocentric, main character view of their character—are forced into a situation where they have to fight each other. You're setting yourself up for a disaster. Don't allow player antagonists. Avoid player conflicts in the IC. Enforce injuries yourself: Seriously, most players are incapable of being unbiased in whether or not their characters take injuries. Force the issue and tell them when their characters get hurt, don't let them decide that for themselves—because a lot of people will simply refuse to take any injury that isn't superficial or convenient. Avoid Death: In spite of what I said above, avoid killing off player characters until you have some experience on your belt. If your RP includes death, then mention it in your OOC. In bold. For everyone to see somewhere. Again, players tend not to handle the deaths of their characters very well, especially if it's unexpected. So until you've got some experience, avoid the subject matter altogether. Use instant messaging and PM's: Have casual conversations, get to know a little bit about your players. This is how you make long time friends and form core groups which stick with your RP's no matter what. Use whatever devices you have at your disposal, so long as they won't cost you excessive amounts of money. Encourage your players to post: Even if it's crap. Even if it's two lines. Half of a post is better than no post at all. If they beat themselves up, keep encouraging them, keep trying to cheer them up for a while. Whatever nervousness you felt about being a GM, a player can feel about being a player. If you encourage them, they'll remember that. It's a kind thing to do. Settle player disputes neutrally: Always act as though both players did something wrong, but use neutral language in doing so. Remember, no accusatory tone. Use your authority to settle a dispute. Two players arguing about a point in the lore? Explain it. Two players arguing about who is stronger? Settle it. You are the GM, your word is law. If people fight you over it, throw them out. If they discuss it civilly with you, entertain it and try to come to a compromise. Failing that, put your foot down and set the law. After all, you are the law. Monster-sized guide, monster-sized topic. If you have any questions, comments, or requests, feel free to leave them below. In the meantime, I need to get a bite to eat, and work on a second guide later for stats & traits that will serve as an expansion pack to this one. Since this guide is longer than my other guides, here's a whole bunch of baby ferrets instead of just one ferret to relax with. Enjoy.