A bit of e-mail to a net friend asking for advice for beginning GMs.
Have everything to hand before you start. Have your hot/cold drink, your color-coordinated dice (say, red for body, green for stun, blue for knock-back, so you only have to toss one handful), your NPC/monster stats paper-clipped to the inside of the GM's sheet, your player props already prepared and stacked neatly behind the GM's screen, your map already drawn on the battle map with something to cover the parts your players have yet to explore, your NPCs' and/or your monsters' order of go written out on your time chart which is covered with a plastic sleeve so you can use your erasable colored pens on it, your own personal bowl of nibbles that NO ONE ELSE touches without permission, everything all laid out conveniently to hand. Make sure you have a stand or chair or something next to you, in order to lay out any extra books or information sources you need, and something heavy enough to hold them open to the right page. ;-)
I exaggerate for effect, of course, but not by much. I've found that if I have everything already prepared ahead of time then by necessity I've given things quite a bit of thought. That means I've got a good idea of who, what, where, when, why, and how I'm going to present tonight's seeds for the story.
If it's the kind of thing you like, keep the pace 'fast and furious.' You don't have to have a constant diet of battles and chase scenes, but make sure no one is sitting with nothing to do for too long, and make sure players that make up their minds very slowly don't make everyone else sit and wait for them to do so. If your players know and trust you to not let them sit interminably in bored silence, then they'll be willing to wait for their chance to actively game again, while you cut away from them momentarily to involve someone else.
Make sure the PCs have something to do -- keep them together and keep them involved. A good rule of thumb with 'neat scenes' is to ask yourself 'what are the PCs doing in this scene?' The funniest example of this I know of involved a huge inter-gang fight that was supposed to be the culmination of the entire run... and the PCs ended up standing on the side-lines watching, because the GM forgot to get them involved and caring about the outcome!
Also, feel free to let your players do your work for you. I used cool player ideas all the time -- why not take advantage of their enthusiasm and the richness of their imaginations? From what I've seen, players love seeing their influence on the game world. ;-)
Regarding mechanics, when someone was uncertain about rules and asked me about how something was being interpreted I'd have him look up the rule while I kept gaming with someone(s) else. Once he found the rule he'd read it aloud for all of us, we'd discuss it, and then (with the help of my players) I'd make a decision -- and that would be the way the rule was always interpreted in the game. The discussion was never allowed to last more than about 2 minutes -- we were there to game, after all, not squabble.
Above all, have fun. If it's not fun, why bother? Enjoy yourself, and your players will too.
Last Updated: Thur Feb 10 2000