How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The GM’s Chair

New Gamemaster Month has lots of people excited about GMing for the first time, whether with Numenera, Unknown Armies, or Trail of Cthulhu.

Finding out about this initiative today has finally motivated me to overcome my anxieties, and commit to GMing!It's…
Posted by Nadia Bagley on Friday, December 15, 2017

Seeing excited posts like these made me want to share what brought me to the GM’s chair. It was Gen Con 2013, and I got a seat in a little game called Numenera made by a guy who had brought me delightful weirdness through Planescape and other titles. I immediately fell head-over-heels in love with this fresh, evocative, and weird setting. It was full of diverse people depicted in the art and the lore, so that I saw myself and my friends in this world. The mechanics brought me a level of player agency and shared narrative control that I’d never seen, but desperately wanted.

I realized that if I wanted to play this game so badly, I’d have to chin up and learn to run it myself–no one was going to do it for me. I brought the Numenera corebook home and began devouring it as I would any other text, reading the lush setting information like bedtime stories, over and over again. The rules text itself is quite short, so it wasn’t long before I felt like I’d read it as much as I could before I simply needed to try running it.

I reached out to some trusted friends, quickly realized that we had too many yes’s and conflicts, and suddenly I was running two games for the first time (eep!). I leapt in anyway. (Wrangling players for your first session is Step Two of New Gamemaster Month.)

All I remember of the initial two game sessions were sweaty palms, heavily-marked printed adventure pages, and forgetting to do any GM intrusions. I may have run The Vortex or The Nightmare Switch or Beale of Boregal, but in any case some bizarre bugs and other Numenera weirdness enchanted the players.

Through the magic of email, I actually have some of my players’ first impressions:

  • “This was a really sick game Darcy! I didn’t realize it was your first GM either, awesome job. I had a lot of fun, and I know everyone else did as well. Let us know when you want to get together again!”
  • “I’m really into the system and would love to play a campaign sometime!” This quote was from Liz Sander, with whom I would later co-GM my first Numenera campaign (see our Player Perspectives article).

In my own response email, I made a mysterious reference to a Spider Incident that I have no recollection of: “Next time I will also have beer and music and no spiders.”

One of the first lessons I learned from these sessions is that the game always went better than I thought it did. To grow as a GM, I learned how to ask my players what they enjoyed and what they’d like to see more of. The sense that I could always learn new things and improve at the art of GMing got me totally hooked, and I began demoing Numenera all over Chicago and elsewhere. Even now, I’m thrilled to be running some of Monte’s various games for his 50th birthday event on January 27th!

I highly encourage anyone on the fence to try GMing, and I can’t wait to meet all you new GMs this year.

Join New Gamemaster Month today, be a game master by February!
Darcy Ross
Darcy Ross

Darcy L. Ross, Community Relations Coordinator for Monte Cook Games, is a storyteller, scientist, and community organizer. Across media, she aims to highlight people doing good things in the gaming community and to bring new people into gaming. She co-hosts the podcast Cypher Speak, has blogged for the award-winning Gnome Stew, and has worked to support marginalized voices in gaming with ConTessa. Darcy lives in a small but powerful aldeia of tabletop creatives in Hyde Park, Chicago.