New Gamemaster Month: It’s Week Two! Let’s Talk Setting and Rules

Welcome to the third installment of New Gamemaster Month!

In New Gamemaster Month we’re helping players who feel the urge to run an RPG—to become a GM for the first time—take the plunge. Whether you’re new to gaming or a long-time player who’s never happened to take the GM’s seat, we’re making the process of running your first adventure an easy one. If you’re just joining us, start with the first installment. Then join us every Tuesday and Thursday throughout January, and by the end of the month, you’ll be a GM too!

New Gamemaster Month 2017

This week we’re going to spend a little bit of time learning the rules and setting of Numenera, and a little time digging into the adventure you’re going to run. Let’s do the rules and setting first, then on Thursday we’ll look at the adventure. But first, a note about how all this relates to other roleplaying games.

Just Numenera?

When we go into the rules and setting in this program, we’re going to be talking about Numenera. As you learn those things, you’re learning Numenera. But our goal is to make you into a competent GM—no, let’s say a great GM—in general. With the limited time and bandwidth we have this month, I can’t teach you the specifics of Pathfinder or Call of Cthulhu or D&D, but the process by which you’re learning applies pretty much to any game. In three weeks you’re going to run a great session of Numenera. Take the general skills you’ve learned, spend a little time with the rulebook, and a few weeks later you could be running Star Wars or Savage Worlds or The Strange. In other words, Numenera is the game we’re working with, but the most critical skills you’re picking up are easily transferred to any and all of your favorite games.

What If I Already Know Numenera?

If you’re already a pretty experienced gamer—and particularly if you’ve already played Numenera—some of what we go into today will be old hat. That’s fine, but I recommend you at least skim your way through today’s activity. It may fill in a few gaps in your knowledge base, and it will definitely help build your confidence. And as we’ll discuss, confidence is one of a great GM’s biggest assets.

Back to the Rules and Setting

Rules and setting are really critical to GMing, right? Weeelll, sorta. Here’s what’s really critical: creativity, nimble response, and an engaging pace of play. You know what kills those three things faster than a ravage bear in a cavot pen? Stopping too much to look things up in the rulebook and worrying too much about minor details of the rules and setting that don’t actually affect the quality of the game experience. To avoid that problem, you need to have:

  • A strong enough foundation in your rules and setting so that you don’t slow down the game recalling or looking up key information.
  • And confidence in that foundation.

Here’s what you don’t need:

  • An encyclopedic knowledge of every facet of the rules or game universe.

In a way, these two sets of bullet points don’t seem to fit. Sometimes the minor details of the rules matter—sometimes they matter a lot. If you want to avoid looking things up in the book, you have to commit them to memory, right? No, not really, because I have yet another bullet point for you. You also need:

  • Good judgment about when it’s better to slow things down to work out a specific detail or look something up, and when it’s better to keep the pace up even if it risks getting a minor detail “wrong.”

Developing that judgment comes from the strong foundation I mentioned in that first bullet point. And don’t worry: As you GM more and more, those rules details and minor facets of the setting will build up in your brain, and your knowledge will become increasingly encyclopedic. That’s good, but it’s not critical to running a fun, entertaining, and memorable game. And, for now, we’re focused on what’s critical.

We’ll come back to some of that other stuff in a later post. For now, let’s start laying in that foundation.

Step Three

It’s time to dig into the rulebook a bit. But first, I have a video for you.

A Video to Watch

Watch this How to Play Numenera video (it’s about half an hour long, so don’t start until you have a chunk of time available). Feel free to enjoy it; you don’t have to take notes or commit anything to memory just yet.

A Little Reading

Once you’re done with the video, I have a section of the rules I’d like you to read through.

  • Chapter 8: Pages 84-93. (Stop when you get to the header that says Ambient Damage.)

And this setting content:

  • Chapter 10: Pages 130-135. (The entirety of the chapter.)

That’s a total of about 16 pages, so you might spend a little time on it. If you’re new to the Cypher System and some things don’t make sense right away, don’t lose too much sleep over it yet. RPGs, like almost all games, are easiest to understand by playing rather than by reading the rules. But if you’d like a little help with anything you read, don’t forget about the New Gamemaster Month Facebook group!

Charles Ryan
Charles Ryan

Charles M. Ryan has written or contributed to titles in nearly every class of tabletop game—board games, card games, trading card games, miniature games, and roleplaying games—over a 25-year career in the game industry. He has also served as the global brand manager for Dungeons & Dragons and headed up the marketing department at the UK’s Esdevium Games, one of the world’s largest game distributors. He is the Chief Operating Officer at Monte Cook Games.