The urge comes to every GM at some point in time. You want to run a game. Usually this means that some idea has begun to percolate in your head. You get an itch that, no matter what you try, you just can't scratch. Ideas for plotlines, NPCs, and epic moments play out while you daydream - or just regularly dream. One problem though: you need a group and a time slot when you can all get together and play.
Today we're going to talk about this as the first part of a small series on starting a new game. The focus for this first installment is on gathering your group of players for the game you want, and what impacts that may have on your group's dynamics.
The First Question
The first question you need to ask yourself before you set off to set up a game to run is rather simple: do I have time for this?
Brace yourself when asking this. If you're out of college (or high school) you may find that the answer is a resounding no. GMing can take a lot of time. If nothing else you have to be able to commit to the length of time a session is, plus at least a couple extra hours to answer questions, handle XP expenditure, and make sure the game is going in a way beneficial for everyone. In an ideal world you'll also have time to custom build every encounter for your PCs but that isn't actually necessary with adventure modules. Still, we're looking at - on average - an 8 hour commitment every week for a weekly game between prep, running, and handling related minutiae between sessions.
Tied to this question is the question of where is the game going to take place? Will it be held down at your Friendly Local Game Store (FLGS)? Will it be held in your own home? Online on google hangouts or a site like Roll20? Where the game is going to be will determine much of what can be done. A game at your house means your players have to be people you don't mind having in your home (and thus knowing where you live) and that can make the trip. A game at the local game store means that you need people who are welcome in that store. A game online is the most freeing, but also means you need people with stable internet connections capable of handling a four to six person voice call and web page share.
Once you have both of these figured out, it is time for the next question to ask yourself.
The Second Question
If the first question covers the When and Where of the game, it should not be surprising that the second question covers the What and How. Namely, "what kind of game do you want to run?" and "how do you intend to run it?"
When I say what, I mean it in the broad and more specific strokes. Do you want to run a specific system? a specific setting? a specific type of setting (i.e. western fantasy, trans-humanism, cyberpunk0? I also mean what kind of tone do you want. Do you want a heroic game? A tension filled game? A dark and gritty game?
As for How, this comes more to the second part of the question with tone and theme. Are you going to expect people to be very somber at the table with a "you say it, you do it" type rule? Are you going fo r amore light hearted social atmosphere where some gaming happens? Do you intend to pull people into another room so you can do private stuff with their character that the rest of the table isn't supposed to know about?
You want an idea on the answers for these because they determine what players are more ideal for your game. For me, I like to run heroic games where the players are - at the very worst - the beacon that things can be better in the world. I also like to run games with a high degree of out of character trust at the table. I don't want to pull someone into another room for their secret chat with the Crane Daimyo. We'll just do it at the table, and trust that the other players won't metagame even if you are planning to betray them.
Ok, Time To Choose Some Players
You know when and where your game will be run, and you know the what and how of the game. It's now time to find the who.
For some people this isn't going to be hard. You have a very small pool of potential players, or a regular group that you like to game with, and that is that. You know these players, they know you, and the game is going to go along those lines.
For some it will be harder. Either you will have a large pool of potential players (frequent in store games, and potentially online) or you have a group of regular players that is larger than what you can handle for this game.
For the first group, your previous two questions should have been answered with them in mind as they are your only candidate players. For the second, this is where those questions do work. How? Well, the first should be obvious. After all, if someone is not available when you can run the game, or can not gain access to where the game is run, then they can't really play in it can they?
The second question is where you need to do some hard thinking. How do these players act, if you know them, and do you think that would add to your game? I, personally, am a bad choice to add to a game where you want a super serious level of tension because I will impulsively crack jokes to try and lighten the mood. Not that serious things can't happen in game around me, just that if the atmosphere around the table gets weird I impulsively do something to try and fix it. There are several others in my regular group who do the same.
Beyond that you have preferences of game types. Someone who hates strict level based class systems is not an ideal choice for D&D or Pathfinder. Someone who doesn't like sci-fi or giant robots is not a good choice for your game about fending off alien robots in transforming vehicles. Someone who thinks comics are silly is not a good choice for your Watchman-esque super hero game. Someone who is slow to pick up on rules won't work in a game where you expect a high level of mechanical proficiency from your players. You get the idea here, I'm sure.
Then, finally, you also have the personal relationships. Two players that don't get along or regularly bicker over playstyles are not going to be conducive for a good game. As such it is better to only invite one of them to the game. If one of your players tends to being the creepy guy...well, I'd recommend not having a creepy guy in general, but especially not if other players are the type to be creeped out.
You Now Have A Game...Kind of
Once you've gone through this, you should have a list of players who can be in your game (and ideally want to be), an idea for what the game is, and an idea for how the game will work. You've essentially taken care of the scheduling and gathering part of the new game. Good job.
Next time we'll talk about the pitch for the game. This is how you sell the game to these potential players, and also what you'll be using to begin establishing the broader strokes of your game.