Laidback DM: Running New TTRPGs

LaidbackDM - stevestillstanding

Everyone likes to try out a new TTRPG. New mechanics, new lore, new style of play – you name it, there’s a reason why you decided to buy that game and crack open the book or box. Here are a few suggestions to avoid issues when running your first new game session.

  1. Know the rules: This seems like an obvious thing to say; after all, you’re more than likely the one teaching your players. Have a cheat sheet or Game Master’s screen available for yourself. Use sticky tabs to note any book sections you need to refer to so you can access them quickly. If you don’t mind writing in your books (sacrilege!), highlight relevant rules and sections so they’re easier to see on the page. If you’re working from a PDF, you can use either the document’s preset bookmarks, search engine, or create your own bookmarks to find relevant sections more easily.
  2. Don’t worry if you flub the rules: Don’t fret too much if you forget a rule or get it wrong the first time you play. You can always explain or correct it later once you’re more familiar with the game.
  3. Have cheat sheets or a player rule book available: If you have a copy of the rules in PDF format, send your players a copy. If you don’t, provide them with cheat sheets for the most important rules or a copy of the player rules section/handbook (assuming there is one). Don’t expect your players to have read the rules before the first session – people are busy and reading a book of rules for a new game is not always a priority (although some will).
  4. Don’t homebrew in the first few sessions: Try to stick to rules as written (RAW) as much as possible in the first few gaming sessions. Why? Because you won’t get a feel for the game’s balancing and nuances until you’ve run at least a few sessions. And every game is usually written and tested out the wazoo, so trust the writer before you go making changes.
  5. Run a trial combat BEFORE you run the adventure: Let’s face it, combat makes up a fair bit of modern TTRPGs (and if it doesn’t for your new TTRPG, then that’s okay). Most games have example PCs your players can use, just in case they haven’t already made their own. Because the new game will have new rules and ways of tackling battles you may not be familiar with, run a short example combat with your players, featuring one weak monster/NPC per character (this assumes the game’s bestiary/foes section tells you how challenging a creature is). This should give you an idea of how strategic or difficult combat will be, and it won’t matter if a player gets killed, because it’s just a trial run.
  6. Run a social encounter BEFORE you run the adventure: Why? Because the social encounter rules may be somewhat different from what you’re used to. If that’s the case, it’s perfectly fine to test them out with your players to get a feel for them. It also helps them understand the importance of non-combat skills and whether they should make changes to a PC they’ve already created, prior to jumping into the main adventure.
  7. Let your players modify their characters before the adventure: With the knowledge you’ve all gained from the trial combat and social encounters, your players should now have a good idea about what characteristics/skills are useful. Once their character is locked in, play it using RAW, so they can familiarize themselves with how a full game runs, including any role playing they want to do.
  8. If you have less than the recommended number of players, reduce the threat considerably: Most new games come with an introductory scenario, in which they’ll recommend a number of players. If you’re short the recommended number of players, check any balancing recommendations and follow them. If there aren’t any, consider dropping the number of foes by at least 50%. Why? Because you won’t be totally familiar with how the game is balanced at this point, and the last thing you need is a TPK that either puts players off coming back again or gives them a wrong impression of the game.

Finally, don’t put too much pressure on yourself. I know you and your players will have fun with the new TTRPG, and who knows? It just might become an all-time favorite.

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Published by stevestillstanding

I’m a writer who loves tabletop role playing games, poetry and (you guessed it) writing. Occasionally I have something to say...

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