Handy Haversack: 7 Tips for Every PFS GM
1. Show up Before Anyone Else
This should be obvious, and yet I feel the need to put it first for a reason! Especially when there are multiple tables, many players won’t start unpacking or choosing their character until they’ve confirmed their GM hasn’t bailed. If you have to use the bathroom or eat, check your table first to see if someone isn’t there. I always bring an extra sign-in sheet and leave it at the table with a pen so players know the game is going to happen!
2. Don’t Stress Player Rules
You do not need to know what your players are capable of to GM. With a fixed group, you should ask your players a week in advance if they are going to do anything “weird”, especially in the higher tiers. But even if someone uses something fresh off the Additional Resources list and you have no idea how it works, don’t fret. Don’t lose your cool. Ask the player how it works, and unless it completely and utterly ruins the game for everyone else at the table, assume they are using it correctly. Use the mid-game “bio-break” to confirm the rules on your phone, or ask them the rules on a written source if its out of an encounter…but don’t lose control of the entire game, or embarass the player trying out Paizo’s new product, just to save the combat effectiveness of one of five enemies. If a player rolled a high enough number, they probably could have done something else with that high roll that would have been just as effective. Now don’t get me wrong, if they rolled a “3” on an attack roll and still hit the CR17 demon, you might want to ask what they did, but always frame it in a positive light. “Wow! I wish my Spiritualist could end an encounter like that! What’s your secret?!”
3. Know Your Weaknesses
Most GM weaknesses can be overcome with planning. I’ve seen GMs who are bad at remembering which types and subtypes of monsters have which immunities. And I’ve seen GMs fill out flashcards before each session with the immunities of all those monsters! I myself am horrible at initiative. But having everyone sit at the table in intiative-modifier order, using flashcards instead of a board or even asking a player to track initiative for you in a particularly complex encounter has saved me from spending thirty whole seconds between rounds trying to keep track of who is up next! Are you bad at drawing maps on the fly? Draw them in advance. Are you bad at flipping through books to find the stats of different monsters in combat? Print out the bestiary pages on seperate pieces of paper. Incase you were unaware, the site pfsprep.com has plenty of resources to help!
4. Keep Track of Time
Keeping your phone on the table or using a watch are both great ways to keep track of time. It’s up to the GM to make sure everyone gets out on time, even if it means herding your cats away from a potentially memorable RP moment so they can’t squeeze in that last encounter! Always ask your players before the game starts when they have to leave, incase you have a group that likes to really get into character and doesn’t mind if a session lasts a little beyond the time limit!
5. Roll, then Math
Ever spend two or three minutes calculating six different buffs/debuffs, then rolled your eyes when you rolled a “20” and auto-hit anyway? Roll your dice before you do your math. Usually if you roll 1-5, you already know your going to fail. And if you roll 15-20, you already know you are going to succeed. That’s half your die-rolls! This goes for your players too. Just tell them before the game starts, “This game can go long, so for the sake of all our time I highly recommend you all Roll, then Math!”
6. Roll the d20 Often (or Not At All!)
This mostly applies to intruge games, home-games and games that aren’t running long, as it can sometimes gum up the works…but if your game has the potential for bluff or disguise checks, either roll the die in advance and write it on the side of the page, or roll dice randomly throughout the game to keep players on their toes. I oftentimes tie in an atmospheric element, like having a bird caw in the distance every time I roll a “20”.
7. Don’t Pull Back the Curtain
Experienced PFS players know they will miss content. There’s always that supernatural ability the monster could have used, if only it was in the combat tactics. Or maybe that inquisitor would have attacked the PCs if one of them worshipped the wrong deity. It’s fun to talk about after the table, but during the game it’ll only make some players feel like they “missed out”, or, worse yet, “should have brought my other character”. Never do anything that reminds your players they are playing a game. They are in a living and breathing world, even if the story was written by someone at Paizo two seasons ago. Don’t be the magician who explains the trick after each performance; Those who care will stay after the game. This goes double for discussing unrelated scenarios. “Oh, man, you should have seen this Venture Captain when he assigned us to…” Just stop right there. Players are welcome to talk about it, but for now its your job to get your player’s engaged in the game you are running now. Not feeling like they missed out on the “good game” five seasons ago.