Game Mastering

10 tips to become a confident tTRPG game master

Becoming a confident TTRPG game master is a journey filled with A LOT of trial and error. Don’t beat yourself up. 

 

It doesn’t matter if you’re new to game mastering or if you’ve done it for a while, building and re-building your confidence is a consistent MUST.

 

The biggest problem GMs face is almost always the dreaded Impostor Syndrome. It will never stop trying to bite you. So, get ahead of it!

 

In this article, we’ll explore ten practical tips to help you grow your CONFIDENCE as a game master. From preparation and storytelling to managing expectations and having fun, these tips will ideally help you run your tables.

10 ways to become a confident TTRPG game master

Article Content

Key Takeaways

  • Preparation Builds Confidence
    Invest time in preparing your campaign and familiarizing yourself with the game’s rules. You’ll feel a heck of a lot more secure and capable as a game master.
  • Storytelling is a Skill
    Hone your storytelling abilities by practicing descriptive language, character personalities, and narrative techniques. You can totally get better at storytelling and keep your players hooked.
  • Create a Positive Play Environment
    Foster an inclusive, collaborative, and supportive atmosphere. A positive environment encourages creativity and makes everyone, including YOU, feel more confident.
  • Embrace Flexibility and Improvisation
    Be ready to adapt to unexpected developments. Embracing improvisation and flexibility can boost your confidence BIG TIME.
  • Build a Support Network
    Connect with other game masters, seek mentorship, and join communities. Sharing experiences and learning from others can provide EPIC support and increase your confidence.
  • Focus on Fun
    Remember that the ultimate goal of TTRPGs is to have fun. If you’re not having fun, why are you even playing? 😫

Tip 1: Embrace the Power of Preparation

Preparation is Key

Preparation is one of the MOST effective ways to build confidence as a TTRPG game master.

 

(NO, I don’t mean procrastinating or being a perfectionist by focusing TOO much on preparation. Basic prep is sufficient. Nice try.)

 

Start by familiarizing yourself with the game’s rules and the world you’ll be exploring with your players.

 

Create an outline of the campaign, noting key plot points, characters, and settings. This groundwork will give you a solid foundation to build on, helping you feel more secure.

create an outline of the campaign, noting key plot points, characters, and settings.

Plan...but Stay Flexible

While preparation is crucial, it’s equally important to remain flexible.

 

Players can be (WILL BE) unpredictable, and their actions may (WILL) take the story in unexpected directions.

 

Embrace this spontaneity and see it as an opportunity to collaborate with your players in storytelling. Being adaptable will make you more resilient and boost your confidence in handling any situation.

Players can be (WILL BE) unpredictable, and their actions may (WILL) take the story in unexpected directions

Use Tools and Resources

There are numerous resources available to help you prepare.

 

From campaign guides and adventure modules to online forums and communities, leverage these tools to enhance your game.

 

Apps for managing notes, maps, and character sheets can also streamline your preparation process, making you feel more organized and confident.

I love to use Milanote or LoreKeeper for mine!

Practice Makes Perfect

If you’re new to game mastering, consider running practice sessions with friends or family.

 

This low-pressure environment allows you to test out scenarios, get a feel for pacing, and build your confidence before stepping into a full campaign.

 

I love to run games for my kids because they don’t judge me and if I can handle THEM, I can handle anything.

Tip 2: Develop Your Storytelling Skills

Craft Engaging Narratives

A significant part of being a game master is storytelling.

 

Develop your skills by reading widely and studying different narrative techniques. Pay attention to how stories are structured, how characters are developed, and how tension and resolution are managed.

Practice Descriptive Language

The ability to describe scenes vividly can greatly enhance your players’ immersion.

 

Practice using sensory details to paint a picture of the environment, the characters, and the action.

 

The more detailed and evocative your descriptions, the more engaged your players will be.

Use Character Voices

Giving distinct energy to your NPCs will make them stand out. You do NOT have to do voice acting to accomplish this. Even small changes in tone, pitch, or accent can bring a character to life. You could also try physical distinctions, like an NPC that constantly swirls his hair around his finger.

Even small changes in tone, pitch, or accent can bring a character to life.

Seek Feedback

Don’t hesitate to ask for feedback from your players. They can provide valuable insights into what aspects of your storytelling are working and what could be improved.

 

Constructive feedback is an excellent tool for growth and can significantly boost your confidence.

Tip 3: Create a Positive Play Environment

Foster Inclusivity

Creating a welcoming and inclusive play environment is essential. Ensure that all players feel respected and heard.

 

Establish ground rules for behavior and be clear about your zero-tolerance policy for harassment or discrimination.

 

A positive atmosphere encourages collaboration and makes everyone, including YOU, feel more confident.

Encourage Collaboration

TTRPGs are collaborative by nature. Encourage your players to contribute to the story, make decisions, and interact with each other.

 

This collaborative spirit can alleviate some pressure on you as the game master and build a sense of shared ownership of the game.

Be Open to Ideas

Be receptive to your players’ ideas and input. Allowing them to shape the story can lead to unexpected and exciting developments.

 

Being open-minded and adaptable will reduce the stress that comes with perfectionism. We game masters have a negative reputation sometimes for being control freaks. I’m not saying it’s wrong, I’m saying be aware of it and fight it to help yourself.

We game masters have a negative reputation sometimes for being control freaks

Seek Feedback

Don’t hesitate to ask for feedback from your players. This isn’t just the critiques. Talk to them about the story, the NPCs, or the notes they’ve taken.

 

They can provide valuable insights into what aspects of your storytelling are working and what could be improved. Constructive feedback is an excellent tool for growth.

Celebrate Successes

Acknowledge and celebrate the successes of your players and yourself.

 

Whether it’s a clever solution to a problem, an epic battle victory, or a particularly engaging role-playing moment, recognizing these achievements can boost morale and confidence for everyone at the table.

 

I do “pooled inspiration” tokens for my D&D tables and I like to celebrate my players by tossing a coin into the pool as often as possible.

Tip 4: Manage Expectations

Set Clear Expectations

Before starting a campaign, have a session zero to discuss expectations with your players.

 

Talk about the game’s tone, themes, and house rules. This clarity helps prevent misunderstandings and ensures everyone is on the same page.

 

I have a whole module dedicated to just this in my Organized Game Master course because it’s SO critical to nail this down.

Communicate Regularly

Keep the lines of communication open throughout the campaign. Regular check-ins with your players can help address any concerns or issues early on. 

 

Create a private Discord space or a Whatsapp group chat where you can check in regularly.

Be Transparent

If you’re new to game mastering or trying out new techniques, be honest with your players.

 

Transparency makes you human (OMG GASP) and encourages your players to be more patient and understanding. Which is great for you, my friends!

 

Your players are likely to appreciate your honesty and support your growth as a game master.

If you're new to game mastering or trying out new techniques, be honest with your players

Adjust as Needed

Be willing to adjust your plans based on player feedback and the evolving dynamics of the game.

 

Flexibility and willingness to adapt demonstrate confidence. It’s a way to trick your brain into feeling that confidence even if you don’t quite have it yet. (Like power posing!)

Tip 5: Embrace Mistakes

Accept Imperfection

Mistakes are inevitable, especially when you’re learning.

 

Accepting that you won’t be perfect can relieve a lot of pressure. View mistakes as opportunities to grow as a storyteller, because THEY ARE.

Learn from Errors

When you make a mistake, take a moment to reflect on it and consider what you can learn.

 

Did a particular scenario not go as planned? Was there a rule you misunderstood?

 

Use these experiences to improve your skills and build your confidence over time. Self-audits are incredibly powerful.

 

When you make mistakes (and learn from them), you’re teaching yourself how to do things better in the most effective way possible.

Be Kind to Yourself

Remember to be kind to yourself. Self-compassion is crucial in any learning process.

 

Treat yourself with the same patience and understanding you would offer a friend. A positive mindset is everything when trying to gain confidence as a game master.

 

Seriously, consider your friend came to you and was nervous to start game mastering? You would encourage them and you’d be so kind and gentle to them if they stumble. You’d celebrate their progress. Do the same for yourself!

Treat yourself with the same patience and understanding you would offer a friend.

Share Your Experiences

Sharing your experiences and mistakes with other game masters can be incredibly helpful.

 

You’ll likely find that many others have faced similar challenges. This sense of community and shared learning can boost your confidence by a LOT. I’m always surprised by how many people can relate with my stories.

Tip 6: Build a Support Network

Connect with Other Game Masters

Joining communities of fellow game masters can provide invaluable support and advice. (We have one over on Discord!)

 

Online forums, social media groups, and local meetups are great places to connect. Share experiences and learn from others.

Mentorship

If possible, find a mentor who can guide you through the game-mastering process. Mentors can help boost your progress faster than anything.

 

An experienced game master can offer personalized advice, answer your questions, and provide encouragement. This support can be a tremendous confidence booster.

 

Just hit up any of the mentors in our Discord community, or you can even book a game audit through our team!

Supportive Players

Cultivate a group of supportive players who are patient and understanding.

 

A positive player group can make a significant difference in your confidence levels. If your players are jerks, you’re going to have a really hard time. No joke. I’ve been there.

 

Encourage open communication and mutual respect. In a nurturing environment, everyone thrives. (Basic human development, y’all!)

Attend Workshops and Events

Participating in workshops, conventions, and other TTRPG events can expand your knowledge and connect you with like-minded individuals. (MAJOR confidence booster!)

 

Hit up classes or chats at GenCon or your local game conferences!

Tip 7: Enhance Your Improvisation Skills

Practice Improvisation

Improvisation is a valuable skill to help you become a confident TTRPG game master. Practice thinking on your feet and coming up with creative solutions quickly.

 

This can be done through improv games, storytelling exercises, or simply challenging yourself to respond to unexpected situations during gameplay.

 

We have several improv and storytelling game examples in our Organized Game Master course!

Trust Your Instincts

When faced with the need to improvise, trust your instincts.

 

Rely on your understanding of the game and the story to guide your decisions. You know what you’re doing and even if you don’t, you know what feels right. Trust yourself. 

 

Confidence in your improvisation skills will ONLY grow with practice and experience.

Create Loose Frameworks

Develop loose frameworks for scenarios that allow for flexibility. This approach gives you a structure to fall back on while still enabling spontaneous creativity.

 

Having a general outline can make improvisation feel less daunting and more manageable. Again, not over-prepping, but basic outlines can be so helpful.

Embrace Player Input

Encourage your players to contribute ideas and suggestions during the game. Their input can spark inspiration and make improvisation a TRULY collaborative effort. (That’s the whole point of this storytelling medium, is it not?)

 

This shared creativity can make the game great and boost your confidence in handling unexpected developments. My style of game mastering is almost exclusively based on player input! I create a general plan and then follow what they do. It makes it real difficult to plan BBEG fights, but my players really are telling the story.

Tip 8: Focus on Player Engagement

Know Your Players

Understanding your players’ preferences and play styles can help you tailor the game to their interests.

 

This knowledge allows you to create more engaging and enjoyable experiences, which feeds into everything else we’ve discussed so far. There are some worksheets on this in the course as well.

Encourage Role-Playing

Promote role-playing by creating opportunities for character development and interaction.

 

Encourage your players to BECOME their characters and lose themself in the story. (Be careful if you’re coming from a therapeutic perspective, ha!)

Incorporate Player Feedback

We mentioned this earlier, but it deserves a repeat. Regularly seek feedback from your players about what they enjoy and what could be improved.

 

You can use real anxiety-friendly systems such as Stars and Wishes to do this confidently. 

 

Use this feedback to refine your approach and create a more satisfying game. Positive player experiences will make you feel so good and confident.

Tip 9: Take Care of Yourself

Manage Stress

Game mastering can be stressful, especially if you’re new to it.

 

Practice stress management techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, or physical exercise.

 

Reducing stress can improve your focus and prevent burnout, the ultimate killer of confidence.

burnout can be the ultimate killer of confidence.

Set Realistic Goals

Set achievable goals for each session and campaign. Avoid overwhelming yourself with unrealistic expectations.

 

Breaking down your objectives into manageable tasks can make the process more enjoyable and boost your confidence as you achieve each goal. 

 

#PROJECTSCOPING 😍

Prioritize Self-Care

Ensure you take care of your physical and mental well-being. Get enough sleep, eat healthily, and take breaks when needed.

 

A healthy mind and body contribute to a positive mindset and increased confidence. As I noted earlier, burnout will mess you up. Please try to avoid it.

Celebrate Your Progress

Recognize and celebrate your growth and accomplishments as a game master. Reflect on how far you’ve come and the skills you’ve developed.

 

Acknowledging your progress because you’re doing amazing and deserve to feel confident.

Tip 10: Have Fun

Enjoy the Journey

Remember that the primary goal of TTRPGs is to have fun. Embrace the joy of storytelling, the thrill of adventure, and the camaraderie of your players. MY PLAYERS ARE MY BEST FRIENDS, no joke.

 

When you focus on having fun, your enthusiasm will naturally boost your confidence and make things fun for your table too.

Don't Take it too Seriously

While it’s important to be prepared and organized, don’t forget to laugh at the unexpected twists and turns.

 

Mistakes and surprises are part of the game, and a light-hearted attitude can turn potential stressors into memorable moments.

 

Keeping a sense of humor helps cerate a positive atmosphere and builds your confidence. IT’S A GAME. IT SHOULD BE FUN. 

Celebrate the Moments

Cherish the special moments that happen during your sessions, whether it’s a clever player strategy, an epic battle, or a heartfelt character interaction.

 

These highlights are the essence of what makes TTRPGs unique and rewarding.

 

Celebrating these moments with your players reinforces the joy of the game and strengthens your bond with the group.

 

This is slightly different than rewarding them (like I do with my token system). The way I really focus on celebrating our game moments is to do a gif recap of each session in our Discord chat!

Stay Curious and Creative

Keep exploring new ideas, settings, and scenarios to keep the game fresh and exciting. I’ve been doing this for 5 years and am constantly tinkering with new angles. If you’ve been doing it for 50 years, you should still be curious about trying things.

 

Your curiosity and creativity will inspire your players and make you feel so good and confident.

Remember... It's Just a Game!

At the end of the day, TTRPGs are about having a good time with friends. Why do it otherwise?

 

Don’t stress too much about perfection. Focus on creating memories with your players, and your confidence as a game master will naturally grow.

Frequently Asked Questions to be a confident TTRPG game master

A: It’s okay not to know every single rule. Focus on understanding the basics and key mechanics. You can always look up specific rules as needed during the game. Your players will appreciate your effort and flexibility.

A: Address disruptive behavior promptly and respectfully. Set clear expectations for conduct at the start and remind players of these guidelines as necessary. If issues persist, have a private conversation to resolve the matter.

A: Be prepared for your players to take the story in unexpected directions. Embrace their creativity and adapt the narrative to accommodate their choices. 

A: Know your players and what they enjoy. Incorporate a mix of combat, role-playing, and problem-solving to cater to different play styles. Regularly seek feedback to ensure everyone is having a good time.

A: Absolutely! Pre-made adventures are a great resource, especially for new game masters. They provide a solid framework that you can customize to fit your group’s preferences and your storytelling style.

Written by
Beth the Bard (@ItsBethTheBard)

She/Her | Pro DM & Coach | ADHD | Best-Selling DnD Author of Feminist Curse of Strahd Book | D&D in a Castle DM | Creator of TTRPG University

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