A Grandmaster’s Guide to Good Guilding #3: Teaching Kids How to GM

Yet another article on my musings while being the adult “Grandmaster” of a successful middle-school Pathfinder RPG club (now 27 students strong!) that the kids and I affectionately call “The Guild.” These posts likely will interest others who are introducing tabletop RPGs to young people. Read, comment, and enjoy!

Here I am reproducing the post I created on The Guild’s website, where I give kids tips on how to GM other kids. As you might expect, this is NOT an easy thing to teach, and it requires a lot of learning-by-doing while also dealing with all the dramas and unpredictability of dealing with young people! And, being a guide for the kids themselves, this does not scratch the surface of how older or more experienced people can teach young people how to GM.

But this is a start. So here goes:

surprised-teenI know it can be hard sometimes to GM a game, and I’m older and have a lot more experience. So it is much harder for many of you! Here are my tips for GMing without going insane.


Almost every single one of these problems is some version of “I’m young and still in middle school and I want attention, no matter how it affects the group!” Meanwhile, everyone else who is more focused on actually adventuring gets bored. My general overarching advice is to neutralize the problem for now and just to keep the adventure moving — the more interested people will immediately take your direction, and the rest will follow behind.

Okay, so here’s what will come up, and how to solve it:

A player is arguing with me about my ruling!

GM Rule #1: Your rulings are final unless the Grandmaster overrules you. If you can’t immediately resolve an argument, say, “My ruling is final, so that we can keep playing. If you still want to raise it, talk to me afterward.”

Too many people are talking at once!

Require that people raise their hands. If several hands are up, say who’s first, then second, then third, etc.

I have a player who wants to do something really stupid (like kill a random NPC for no reason, or eat something they know is poison)!

New players to tabletop RPGs don’t understand that their actions have consequences yet: there is no returning to your last Save Point.

FIRST, give a reason in the adventure why this is stupid (e.g., you’re going to die, or you’re going to get the whole party killed). SECOND, if they still don’t come to their senses, make the consequences happen if it doesn’t ruin everything for everyone. If it ruins things for the group, just FORBID IT. Do not argue about it — just move on (see GM Rule #1).

My players want to fight each other!

Same as before — this ruins things for the group (even if THEY think it’s fun). It creates resentment and let’s two people steal the show while everyone else gets bored. Good news here is that it violates Rule #1 in the Guild Charter: Cite the Guild Charter and move on.

People aren’t paying attention!

First, don’t forget that they DO want to play RPGs and that’s why they’re here. But some people get bored because they’re frustrated things aren’t moving fast enough. Best thing to do is to ignore distractions and move on. The most-focused people will pay attention first — then, when the others see there’s something going on, they’ll follow. (Also, if there hasn’t been a combat in a while, this is a good way to get everyone to pay attention.)

Also, I know that some GMs are very focused on not getting any rules wrong and so will look up rules in the middle of a game. This is important, BUT there is a limit to how much time you should spend on doing this. Sometimes I see groups where players lose focus while the GM is looking up a rule — sometimes it’s better just to make a temporary rule and to move on. Other times, it is very important (decide whether someone dies) and so people won’t mind if you look something up — everyone will understand this. With more experience, you will know when it makes sense to look up something and when it’s not.

Consider using Ronald’s Rules of Rolling© to prevent chaos and cheating at the gaming table. Say “Ronald’s Rules of Rolling© apply” to make them the rules of your game:

1. Only Official Rolls count, and Official Rolls are FINAL and cannot be rerolled.
2. Your roll is not Official unless the GM told you to roll it.
3. If you are taking an action, you must declare clearly and before rolling the die in order for it to be Official. If you roll without saying what you are doing, then you repeat what you did in the last round, even if it’s a bad idea.
4. A die must land on the table (or an object on the table) to be Official.
5. If it falls out of your hand and lands on the table — even accidentally — it is an Official Roll.
6. NO one else can roll for you unless the GM says so.
7. If something interfered with the die (someone’s hand, a book, etc.) — that doesn’t matter: it is an Official Roll.
8. If it is unclear what the die’s result is because it doesn’t land flat, then the GM declares the result or ask for a re-roll.

Also, a tip to GMs: Sometimes ask the whole table to make a roll (like Perception or Initiative). Then go around the table, in order. This makes it easier to get everyone’s roll, and it prevents cheating.

None of this is working!

Get the Grandmaster’s attention and he will solve it.


Stay tuned and follow my “Grandmaster’s Guide” articles! I will post on whatever inspires me, which will range from general topics (e.g., middle-school students vs. high-school students) to lessons I learned from specific experiences (such as that First Day!). It amuses me, reading my original postings on the Paizo thread that gave birth to this series of articles, that I had a VERY different idea of how the class would play out, from what eventually would evolve out of the unpredictable insanity that would follow.


About ronaldsf

Grandmaster of the Pathfinders' Guild at Martin Luther King Middle School.
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2 Responses to A Grandmaster’s Guide to Good Guilding #3: Teaching Kids How to GM

  1. Beni Snow says:

    Interesting. I am wondering what your suggestions are for players who you have a notion are doing purposeful “stupid” things because they are not “feeling the game/ their character” anymore, but are passive aggressive about it, instead of communicating that.

    • ronaldsf says:

      Well, with kids this age I usually don’t see them being passive-aggressive. They are more likely to complain openly (“this is boring!”) or just ask me if they can leave the game.

      I’ve pretty much only seen silly actions proposed when (1) the player is new or (2) the the GM is not managing the group well and everyone is taking the game less seriously.

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