Before we get started, a disclaimer: Being a GM can be difficult, frustrating, and tiring. It involves more work than any other role in the RP, and ultimately demands a lot of responsibility, skill, and knowledge of the characters, the players, and the setting in order to pull off correctly.
It can also be highly rewarding, enjoyable, and interesting. With a careful hand, you can guide events in order to explore different facets of the characters and the setting, and cause all manner of interesting, and oft-times surprising developments.
It's also vital to meaningful RP.
So let's dive right in and ask the first question:
What is a GM?
A GM, or "Game Master" can generally be understood as the person playing the role of the game system itself. In tabletop RPGs, the GM is responsible for, amongst other things, setting up the scenario, playing the part of NPCs, describing the setting and events, and generally acting as the "narrator" for the story of the game. Their role can be likened to that of a director, albeit with all the actors doing improv.
Now, EoP is not an RPG. We don't roll dice, and we don't have volumes of rule books and charts describing how things work. We generally rely on the players' common sense to have things not go up in flames. Here, a GM is essentially responsible for coming up with plots, running those plots, handling setting and NPCs (as in RPGs), and guiding the players' progress throughout a plot. It's a role that just about everyone will play to some degree, sooner or later. Whenever you organise an event (in-character), start an incident, or come up with ideas for plot, you're GMing in some degree.
So, now that we know what we're doing, we need to ask, how do we do it?
The GM's toolbox.
In simple technical terms, GMs here at EoP can make use of certain technical means in order to do their work. These would be: the OOC channel and forums (to communicate and plan with players), /npc, /npca, and /ambiance commands (in order to manage the setting of the RP), and the wiki (for information).
However, more importantly, they rely on less concrete devices - such as plotting, guiding, and writing skills. These are often developed mainly through practice, but much like trying to apply for a job that demands 5+ years work experience, you find yourself in a catch-22 situation whereby you can't practice GMing unless you get to GM, and you can't get to GM unless you know how to GM. The lesson to take from this is that everyone starts somewhere and that good GMs are made, not born.
tl;dr: TALK TO YOUR PLAYERS - before, during, and after the plot. That way, you can figure out what worked, what didn't, what you can tweak, etc. etc. etc. The other thing is TALK TO YOUR FELLOW GMs - they can help.
So, let's briefly cover the technical resources:
The OOC channel, PMs, the forum - talk to people. Chances are, you do this already, but if you want to run a plot, then discuss the idea with others, find out who might be interested, what everyone hopes to get out of it, when people are available, what characters will be involved, how long it's expected to take, etc. etc. etc. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.
The IRC provides some commands that make managing RPs easier. Currently, they are only available to people with half-op and above in channels. If you need access, ask an admin and they can give you half-op for the duration of the RP.
/npc #channel name :blah blah blah
-> <name> blah blah blah
This is basically just NPC-speech. Simple enough. For example, to have Buff McStrongmuscles say "Hi!" to the SDM, you would use /npc #Scarlet_Devil_Mansion Buff_McStrongmuscles :Hi!
/npca #channel name :does blah blah
-> * name does blah blah blah
This is just the /me action command for NPCs. It's self explanatory. Continuing with our prior example, if we wanted to have Buff kick the SDMs door down (and probably get mauled by the residents as a result) we could use /npca #Scarlet_Devil_Mansion Buff_McStrongmuscles :kicks the door down!
/ambiance #channel :Strange things are happening
-> <>Ambiance<> Strange things are happening
Use this to describe the setting, etc. For example, if you want to have rocks fall at the Hakurei shrine and everyone to die, you might write /ambiance #Hakurei_Shrine :Rocks fall (and everyone probably dies).
Read the wiki and talk to people. You need to have some idea of how the players and their characters react to things in order to shape plots effectively.
NON-TECHNICAL TOOLS :U
GMing basically comes down to three things: Setting up a plot, scoping the narrative, and guiding the players.
The first of these is probably the hardest, since it ultimately draws upon your own creativity. Really, the best thing to do here is to know your own creative process, and to keep notes obsessively. Whenever you think of something that might be a plot, make a note of it. Then perhaps after giving it some more thought, or discussing it with others, go back and add to those notes. Think about the motivations of various characters, and the state of the setting, and consider what various people might try to do regarding certain problems.
Since any GM at EoP is likely to also have their own characters, that can give you a very good starting point. Think about something one of your characters might want to do - perhaps they have a certain goal in mind, or would like to meet and interact with another character, or perhaps something is compelling them to act. Every action has consequences - and you might find interesting things might happen when people react to whatever it is you plan on doing.
Onto the second thing: Scoping.
This is basically the process of determining the scale of your plot. An all our war between humans and Youkai stands to draw in very powerful people and potentially change the face of Gensoukyou, whereas wanting to steal the SDM's good cutlery will probably not involve much more than a few characters and ultimately have a fairly minor impact. Both of these are perfectly good candidates for plot.
The main issue with scoping is that sometimes things can develop in ways that weren't originally planned for. If you draw in a powerful or unpredictable character, or someone reacts in a way that you didn't foresee, the situation could easily snowball and become something completely different. This is both one of the big advantages of free-form RP (as opposed to just writing a fanfic) but it can also be a source of stress - you wouldn't want a minor little shenanigan to accidentally the whole world, after all. Therefore, scoping often comes down to planning contingencies and communicating with your players.
Lastly, we have the real meat of the GM role: Guiding the players.
This is basically the actual act of driving the RP-train to wherever you're going. There are a number of methods that one can employ to do this, but for now, I will focus on the over-arching spectrum of offering-routing-railroading that can classify pretty much all GM actions.
You can find a lot of debate across the world wide web about exactly how authoritative a GM should be in order to have plots work and be enjoyable for everyone. I'll sum all this debate up right here for you: As a rule of thumb, never railroad when you can avoid it, never railroad key decisions ever, and only railroad "setup" events.
What this all means I will cover later; for now, let's just quickly go over an example of each of the three modes of GM operation:
Offering: A group of humans corner Nue Houjuu in an alleyway.
This is the lightest possible touch a GM can use, while still guiding the events of the plot. The player (in this case, Nue) is presented with a situation, but is free to choose how they will approach it. This is in some way the best approach to GMing - offering the players a situation and letting them deal with it however they like, although it has the one weakness that players can easily escape the bounds of the plot and do unexpected things, which may lead to you, the GM, having to hurry along after them.
Routing: A group of armed humans attacks Nue Houjuu in an alleyway.
This is probably the most common type of action a GM will take. A situation has been presented, and the players are free to tackle it however they please, although some possibilities have been closed off, thus pushing the plot in a given direction. This is a good way to "advance" plots, as the players can still "steer" to a degree, but progress is no longer optional.
Railroading: A group of armed humans attacks Nue Houjuu in an alleyway. After she kills some or all of them, another appears and bops her over the head with an enchanted club of knocking-people-the-fsck-out (+16).
This is probably the single most divisive action GMs can take. Basically, the players are given no choice and the plot advances in the desired direction regardless of what they do. Needless to say, this is a last resort type action, and should NEVER be done without consulting with the players beforehand.
This is also where we get to the caveats I mentioned earlier: "never railroad key decisions ever, and only railroad "setup" events" - railroading can be a key mechanism in order to move plot devices into place, but you should never, ever, no matter how good a reason you think you might have, try to railroad aspects of the characters involved. You can't railroad someone into dying, no matter how dramatic it might be, and you can't railroad characters into making major, life-altering decisions (as an example, while you could possible railroad Kaguya and Mokou into having to cooperate (for a while), you can't railroad them into being friends). Use your judgement, talk to the players, and be sure everyone understands what's going on.
Now, I mentioned "setup" events - and the example I gave of railroading is an example. It sets up the situation of a Nue in a cage, with the implicit understanding that this is going to develop further. Clearly, Nue will probably try various ways of escaping and then ruining the day of whatever idiot captured her in the first place. These events should unfold naturally.
Pitfalls and Possibilities.
Here I'll just briefly cover some things that I think might be worth keeping an eye out for, and/or a few things from personal experience which makes for better GMing.
Players might be GMs, but characters are only ever players.
Since here in EoP, you're probably going to be playing a character in the plot, as well as managing the events, it's important to keep your character-issues and your GM-issues very much separated. While your character might very much want certain events to happen, that is not in any way an excuse to break out the train tracks and start putting the plot on rails. The part of you that is GM must never favour any one character over others - rely on your character to pursue their own goals and persuade other people when necessary, instead of getting meta.
The P6 rule: Proper Planning Prevents Piss-Poor Performance.
The GM has the most work to do, and that's when the GM doesn't have to play in the plot as well. As a GM, you'll be fairly busy for the duration of the plot. Make sure that you set aside enough time to do this, pre-write as many /npc and /ambiance commands as you can, try to foresee certain developments and give some thought as to how you might handle them.
Plots, much like turkeys, can be overcooked.
a.k.a overly planned plots tend to be on rails and that becomes collaborative fanfic, and we don't have time to help you write yours >:C
Here is an example of how not to plan a plot: "Members of the SHA, wanting to exterminate all the Youkai of Gensoukyou, begin attacking notable Youkai, hoping to build tensions between humans and Youkai and eventually start a war. Someone discovers the truth and must avoid assassins sent by the SHA in order to expose the scheme, prompting humans and Youkai to temporarily call a truce in order to attack the SHA itself. After a hard-fought battle, numerous people lay dead, but the leader of the SHA has escaped, no doubt to cause further trouble down the line."
Why is this bad? Well because everything is planned out. There's no wiggle-room for the players and you're probably going to have to railroad every second thing in order to have events play out the way you wanted them to.
A far better way to plan this out is to do the following: "Members of the SHA, wanting to exterminate all the Youkai of Gensoukyou, begin attacking notable Youkai, hoping to build tensions between humans and Youkai and eventually start a war."
That's it. Stop. You're done. Have these things happen and watch as events take on a life of their own, involving ever more people and taking things in all sorts of unexpected and interesting directions.
The most important skill a GM can develop is adaptability. Much like the saying "no battle plan survives first contact with the enemy", we can say that "no plot survives first contact with the players" - it's going to be quite rare that things unfold exactly as you envision them. As a result, a good GM will have to know how to quickly change their approach and manage unfolding circumstances so as to push things in a rough direction.
However, GMing plots is a great way to have different characters interact, to prompt development of characters and settings, and generally it paves the way towards a more fulfilling RP experience.
How to GM, a checklist:
- Come up with a good idea.
- Talk to the players.
- Plan your opening moves.
- Talk to the players.
- Consider possible contingencies.
- Write out as many commands as you can.
- Talk to the players.
- Start the plot.
- React to the players' actions.
- Have fun.
- Talk to the players.
One last thing to note: I will be keeping this as an open thread, so feel free to add your own observations, thoughts, considerations, and to yell at me like "Damnit Chandra you forgot to mention..." and then a whole list of shit that I FORGOT TO MENTION. (Because adding a list of other things, like your shopping list, would just be silly).