How To Run A Game

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Before the First Game

You probably have a lot of questions and doubts as a beginner Game Master (GM), but don’t worry! It’s a lot of fun, and we’re here to help you every step of the way.

Let’s start with the basics. Here are a few questions for you to consider before your first game:

    1. Do you have any players? You’ll need a few players to play the game. They can be friends, family, or colleagues from work or school. We suggest starting with 3 to 4 players.

    2. Will you play in person or online? While Elysium’s Door, as a social game, is best played in person, it can also be played online (this might be necessary if some players live far away or if it’s easier to schedule). We recommend using Discord for communication and Roll20 for rolling dice.

    3. What should I expect from the players? Your players should be eager to play and understand that it’s a cooperative game, where all characters are part of the same team. We highly recommend that they read the Getting Started guide and have their character sheets ready, whether pre-made or created with your help.

    4. What responsibilities do you have as a GM? For the first game, you’ll need an adventure, some dice (physical or virtual), and a basic understanding of the rules. Don’t worry if you don’t know everything or make mistakes; you’ll learn most of the rules as you play. Besides that, you’ll likely be responsible for scheduling the initial games (though players can and should help with this). We suggest creating a chat group to facilitate communication.

    5. Are you using a pre-made adventure or creating your own? In Elysium’s Door, you can use a pre-made adventure, such as ‘The Flickering of the Eternal Flame,’ but any pre-made adventure can be adapted for Elysium’s Door, there are many available online. If you want to create your own adventures, we have tools to help in the other GM sections. 

Besides all that, feel free to ask questions on our Sub-Reddit!

The First Session

So you want to start a game for you and your friends, but have no idea how to start? We are here to help you out.

Starting a game can be a little scary, especially when it’s your first time. That’s normal, and we’ve all been there. You’re probably asking yourself: How do you run combat? How do you create NPCs? How do you engage your players? These are all common questions that new GMs have.

Before we continue, there is one thing you should know as a GM. You are not here to run the perfect combat encounter or to “win” the game. If your players are having fun, that’s all that matters.

With that said, how can you make sure your game is actually fun? Well, there are a couple of things you should do before running a game.

First, it’s important to make sure your players are comfortable. Don’t push a player out of their comfort zone. If you have a shy player, they may take a while to get immersed. Just be patient, and they will eventually come out of their shell. Also, make sure other players are not doing anything that is bothering everyone at the table.

Roleplaying can be a little embarrassing at first, and people will feel vulnerable when playing. If they are not comfortable, the immersion will be broken.

Fun can mean different things for different people. You can ask them what they want for the game, but you will also learn this as you play along with them.

Before you start the game, always ask if there are any subjects that should be avoided. People are different, and those differences should be respected. Some subjects can trigger uncomfortable feelings for some, so make sure everyone at the table is on the same page as you.

With that out of the way, we can focus on the game itself.

How do you start a game? Do you just throw everyone in a tavern and call it a day? Do you simply ask how everyone looks and thats it? No, of course not!

When starting a game, there a 3 things you should do:

  • Set the tone of the game
  • Introduce all the characters
  • Break the Ice

Set the Tone of the Game

Think about what kind of game you want to run. Is it a dark, gritty world, or perhaps a more lighthearted and funny campaign? Imagine a scenario in your mind that matches that tone and use it for your game.

For a harsh tone, you could start in a desert with the players setting out on a journey in a caravan. The desert is full of dangers, like bandits and giant scorpions, and lacks basic resources like water.

Describe the unbearable heat and how it affects the players. Tell them how they constantly feel thirsty and how their skin is burned from traveling under the sun. Describe how the nights are ridiculously cold in contrast, and how the difference in temperature makes them feel sick.

This will immediately make the players feel more immersed in the game.

But let’s say you want a happier tone and want to run a lighthearted scene, for example. You could start in a comfortable place like a tavern. Maybe this tavern is in a small village, but since there are a lot of travelers, there is still a rich economy and a vibrant atmosphere around the place.

Describe the music playing in the tavern. Describe the drinks and how they taste. Imagine the refreshing flavor of the beer they serve. Describe the waiters, their clothes, and the way they talk. All of this will create a vibrant scene that will set the tone for the game.

You can always set the Tone of the game by using other tools as well, such as background music, lighting outside the game (candles for example), outfits and props.

Introduce all the Characters

Once you’ve set the tone, it’s time to introduce the characters.

Introducing a character is very simple – you can just place them on the scene and ask them what they’re doing, and of course, ask them to describe themselves. You can even ask the player if there’s a specific way they’d like their character to be introduced.

But you can also tie their background into the introduction and even to other player’s backgrounds! Of course, this need to specified before the game starts with your players, but it can help making the party feel united from the start.

You don’t want to keep other players waiting for too long. Give each player enough time to make an introduction, but make sure everyone has a chance to introduce themselves early on.

Break the Ice

Once all the characters have been introduced, give them a few moments to feel the game. Ask them to roll a couple of Checks so they learn the basics of how to play, and let them roleplay a little if they want.

After that, it’s time to break the ice! One of the best ways to do this is with a hot start. This can be a Skill Challenge, a combat, or anything that adds action to the game.

If your players are new to the game, it’s wise to set an easy challenge so they can learn the basic mechanics. We suggest that this first challenge is tied to the plot of the adventure. Imagine this as a pilot episode of a series. You want to hook the players, and you want them to learn what the series will be about.

Once the challenge is solved, you basically finish your first session of Elysium’s Door!

The 3 Pillars of the GM

So the first session has ended. What do you do now? Don’t worry, the hardest part is over. Now, you only need to worry about three things for the rest of the game:

  • Presenting worldbuilding
  • Reacting to the players’ characters
  • Running combat

Presenting Worldbulding

You don’t want to play in an empty world. There needs to be interesting things for players to do.

But how do you make players engage? How do you make sure they are having fun? The answer is surprisingly easy.

You just need to present interesting things they can engage with. That’s it. If your players don’t engage with the things you presented, just let them move on. Let the players make their own choices.

Keep presenting them with things and eventually something will stick. Once something sticks, all you have to do is react to the players’s actions.

Ok, but what kind of things do you present? Well, that’s completely up to you. You can create your own world setting or use an already established setting or adventure.

For Elysium’s Door, we created the world of Illiria, which you can use to run your game if you want. There, you can find interesting stories and scenarios to present to your players, which will make your game more interesting.

But it doesn’t matter if you use Illiria or another world for your games, you can always take inspiration from anywhere, be it books, games, real life stories, historical events or movies. Take it, change a little bit, and make it your own. Inspiration is everywhere!

And if you created or prepared something and your players didn’t use it, don’t worry. You can always change a little bit and use it another day for another situation. Nothing is lost, everything can be reused!

Creating NPCs is also part of worldbuilding. You can check out our guide on how to create NPCs as well.

If you want to present a quest for your players, you can also use the Random Quest Maker to help you out with that.

If your players decide to explore and you want to spice up your game, you can also use the Random Encounter tables to help you make the world feel larger.

Reacting to Player’s Characters

Yes, your players have finally shown interest in something and decided to engage! What now?

All you have to do is react to the player’s actions. That’s it. If they do something stupid, make something bad happen. If they do something smart, reward them with something cool.

Not sure what would happen? Ask them to roll a check. If they roll low, something bad happens. If they roll high, something good happens. Remember: only ask for a check if there is a possibility for success or failure. If success is impossible, the character simply fails. If there is no way they could fail, the character just succeeds, no roll needed.

Try to react in a way that would make sense for the world. What would make sense for that NPC to react? What would the monster do? What would the merchant say?

Simply react in a way that doesn’t break immersion and everything will be fine.

Not sure how to reward your players after they do something cool? You can use the Random Treasure Table or follow the Economy rules to reward them with money.

Running Combat

Last but not least, you should prepare for combat. Don’t worry, it’s fairly easy to set up a combat encounter.

You will need 3 things for combat:

  • Enemies: Monsters have a tier and challenge points. Just use monsters with a total challenge point equal to the total level your players have and with the same tier as them.
  • Environment: The battle needs to happen somewhere! You can take a nice battlemap or use theater of the mind. Think of the things that the environment would have, like Cover, altitude or terrain types.
  • Motive: Why is combat happening? Most encounter shouldn’t be pointless, and there should be a reason behind them, even if the reason is: the monster was hungry.

We have a section focused on running combat encounters, in which we go into better detail, which you can find here.

 If you can’t find a monster you want to use, we also have a section on how to homebrew your own monsters, which you can find here.

Last Tips!

Congratulations! You know the basics of being a GM. But before you go, here are some tips to help you out:


Improvisation is the GM’s best friend. And the more confidence you put in it, the better it becomes.

If you have a good knowledge about the world you are using in your game, the easier it becomes to improvise as well, since you have a big picture of the game in your head.

Nothing is wasted, just re purposed

You over-prepared and half of the stuff you made didn’t get used? No problem! You can easily repurpose it so you can use it later down the line.

Maybe just tweak the monster, or use another stronger one, change a detail or two, and ta-da! It’s ready for the next session.

Never break the Suspension of Disbelief

Don’t tell the players exactly how you run your sessions, or that you fumbled a dice, or that you let a monster die sooner even if it had some HP left. This will simply break the immersion players had and take most of the fun out.

Communication is Key

Communicate with the players and make sure they clearly understand your intentions and emotions.

In theater, actors often exaggerate their expressions so that even people in the back row can understand them. As a GM, you should do the same and exaggerate your expressions and emotions to help your players understand the tone and atmosphere of the game.