The above words are how it always starts. It begins with the idea of running a tabletop roleplaying game, and ideally ends with a great story told by friends who sat around that tabletop and shaped the narrative with their own characters. But how do you get from the idea to successfully running a game?
When you figure that secret out, let me know, I'd love to hear what it is.
Kidding, just kidding.
Truthfully, I started running TTRPGs shortly after discovering them. I started out, as many do, as a player in someone else's game. I sat there as a moody teenager with my bag of dice and pencil-marked character sheet and thought "You know what? I bet I could do what that person behind the cardboard gaming screen does. How hard can it be?"
Incidentally, anyone who asks that question, ironically or not, has absolutely no idea how hard it can actually be.
Like any skill, the more you run a game, the easier it gets. I started running Mage: The Ascension games in 1997, and wow, that was 2 decades ago and I wasn't prepared for that glimpse into my own age. Ahem. In that time, I've run games for groups of various sizes, from one-on-one adventures to a table of six. I've run for players who were completely new to TTRPGs as well as veteran roleplayers. I've also played in more RPGs than I can recall (good gods, I'm feeling my age tonight) so I know how it works on both sides of that cardboard screen.
Tabletop RPGs have seen a resurgence of late. A great many Kickstarter fundraisers have centered around games, even the Mage: The Ascension 20th Anniversary Edition by Onyx Path Publishing. TTRPGs can be found streaming live on Twitch channels, not the least of which is Geek and Sundry's own Critical Role and the Star Trek-inspired Shield of Tomorrow. (Incidentally, the GM who runs SoT was one of my Mage players in L.A. for several years, and he makes an excellent Akashic character.) With their uptick in popularity, folks may want to know how they can set up their own cardboard screen and start their own roleplay sessions, and I'm always happy to share what I know.
Since I recently started a new Mage game with new players (a brief overview of which can be found in this link to the Shadownessence forums), I'll use that as the primary focus for my advice. While most of what I've learned can be applied to any tabletop game, this will specifically address complications that arise in the course of running the Mage rules, of which there are so many that a new Mage Storyteller might feel overwhelmed. I'll give insight into the pre-planning of the game, making characters, starting the first session, and more. Expect some prose to give insight into the game itself, and maybe even a few "what if" scenarios to explore options that didn't happen, but could have. There might even be some crunchy house rules that you can use as-is or for inspiration to make your own house rules.
So, get comfy! We're about to explore one of the most complex but rewarding tabletop games out there - Mage: The Ascension!