There’s no element in RPG’s more difficult to describe to Muggles (non-RPG players) than the GM. Where to start? The person that organizes the game? Well, yeah, sure, but it does reduce things a bit. The person that knows the rules? I’ve GM’d with Silverback players that knew the rule system by heart. The person that does the voices? I’ve allowed players to play NPC’s. So how do we define their job?
The following are the aspects I find the most important to being a GM. It is by no means an exhaustive list and I’m sure I’ve forgotten many points, please let me know in the comments!
1) Has A Story She Wants To Share:
Now, this doesn’t mean that she has seven annotated and cross linked volumes loosely titled ‘The Dark Dungeon of Darkness Vol 1-7’ where every slab stone and every rusting chain have been meticulously detailed. Heck no. A post-it or two will be enough for some. Back of a postage stamp, if need be. Or simply nothing at all, and it’s all coming organically, mid-game. It doesn’t matter. All she has to do is have the loose trappings of a story that she wants to share with the others.
2) Has The Plot, The Fights And The NPC:
Of course, the GM is that great conductor of the plot. A good GM directs the plot subtly, taking it to realms wanted (or perhaps less wanted) by the players. Tricky job, this. No battle plan survives contact with the battlefield, as they say. Like being made of rubber, a good GM needs to bend and adjust, balancing her expectations, and those of the party. With more or less preparation, the GM needs to have the story in their head. Plot, fights, NPC’s. To do it well takes time and effort (I don’t presume to do it well at all).[*Editor’s Note: He does it well]
This is an enormous responsibility,
3) Is Inclusive:
It pains me to write this entry during the second decade of the 21st century. We have a nuclear power rover with very basic AI, rolling around Mars. I’ll repeat that: We have the technology to have a nuclear reactor the size of a water bottle, inside a robot with wheels, with enough AI to stop or turn if there’s a conflict between sensors and an order, on another planet. And with all that said, the most cursory review of certain gaming websites will show page of page of people that have had bad experiences with RP groups, involving everything from insults to outright discrimination. Everyone around your table is your responsibility, either as player, GM, heck, even as someone’s better half, just chilling at the back. Man, woman, otherwise-identified, young ‘un, it doesn’t matter. They’re all there for YOUR game. Break the rules, make someone feel uncomfortable, there will be consequences.
4) Is Patient:
The hardest one, in my opinion. You need to let it flow. The game won’t go as you plan, why should it? Dance with it. What was a joke, is now your main plot point. Someone cracked a joke at the worst possible time? Give them a stern look and move on. Or tell them off, briefly. Have an issue? We can talk about it….. After the next scene. Why am I flipping through the pages of the Monster Manual, you ask? No reason. Nope.
5) Is Kind And Fair:
Here I combine two aspects. I don’t like to kill characters. I have, in the past, as punishment for sheer idiocy. Maiming, that I’m cool with. Avoid killing characters as a normal tactic. Wound them badly. Make them carry the scars of their silliness. Punish their jokes, really. Also, don’t have favourites, either players or characters. You can’t kill one character and give another a bad bruise, when exposed to the same stimulus (unless one was a small goblin and the other a hill giant, but you get what I mean). If the players feel that they can and will be treated unfairly, they will lose interest, as they’ll feel their input is irrelevant.
6) Is The Focus Of All The Fun:
Unless I’m running a game about an incestuous vampire family addicted to zombified orc blood in Ravenloft, I try to keep my games light. One, I love the funniness that comes with it, and two, I love the sense of dread the players feel when the drek hits the fan and things get serious. An RPG game is supposed to be fun. I’m not backing down from this one. I don’t care if you’re playing scavengers inside the gut of a world-sized worm, if people are not enjoying themselves, you might as well be RP housework or admin. This entry collates everything that has come before. The conductor, the integrator, the rule-giver, it all boils down to this. Everyone needs to be enjoying themselves. It is a balancing act, the players need to be flexible, but so does the GM. The players need to follow the rules, but the GM needs to be fair.
Do you agree with these? What other aspects did I miss? Let us know!
Rui is a Portuguese scientist that, after ten years doing strange things in labs, decided to become a teacher. Then, two years ago, like he was bit by a radioactive D20, RPG’s came into his life, and he’s now juggling teaching, playing and GMing quite happily. He lives in the UK with his partner Joana, an ungodly number of potted plants, 4 to 5 RPG’s at various stages of completion (and across as many rule systems), and maps, cursed idols, evil necklaces, and any other props he can get his hands on. He’s been writing for HLG for a few months, and is one of the resident vloggers. He can be reached at @Atomic_RPG.
I am become death, destroyer of worlds.