Following up on my previous RPG Blog Carnival post about why I love RPGs, today let’s talk about why I love GMing.
I didn’t always. I suspect like many players in the early days of the hobby I ended up becoming a game master because no one else was stepping up to do it. While my circle of players/friends in the Eighties loved playing the games, I was usually the one who found and picked up the new games. And the only way these games were getting played was if I ran them. In fact, for my first several years in the hobby, I think the only game I ever had a chance to play was Dungeons & Dragons. But I GMed Metamorphosis Alpha, Boot Hill, Gamma World, Skyrealms of Jorune, Call of Cthulhu…you get the idea. I bowed to necessity and ran the games my friends got to enjoy playing.
Somewhere in that process, though, a switch flipped and I went from slogging through my game mastering because no one else would do it, and really coming to enjoy the process. That coincided with my realization that the game was not my story to tell (something to discuss in detail in another article). I realized that better than butting my heads against the players trying to get them to follow the path I set for them, I could just provide them with some details and important points, and then let the players show me what story they wanted to tell. Suddenly my players were having more fun, and so was I! Now I was excited to GM.
But why? What is it I love about game mastering that makes it a vital part of the hobby for me? I’m going to distill it down to three main points, but know that this is a discussion I could have over many posts/hours without winding down.
Storytelling – Once I realized that the story wasn’t my story alone, the storytelling aspect of GMing became a huge part of why I sought it out. Over time I learned how to follow the lead of my players, and guide them along the path of telling the story they want to tell. Now my process is to create or choose a setting in which the story takes place, bring together the players I think will enjoy that setting, provide them with some starting points, and then wait to see what they become fascinated with. Because I scatter around a detail or two for each player based on their backstory, it’s usually pretty easy to develop a story they’ll enjoy from that. Just because it’s the story they want, of course, doesn’t mean things will go easy for them. But it’s more likely they’ll enjoy the pain and strife if it leads to something they want.
Creativity – While I enjoy running premade settings and adventures for conventions and one-offs, for long running campaigns I prefer to build out the world myself. I’ve talked about how D&D 5th edition was what drew me back to doing that, and in fact both D&D campaigns I’m currently running are set in the new campaign world I created, Cotterell. The floodgate of joy that opened up when I began building out this world, after such a long period of just tweaking existing settings, is indescribable. And much like the details of the campaigns themselves, my players have an influence on how the world starts to take form. When I talk about some sort of historical detail and the players respond, I know that’s something to take note of and flesh out even more. When the players come up with a theory (“What if this is some sort of conspiracy?”), I know I need to build out a conspiracy for them to find. But I’m loving the new-found creativity I exercise with my GMing because of these campaigns, and it has bled over into the other games I run in the best ways.
Relationships – Game Masters sometimes get painted as megalomaniacs, only interested in being the GM so they can call all the shots. And I won’t deny that there are GMs like that out there. I can’t even deny that, in my teens at least, I was a GM like that. I think for most folks in the hobby it’s a phase to go through on your way to becoming a better game master. But for me, now, it’s more about being the person who takes responsibility rather than the person who takes charge. When I put on my (metaphorical, though I do have a birthday coming up) GM hat, I’m letting the players know that I’m going to take responsibility for certain parts of the game, that I’ve got this, and that I’m going to help them have fun. I’m not responsible for all the fun of course; the players have responsibilities as well. But the parts that are mine are going to be taken care of. And when I can see that the players trust me, that they’re buying into and working with the details I’m giving them, that right there is the best part of being a game master. It makes all the work and effort worth it.
And it means that I don’t think I’ll ever stop.
Check out the rest of this month’s RPG Blog Carnival over at this post, where you can find the links in the comments section.