The Game Master

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chrismmp
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The Game Master

Post by chrismmp »

I wasn't sure this was Gnome Stew appropriate so I thought I'd drop it here

I’m actually not a huge fan of the term Game Master. It’s a little loaded, carrying a bit of negative weight, not a lot, but enough to make me take a moment to consider the term. Are we really the masters of the game? Do we master dungeons? Are we truly the Keepers of Madness? Are we the exceptional Storytellers we believe ourselves to be?

They’re not rhetorical questions. Ask yourself. Be honest. I’m not there to judge you. If you really believe your exceptional then write down what makes you exceptional. While you’re doing that I’m going to continue but we’ll come back to the list.

Personally, I’ve run into exceptional. A variety of different kinds of exceptional. I’ve also run into awful. It helps to have that spectrum. Now that being said, it wasn’t until I started writing this that I was able to pin down how these titles applies to those people. Not the awful ones. They’re just pretenders to those monikers. But those exceptional ones, they really have something about them. It’s what I want to explore here. What makes someone worthy of that moniker. Game Master.

Let’s do an aside. The term Dungeon Master, which we’ve moved over to Game Master for the generic version, was invented by TSR in 1977. So here’s a hot take. The idea of Dungeon Master only exists because it’s a catchy name. I mean it is catchy. I mean what nerd wouldn’t want to be referred to as Master of anything, especially when so many of us aren’t really masters of anything. Nice little power trip fantasy if you ask me. Let’s get back.

What makes someone worthy of Game Master. I think the people who embody the term best are those people who worked their hardest to facilitate the most enjoyable experience a game has to offer. This means they used the rules of the game to craft an experience that was able to entertain the players at the table, including themselves, while keeping the other players at the table involved and engaged on whatever level they wanted to be involved in, while providing them the opportunities to be involved in ways they might not have realized they wanted to be.

This is a tricky thing to do but it’s what I once strove to do in the games that I ran. To be honest with you all, I’m pretty rusty. I don’t put in the effort to GMing like I used to. It’s because I’m more often thinking of design and storytelling than facilitating these days. Now design, or the rules and how they function, and storytelling are two important parts of table top role playing games. Unfortunately they don’t cover everything. It’s still missing the improvisational element these kinds of game offer and the concept of being a manager of people.

So there it is. My four big pillars of facilitating games or Game Mastering are rules knowledge, storytelling, improvising, and people. I think if you can master those four elements then you’ve earned the title of Game Master.
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Emmett
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Re: The Game Master

Post by Emmett »

I was never the greatest GM in the world but I used to have system mastery down. At one point when I was a teen my group had played campaigns in 22 different games and we had a giant stack of books in our game room. I could quote you verbatim the rules to each game and if you didn't think I had it right, I knew exactly where to open the book to in order to find the rule or stat.

Now I'm getting older and I have hundreds of games on my hard drive. I learn a little from each but I haven't played most. I also don't have the memory for rules I used to, even ones I've designed. Kinda sad about that.

I'm probably a B in improvising, I rarely have more than half a page of notes for a game.

Storytelling, I do my best. I have good days and lackluster ones.

People? Again I do my best my close friends are easier because I can read them better.

I'm floating the idea of using Facilitator instead of GM but I've gotten a decent amount of resistance. Usually it's from people that have encountered the term in corporate environments. To them it seems an especially dull name. Maybe exposure in a game context would help with that over time?
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GMGERRYMANDER
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Re: The Game Master

Post by GMGERRYMANDER »

I'd love to see a better and more catchy term.

I use GM more than Dungeon Master, even when playing D&D.

Maybe Game Manager. (Because a Manager's job is to make it so that everyone else can do their job.)

There are often times when someone else at the table has more "Mastery" of a game system than me. Especially with systems that have specific Munchkin Builds or are based on an existing property.

And I've played in games where all of the players knew the game better than the GM. (And I had a GM who used that, focusing on the story and the adventure and letting the players deal with tha rules.)

I don't like "Storyteller" because of the negative gaming connotations and because everyone at the table is telling the story.

OF course, many of the games back when we started were created with an "adversarial GM" framework. (Just look at some of the critical fumble tables, the Tomb of Horrors, or games where you died in character creation...) So, making one person the "Master" seemed to fit that mindframe.
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Bohnhoff
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Re: The Game Master

Post by Bohnhoff »

I like the term Facilitator best, as I think it accurately reflects the way I like to play games.

I became comfortable with it while working in the education department of a children's museum. When we led classes, we weren't teachers, we were facilitators. Our job was not to instruct, it was to provide the proper environment for the kid's to embark on their own inquiry spiral (pose a question, test it, question the results, and so on).

In gaming, I fill a similar role. I help with the rules, I use social management skills to keep things moving forward. I don't like to be in control of the story, I outsource that to the players as much as possible.

This is probably a whole 'nother topic but, in similar vein, I'm not a fan of the term "player". I like my players to have as much authority in the creation of the game as I do so they're not just players. And I like to think that I am a player too. In a game I'm writing, I'm considering with the term "protagonist" instead.
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Emmett
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Re: The Game Master

Post by Emmett »

On the term "player" I like the Facilitator/GM to be called a player also. Player is such a broadly applied term, it can be used in sports to theater, so I don't have a problem with it's authority. Still the Facilitator is a unique role within the session so it really helps to have a specific title for the role.
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Bohnhoff
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Re: The Game Master

Post by Bohnhoff »

Yeah, in general I think the term Player is ok. But if we want to reinforce that GM is a player too, I'd like another term for "non-GM-player"
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Emmett
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Re: The Game Master

Post by Emmett »

I considered the term "character player" at one time but it seemed too derivative, it would also confuse the term player character. It's already easy to confuse player and character when speaking.

I just resist the term protagonist because it isn't quite what the player is doing. Like a lot of Facilitator titles, it seems just slightly off. It might encompass a lot of the experience but there are missing and possibly misleading connotations.
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Tabletop Bellhop
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Re: The Game Master

Post by Tabletop Bellhop »

I continue to use GM but for long form I'm using the term Game Moderator. I don't think we can get people to stop saying GM or DM, the terms are so ingrained, but maybe we can change what those acronyms mean.
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JimLikesGames
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Re: The Game Master

Post by JimLikesGames »

I'm actually a pretty big fan of the Apocalypse World 'ME' terminology. The Master of Ceremonies directs the lineup, and cues the audience in to what's going on, but they aren't the show, they're there to help all the acts shine...
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pksullivan
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Re: The Game Master

Post by pksullivan »

A term I've seen used in a few superhero RPGs is Editor and I really like that. It's not gendered. There's the benefit of positioning that player as one with a certain kind of authority but not one of dominance or control. It also helps steer things away from the trope of the GM as 'a frustrated novelist' that I despise so much. It's not their job to tell a story. They should guide a story, help shape it, and pull the work of others into a coherent shape. That's what an Editor does.
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