2 GM or not 2 GM

This thread on RPGGeek got me thinking: why don’t some people want to GM? To help me get to grips with this problem- and it clearly is a problem, as there are folks out there (I don’t think Pete’s the only one) resorting to running games they want to play because no-one else will- I’d like to pose the following questions to the Collective:

  1. What made you start GMing?
  2. What do you think stops a lot of folks from GMing?
  3. Do you think GMing a game helps one to get more of a handle on that game?
  4. Do you think GMing experience is a pre-requisite for becoming a game designer?
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9 thoughts on “2 GM or not 2 GM

  1. I’ll give it a go.

    1) I’ll What made you start GMing?
    I wanted to create a world, and see what happened when people played in it.

    2) What do you think stops a lot of folks from GMing?
    Actually, I think there’s an awful lot of people just happy as players- maybe even the majority of people involved in RPGs. They’re just not as involved with the hobby as GMs, so you don’t see too much of them on forums. Some would like to GM but are unsure what to do, or fear not being good at it. Some GM for their home groups, but would be nervous of GMing at a con, possibly through fear of doing a bad job. Those people we can help!

    3) Do you think GMing a game helps one to get more of a handle on that game?
    Yes. Of course.

    4) Do you think GMing experience is a pre-requisite for becoming a game designer?
    Yes. I think someone who hasn’t tried running a number of games of a style similar to what they are trying to design (including facilitating very indie stuff) couldn’t know what they are doing enough to successfully design a good game.

  2. 1) I’ll What made you start GMing?
    Someone had to do it (I guess, I can’t remember well).

    2) What do you think stops a lot of folks from GMing?
    It seems like a lot of work, both prep for the game and keeping the game going at the table. Some people just don’t have the time or energy.

    3) Do you think GMing a game helps one to get more of a handle on that game?
    I found GMing let me see behind the scenes too much and probably contributed to my transition from GMed games to GMless ones. So it helps you get too good a handle on a game.

    4) Do you think GMing experience is a pre-requisite for becoming a game designer?
    Clearly not, otherwise the first RPG couldn’t have existed, but I’d say that if you’re making a GM’d game it’d certainly be a good idea (who do you think will be running your game anyway?). As a designer the more experience you have playing different systems in different roles the better.

  3. My answer to (4) was a bit garbled. I meant that a potential designer should be familiar with several systems, including any that do similar things to what they are trying to design, and should have actually run (ie: GMed) some of them. If we’re talking indie GMless games, I mean playing or facilitating rather than GMing here- but again, it would be silly to design something GMless without ever playing something GMless first.

  4. 1) What made you start GMing?
    No-one else would run the games I want to play if I didn’t. Also it scratches a creative itch.

    2) What do you think stops a lot of folks from GMing?
    i. Intractable rules that don’t support the GM.
    ii. The “oral tradition” of GMing, in that it’s an acquired tacit skill that’s difficult to learn by anything other than doing. Some people don’t know where to start.
    iii. The apparent prestige of being a GM might intimidate people, particularly newcomers coming onto a social scene with an established “hall of fame” of popular GMs.
    iv. The expectation (real or imagined) to create a storytelling work of art.

    3) Do you think GMing a game helps one to get more of a handle on that game?
    Yes, but if you only GM a game you’ll have less of a handle on how to play than someone with experience doing both.

    4) Do you think GMing experience is a pre-requisite for becoming a game designer?
    See #3. I think you need to do plenty of running and plenty of playing. If you only GM, you only know half the audience who is receiving the game.

  5. Just to knit the replies together a bit: I agree with most people are saying about GMing being a pre-requisite to game design, i.e it’s by no means essential but is to be strongly recommended. As dr_mitch says it’s wise to know a style of game works (whether that be GMless, combat-focused or quest-orientated etc.) in order to be able to design those sorts of games yourself. Kiwirpgs expands on that slightly to include the desirability of experience of a variety of systems, which I’d also agree with. But then smiorgan adds that you should in fact have plenty of experience of *both* GMing AND playing, so you know what the experience is like from both sides of the screen, which I think is an important point.

    As to what experience of GMing does to your appreciation and/or understanding of the game you’re GMing, I kind of assumed most people would think it does give you a better handle on the game you’re GMing, but I take note of Kiwirpgs’ point about ‘seeing behind the screen’. I agree that it can take away some of the magic if you see in the rules exactly what the GM has been up to in a game you’ve been playing in, indeed I prefer GMs NOT to reveal their secrets and say things like ‘I was planning to do X if you all went to the Temple of Hoth rather than the ruined city’, or ‘I statted the bad guys in such-and-such a way’ etc.

    To the subject of why people don’t GM, I must admit that I was terrified the first time I ever GMed a game that wasn’t my own, the fear being mainly that I would get the rules wrong and thus be discredited in the eyes of the players, particularly, as smiorgan points out, as there are a number of high-profile, ‘celebrity’ con GMs out there, and the thought of being (unfavourably) measured against them can be quite intimidating. I have my own example of this: I’ve been trying to get a handle on My Life with Master since James Mullen ran it at Indiemeet a few months ago. I was really taken by the game, and came up with the idea for my Rock God scenario soon afterwards; I now feel completely confident about it but was very nervous the first time I ran it, for the reasons cited above.

    Overall I would say that GMing is an enjoyable and exhilarating experience that everybody should try at least once, and especially everyone with aspirations to game design. And, of course, players do help you if you’re worried and inexperienced. So, onwards and upwards :).

  6. Pingback: Agents of Description, or Agency? | Casting Shadows

  7. > What made you start GMing?

    I was 7 years old, and if I wanted to play RPGs with anyone my age, I was the one who was happiest with the effort involved.

    > What do you think stops a lot of folks from GMing?

    GMing well is quite challenging. There is also quite a lot of up-front investment of time required, be it learning the rules, writing scenarios or whatever. On top of that, I have seen people walk away from GMing because of fractiousness among the players. Keeping everyone happy while at the same time keeping things interesting enough from your own point of view to motivate you to carry on GMing – it’s a lot to juggle.

    > Do you think GMing a game helps one to get more of a handle on that game?

    Yes. You have to answer questions players never have to answer, and maybe never even ask. You get to see the game much more objectively than the players do – particularly the balance of power among the PCs.

    > Do you think GMing experience is a pre-requisite for becoming a game designer?

    Not for GMless games, clearly… but for GM’d games, I would say that it would be a very brave thing to design one with no experience of GMing, and it would be lucky if that lack of experience didn’t cause problems. I also think, though, that experience as a player is vital to good GMing, let alone good game design. Play first, GM second, design third, that’s how I see it.

  8. To your last point Matt: yes, absolutely, couldn’t agree more, but not always possible in practice. In my case, I’d only been roleplaying– let alone GMing- for a few months when I started having ideas for games. I managed to keep the old creative brain (you know, the one that never sleeps, and won’t be told to shut up?) in check for a while, but pretty soon it burst its banks and hey presto, Sci-Fi Beta Kappa was born. I then had to go round demoing the damn thing, which in turn meant I had to start GMing, something I had zero experience of, although as a former EFL teacher of 20 years’ standing (yes, I’m that old, and yes I know I don’t look it ;)) there were some transferrable skills knocking around.

  9. What made you start GMing?

    Sheltered upbringing. First time away fro home at uni. RPGs were my only way to make friends. GMing gave me more status within that circle.

    What do you think stops a lot of folks from GMing?

    Mainly the fact that YOUR GM is now playing. Very intimidating.

    Do you think GMing a game helps one to get more of a handle on that game?

    Of course, but you need to,play to get the full picture.

    Do you think GMing experience is a pre-requisite for becoming a game designer?

    Not pre-requisite just almost essential if you want the game to be any good.

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