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If there is one thing that bugs the most about “conventional” RPG wisdom is the idea of what the GM is responsible for. The GM is a player adjacent role, and aside form a few exceptions regarding the responsibilities that an individual game prescribes to a GM, they should have nearly identical responsibilities that other players of the game. I want to address a few of these typically shouldered by the GM and why I do not think they are valid.
The GM is responsible for everyone’s fun.
This notion is perhaps my biggest pet peeve when it comes to gaming. Somehow people got it in their head that the GM was the one that was not only facilitating the game, but facilitating everyone’s fun as well.
We are only responsible for our own fun, nobody is beholden to anyone else’s fun but their own. Of course you want to be a good human and looks out for others, provide value to their life, and contribute to the game in ways that they enjoy – but it is not your responsibility to do so.
Each player has to have a good understanding of their own desires, likes, dislikes, limits, etc. Nobody else should have to entirely understand all those facets of your personality. If something is bothering you, you should speak up about it. If there’s something you’d like to see in play with someone else’s character, you should discuss it with them. You are responsible for your own fun. If you find yourself unable to have fun with a group it is up to you to recognize that and properly move on.
The idea that the GM has to police everyone else’s experience is oddly condescending to me – as if all the players are not adult enough to communicate as humans about their likes and dislikes.
Be kind to your players, fellow gamers, and game master. If they ask you to do something, or not do something, to make the game more enjoyable for them, consider doing it if it does not impede on your own fun (and discuss with them if it does), but if someone is not having fun and not taking initiative to correct that themselves – it is nobody’s fault but their own.
The GM is responsible for having the greatest mastery of their system out their group.
This is a responsibility often brought about by convention, but is worth stating that the GM doesn’t have to be their group’s particular system master.
The GM is often the person in the group who bought the game, read the rules, put together a pitch for play, and preppred whatever was needed – so often they are the person who understands the rules the best. But that is by no means a requirement to play.
A solid understanding of the core mechanic, what systems and possibility spaces the game provides, and generally where to find rules should generally be within the GM’s grasp, but it is perfectly fine to delegate rules expertise to players. Maybe one person is playing a particular kind of wizard – let them become the expert on the magic system and delegate rules questions to them. This may even be beneficial if you have players who like being percieved as the rules expert.
We all have busy lives, and many of us (especially myself) are terrible at memorizing everything a game has to offer. By splitting up the responsibily of game expert we make it easier for the group as a whole to have an understanding of the game, and to allow everyone to learn the game as much as they want or need to over time.
The GM prepares and tells the story.
Roleplaying games have always been presented as the most expressive and imaginative form of gaming, so it bewilders me that at some point in its development people got in their mind that the GM is the one who tells the story.
This can trivially be shown to be false by the paradox presented by “The Impossible Thing Before Breakfast” – the contradiction that exists if you say that the GM is the author of a story, but that the players are the protagoists of that story with any amount of free will. If the players can make impactful choices – the GM isn’t the author. If the GM is the author – the players cannot make meaningful choices.
When I join a roleplaying game, no matter how “traditional” or free-form or GMless or GMfull or whatever, I want to be ensured that as long as I am playing within a core setting and situation decided by the group or someone in the group, that I can make meaningful choices about my character, and that my actions can change the overall story of the game. I especially do not want the GM to use Illusionism – the act of pretending my choices have meaning while behind-the-screen hiding that they ultimately do not. I as a GM also want to be suprised by the game I am playing, which is impossible if I have prepped the story.
Story is something that happens after the game – story is the reflection of the events that occurred in game. So if the GM already has a story, all of the events are already decided. A good commentary on an alternative can be found at the Alexandrian with “Don’t Prep Plots” (http://thealexandrian.net/wordpress/4147/roleplaying-games/dont-prep-plots).
That was a lot longer than I expected, and I still have more “responsibilities” that I think need to be called out as not existing. I will probably write a follow-up to this in the future. So what do you think – any of these that you agree or disagree with? What GM responsibilities do you think that are assumed are actually not a requirement for the GM?
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Thanks so very much to everyone who helped organize, host, and run games this year. As always Games on Demand, both running and playing, is my highlight of GenCon!
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Thanks everyone for making this my best GenCon yet!
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