It's Your Turn to GM

Isn’t it about time you stepped up and took on the load sometime to give your usual GM a break? Short answer, yes it is.

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Picture courtesy of Pixabay.

In most surveys I’ve seen, the one thing pretty much every GM agrees on is that they’d like to play now and again. It’s good for any GM to experience what it’s like as a player, just as every player should know what it’s like to be behind the screen. Both will be better gamers for it. Now, some groups are lucky that there are enough GMs to swap around constantly. But I’ve known of plenty of groups where one person is always assumed to be the GM and never gets a chance to play, a responsibility that often leads to burn out. So let’s go through some of the usual excuses that get offered when the GM says they need a break.

“I Don’t Know What to Do.”

So, you’re new to GMing, that’s okay, everyone has to start somewhere! But you are not alone. Your usual GM will be in the group and they can help you with the rules. They can probably even help you figure out an adventure. But there are plenty of published adventures out there and most walk you through it.

Being a GM can be intimidating, but it’s usually not as hard as it might look and with a little hand holding you’ll be fine. You group will support you (or at least they should!) and you never know, you might actually enjoy it. One new GM I know was excited to realise that when you GM, it’s ‘always your turn’ and she loved that.

“I’m a Useless GM.”

There is only one answer to this - you need practice. But more often than not what this really means is "GMing is too hard." So maybe it’s time you did. Someone else has been making that effort for you week after week so why not step up?

If you’ve GM’ed before and not enjoyed it very much, that’s understandable. But even so, why not try game mastering a one off? You may have just had a bad experience and with the right game and group it might be completely different.

“I’m Too Busy.”

Your GM might be busy too! Now there are times when we have busy weeks. Work or kids can get crazy and you might genuinely not have any time. But for most weeks it’s not a question of time but priority. Your usual GM is expected to make time for prepping and running the game, so there is no reason you can’t put some time into gaming.

Running a game need not take that much time either. There are plenty of published adventures you can run as written for most games. Can you really not read ten pages of adventure in a whole week? Even if you can’t, read it as soon as you can and then run it that week.

“But You’re So Good!”

This sound complementary but it’s actually a lot more insidious. You are basically saying "you’re really good at this, so you have to do it forever," to say nothing of "you have to keep providing the usual high standard or everyone will be disappointed." If you don’t feel you are up to the standard of your usual GM there is only one answer: practice and get good. How do you think they did? They put the hours in and so can you. You don’t need to be Matt Mercer to run a good game anyway.

I should say in closing that if you really hate running a game or dread the idea no one can (or should!) force you. Not everyone takes to it and these games are meant to be fun for everyone. But it might just as easily be your turn to step up.

At the very least, you can be a better player and make effort that way. Support your GM with your attention and focus, and show the same dedication to the game they do, because that will make the game easier for them to run. Very few things are as disheartening for a GM as looking at a table full of players looking at their phones. The more effort everyone puts in, the better the game will be for everyone.
 

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Andrew Peregrine

Andrew Peregrine


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Jack Daniel

dice-universe.blogspot.com
There are a lot of oddball names for the GM out there.

  • Vampire - Storyteller
  • Call of Cthulhu - Keeper
  • Aliens - Game Mother
  • Delta Green - Handler
  • Cyberpunk 2020 - Referee
  • Deadlands - Marshal
A lot of us just use Game Master and Dungeon Master interchangeably. I haven't run Aliens yet, but I'm sure as hell not going to call myself the Game Mother. But the purposes of writing an article I'd probably use the more generic GM over DM.

I prefer the original term: referee. In truth, I would feel more than a little silly calling myself a "Dungeon Master" out in the real world, and "referee," at least for me, serves as a good reminder of the standard of impartiality that I hold myself to while running a game.
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
I prefer the original term: referee. In truth, I would feel more than a little silly calling myself a "Dungeon Master" out in the real world, and "referee," at least for me, serves as a good reminder of the standard of impartiality that I hold myself to while running a game.
You'd feel less silly if you wore a voluminous black cloak and carried a gnarled oaken staff carved with strange runes. Or maybe not. YMMV.
 

MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
I prefer the original term: referee. In truth, I would feel more than a little silly calling myself a "Dungeon Master" out in the real world, and "referee," at least for me, serves as a good reminder of the standard of impartiality that I hold myself to while running a game.
I have a player who made the ringtone for call from me on his phone "I am Dungeon Master" said by Dungeon Master from the 80s D&D cartoon.

Sometimes its best to just embrace the silly.
 


Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
There are a lot of oddball names for the GM out there.

  • Vampire - Storyteller
  • Call of Cthulhu - Keeper
  • Aliens - Game Mother
  • Delta Green - Handler
  • Cyberpunk 2020 - Referee
  • Deadlands - Marshal
A lot of us just use Game Master and Dungeon Master interchangeably. I haven't run Aliens yet, but I'm sure as hell not going to call myself the Game Mother. But the purposes of writing an article I'd probably use the more generic GM over DM.
Arguably "Dungeon Master" is the most oddball of them all.
 

MGibster

Legend
Arguably "Dungeon Master" is the most oddball of them all.
You make a valid point though I believe Game Mother is equally as weird. Most of the other words for GM have some application to life outside of gaming. Other than an indication that someone might be into some unconventional adult fun time, you don't typically hear someone talk about Dungeon Masters outside of gaming. But it was coined by the real OGs back in the '70s so I'll give it a pass. I believe the term is related to master of ceremonies as the DM is the "official" host with various responsibilities including adjudication of rules, controlling all aspects of the world save for the PC's actions, and is generally responsible for making sure things go smoothly. I suppose we could have called it a Dungeon Protocol Officer instead. In fact, I'm going to write an RPG about the importance of social graces and politeness and the GM will be the Protocol Officer.
 

Some people don't have the temperament to be GMs. They're too passive, anxious, lazy. Or can't step back and be an impartial adjudicator of a game. However, it would be good for the game groups - and the hobby in general - if more people gave it a shot. At the very least, it would make them appreciate the GM(s) they do have.

The industry does a poor job of on-ramping the task of being a GM. The format of adventure material has changed little in 40 years, besides making the content even more text-heavy and verbose. Indie and OSR publishers are making inroads with formatting that gives primacy to ease of use at the table. But adventures by the big publishers still expect the GM to memorize whole chapters of content, or make extensive notes and summaries. For most WotC campaign books, you can find player-made play aids online that do the work of summarizing chapters, presenting flowcharts, tracking NPCs, etc. The fact these have to be made at all speaks to a failure of design by the publisher.

As for support for GMs making their own adventures, WotC provides nothing besides some general advice in the DMG. No plug-and-play locations, lairs, maps, encounter tables, settlements, or NPCs. You’re in you own.

GM advice online is helpful. It's also intimidating. When a potential new GM goes to a Youtube channel for GM advice and sees 50+ videos with topics ranging from building pantheons to managing tactical combat to developing engaging NPCs, they can be forgiven from asking themselves what they've gotten themselves into, and backing out before they've even started.

The wealth of material meant to train GMs has paradoxically made the baseline of what we expect a GM to be today - system master, world-builder, tactical genius, actor, screenwriter - more daunting to inexperienced GMs. I started playing D&D when I was 9, and was DMing (and creating my own adventures) when I was 10. This was not unusual at the time. The reason the game was so accessible is because the expectations of what it meant to be a GM were far lower. On Thursday night I would sit down with a piece of graph paper while my parents watched Magnum P.I. in the background and draw a dungeon. The following night, while my parents watched Dallas, I would populate that dungeon with monsters, treasure, and cool stuff. On Saturday, I was ready to run my new dungeon.

D&D and other RPGs may have moved past simple dungeon-crawls as the default mode of play. But that format is unsurpassed in the ease with which it helps new players ramp up as GMs. It doesn't even have to be dungeons - you can have very simple play structures and ease of use with formats like the one used by Beyond the Wall. The problem is that the default by the big publishers to epic save-the-world campaign, deep NPC backstories, complex factional rivalry, etc. present a daunting barrier to aspiring GMs. I've been a GM for 40 years, but I doubt I would have become one (or at least started as an adolescent) if I was introduced to the hobby with today's adventure and campaign paradigm.
 
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