My GM Definition

A few years ago I read an article on Treasure Tables about How Different RPGs Define the GM’s Role.  It was interesting to see how different games, as well as games from different time periods, defined the GM’s role within the game.  After reading a number of these I decided to try to create my own personal Definition of what being a GM means to me.   I decided rather than writing my own definition on my own, I would hack together one from all the different GM descriptions from Martin’s article.

After reading them over, I copied the phrases and definitions that I liked the best, and then cut and pasted them into a single semi-coherent description:

The Game Master, or GM is the participant in the game who acts as moderator, narrating adventures and representing other characters involved in the adventure who aren’t controlled by the players. Most importantly, the GM is responsible for introducing complications to the story, in the form of crises, moral dilemmas and occasionally a plain old villain; and then to describe the consequences to the players’ choices and mesh them into a cohesive whole that fits within the context of the game.  It’s never the GM’s job to plan what will happen, rather the GM’s job is to create a scene for the players, and from then on, only respond to the player’s actions.

Depending on the situation, the GM may determine what happens arbitrarily (for the best possible story), or by referring to specific game rules (to decide what is realistically possible), or by rolling dice (to give an interesting random result). The GM should be open to the suggestions and improvisations of the players and the players should be the same with regard to the GM. Together, everyone works to build a great story.

It is the GM’s primary duty is to make sure the other players have a good time. As the GM, you are in charge of interpreting and enforcing the rules, yet you are also an entertainer — you must struggle to balance your two roles.  The job calls for quick wit, theatrical flair, and a good sense of dramatic timing, among other things. You must possess creativity, sound judgment, and the ability to improvise in unexpected situations. Game Mastering takes extra time and effort, but the reward of watching the players revel in the game setting and plot you have created makes it all worthwhile.

Inspired by and Quoted From:

  • Dungeons and Dragons-Dungeon Master’s Guide, 2nd Edition (TSR, 1989)
  • Alternity – Player’s Handbook (TSR, 1998)
  • Burning Wheel – Core book, Revised (Burning Wheel, 2005)
  • Dogs in the Vineyard – Core book (Lumpley games, 2004)
  • GURPS – Basic Set, 3rd Edition, Revised (Steve Jackson Games, 1999)
  • Little Fears – Core book (Key 20, 2001)
  • Primetime Adventures – Core book (Dog-eared Designs, 2004)
  • Silver Age Sentinels – Core book, 1st Edition (Guardians of Order, 2002)
  • Vampire: The Masquerade – Core book, 1st Edition (White Wolf Publishing, 1992)

I do not own all the games above, nor am I interested in playing all the game I have quoted, but their definitions did strike a cord with me.

This personal definition has, for me several important factors, that are key for my personal style of gaming:

  • Create complications– Part of what I do, is to take the player’s suggestions for how to solve a problem, and then complicate it, by adding in unexpected events.  This keeps the players on their toes, and keeps the game exciting, for me and for them.
  • Never Plan The Ending of A Scene– This quote comes from the Dogs In the Vineyard RPG.  The idea is that I will set up a scene, but then put the outcome of the scene into the hands of my players.  Using complications, I make the journey through the scene more exciting.
  • Arbitrator of Player Actions– As a GM, I have different tools for how to resolve player actions, and there are times for using each one.
  • Deliver a Good Product– As a GM, my job is to create a game to entertain my players, and that means I need to work hard before a session, to do my prep and to create a session that my players are going to enjoy.  During the game, I need be entertaining to help deliver a good experience.

Now that I have a definition, I can use this as my “mission statement”. It gives me a statement that I can use to compare my GMing to, so that I can see if how I am running my sessions, matches up to what I believe I should be doing.  It is also a statement I can share with my players, so that they are aware of my style, and that my style meshes with theirs.

Here is my question to you all:  Using the definitions from all the RPG’s listed  in the article, what is your own personal GM Definition? Go out to the article and piece together your own and share it with the group.  I am curious to see what elements we have in common and more importantly what are the things that we do not have in common.

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  1. That sounds about right. I prefer my GMing mission statement a little simpler: The GM creates a space for awesome to happen.

    I suppose that’s more of a vision statement. But I think it sums everything up.