Thursday, July 28, 2016

Late Night Rambling: The GM's Role

I recently had a discussion with some friends about a GM's "power" to call on fiat to change rules on the fly. It has its merits - sometimes, it is faster for a GM to adjudicate a contested rule instead of combing the books for the right rule. When this happens, it is generally a good idea to discuss the contested rule after as a group. And let's not forget that some groups see the extra time looking for the right rule as a small price to pay in the name of consistency.

Art by Ralph Horsley. Used w/o permission.
This discussion (as well as +Jay Steven Anyong's blog post about GMs and pedestals) got me thinking about the role of gamemasters at the table today. In decades past, they have been called arbiters or referees. They have been called storytellers and have been likened to the OS that runs your game system. But what exactly do they do in the table? In a decade of shared narratives and increased player agencies, is the GM still really different from the other people on the table?

I realize that, as play styles may vary wildly from table to table and even from player to player, the important thing to have on the table is the ability to communicate these wants. And it is the job of today's GM's job to initiate this. It is the GM who plants the seeds of the game, who opens up the discussion about everyone's expectations at the table, who schedules that first day. If need be, it is the GM's job to pass on the ever-so-difficult job (some Companies have dedicated teams for this!) of coordinating future games to another player.

Furthermore, communication is a two-way street. It is not just about bowing to the GM's preference, nor is it just about doing acceding to player demands. The GM must make sure that everyone on the table is having fun - and the GM herself is one of those people. They are neither exempted from the deriving enjoyment of playing nor should they think that they are somehow the more important persons on the table.

In a sense, the game table is a microcosm of the growing local RPG community, and in this case as with the macro case, we all need to talk to each other to foster a fun environment.