5% of Each Purchase Goes to Support The Tavern


Friday, July 31, 2015

On GMs and GMing - Some Random Thoughts & Not So

Let me say this straight out of the box - Gamemastering or GMing is not for everyone. Heck, even the name is a misnomer, as it implies superior knowledge compared to mere "players." I'm beginning to think "judge" or "referee" is a more appropriate term.

Looking back at me gaming groups, I can note the following:

High School - 2 GMs, I was 1 of them

Summer Poconos Group - I was the only GM

College D&D Club - I was the only DM in a group of 12+

College / Post College Home Group - 2 GMs, I was 1

Roll20 / G+ Hangouts - of the 7 mostly regular members, everyone has run at least a session

What is it with the latest group? I think the common factor is everyone is a creative type - artists, writers or both.

We also all enjoy filling the roll of the GM or the player.

While GMing is a skill, it is also a calling. Not everyone has the desire to be a GM and that's okay. Really. At a gaming table of 3 to 8 gamers, only one can fill the roll of a GM at a time.

I'd also expect that in most groups, especially those that are composed of mostly newer players, the GM roll is filled by by one of the more experienced gamers at the table.

So, I'm going to hazard a guess that 2 out of 3 RPG gamers see themselves as primarily "players."

I do expect the poll I'm going to run will prove those numbers wrong, but I also expect that gamers active in blogs and social media are more on the GM side of the fence. 

More thoughts on this later.


  1. I still think Dungeon Master is a better and more appropriate name. As that person truly is the master of the dungeons being presented. But Game Master is probably close enough. As they are the Master of the game world, controlling most things not under the players control. And while I disagree that the term implies "superior knowledge", a Game Master almost certainly DOES have superior knowledge compared to players. They know who the villain is, what encounters are upcoming and where the traps are. If that's not superior knowledge I'm not sure what would qualify.

  2. I was primarily a player through high school and college. I had one fantasy campaign I ran for a half dozen sessions. When I started going to conventions in the 90s, I ran games, since one-shots were pretty easy to put together. In 2000 I ran my first long-term campaign, 5 years of Tekumel. I still play more than I referee.

  3. Though it's specific to Cthulhu games, my favorite's always been "Keeper."

    I do think more GMs than players are active on social media (at least within the RPG/nerd side of social media), so a poll in those places may skew. Overall though I do think there are significantly more players than GMs, and I think a ratio of 1:3 sounds about right. However, another variable is the game itself. Older or more complex games that require more prep and attention probably have less GMs than a rules-light game. More story-focused games where the players have a more collaborative role in things is probably more encouraging for GMs, on the other hand.

  4. I suspect that an online group will cater to the more dedicated....and they tend to be more on the GM side of the fence. For tabletop groups I suspect that the GM:player ratio is (in my experience) closer to 1:6.

  5. Referee and judge imply there are two parties at odds needing an impartial party to settle a matter. A GM imposes his rulings similar to a judge, but it is only on a single party (the players). Not sure what the best term would be if one doesn't care for GM. Maybe MC for master of ceremonies.

  6. Every group I've played in, everyone GM'd at least once in a while. Some GM'd more than others, but I've never experienced a group that had people who were exclusively GMs or exclusively players. It seems to me that everyone wants to be the cook at least once.

    1. That's been true for every group I've been a part of too. Sometimes we stick to GM-ing one particular game while someone else GMs something different (like, I used to run Call of Cthulhu, while another guy ran D&D, a third one ran Top Secret, and a fourth one ran Twilight 2000), but that was mostly to help keep the players in the dark about certain specifics. In fact, even when it was just my brother and me back in 1975, we took turns creating dungeons to run the other guy through -- his were always heavily oriented towards psychological traps, while mine tended to be more overtly physical in nature; it taught me a lot about differing styles before I even met anyone else who'd ever heard of D&D (or, actually, Empire of the Petal Throne which is the one we first stumbled across -- talk about culture-shock!). I can't really imagine just being one or the other.