Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Role of the GM

For the majority of my gaming career, I've been a GM. I'm sure a number of you have been in the same situation. Everybody wants to game, but no one wants to GM. So one guy gets stuck doing it. And that guy has usually been me.

It doesn't help matters that I like a lot of different games. So even if one or two other people I know are willing to run D&D or some other game, if I have a new game I want to try out, I'm the one who has to run it.

And with all those games, I've read a lot of GM advice. A lot of it is the same, so you are forgiven if you skip over the GM section in the games that you buy. But I find it continually useful. At very least, it gives me a broader perspective on the various jobs that a GM is called upon to do. Tips for running different genres, writing adventures vs. building a sandbox, and so on.

One of the other things I find useful is that, especially with the more indie-style systems, the designer takes the time to talk about what they want you to get out of their game. Not always explicitly, but it's there.*

Then I contrast this with how the Rifts line supports its GMs. The Rifts Main Book dedicates less than 8 pages to the Game Masters Section. Most of it is a compact bestiary with quick-roll monster tables and simple pre-generated opponents.

The Rifts Game Master Guide fills most of its pages with a comprehensive index of rules. Races, classes and equipment from every Rifts book available at the time of publication. A useful thing, to be sure. With the astonishing breadth of the setting, having all of that stuff in one place can be darn handy.

If there's a theme here, it's that these materials presume that you already know how to run a game. So they skip past the old "How to GM" stuff and go straight into providing things to help a GM turn their ideas into action. And I do want to reaffirm that there's nothing wrong with that.

My big question here is: How much support does a Rifts GM need? Do they get it? Is there some bit of GMing advice that you wish was in one of the books, but isn't? Was there something you wish you had been told when you first started running a Palladium game? Would a "How to GM" section of the book have been useful, either to show you how to run a game (as a beginner) or to tell you how to make the Palladium system sing (as a more experienced GM)?

One of the things that I strongly believe in as a GM is The Power of No.  Even if something is in the book, even if the designers claim that it's balanced. If it's something that I don't want in my campaign, I will not include it.

*I know there's a camp out there that says "Who cares what the designer wants me to get out of their game? Once it hits my table, it becomes my game to do with as I please." I'm not going to stop them from having fun playing games their way. But as a designer and a guy who believes that System Matters, I'm only going to speak for myself on this one.