In this article, I asked three experienced roleplayers to explain what they think it means to be a Game Master, and what they feel are the duties of a GM. I’ve included quotes from the following:
Clayton Martin – GM of Star Trek Babylon
Andy Longman – Moderator of JMC Blue Dwarf
What is a GM?
Game Master (or GM) is usually the name given for someone who runs a game, another common name is Dungeon Master or DM (originating from fantasy themed Dungeons and Dragon games).
A Game Master is a person who has taken it upon themselves to organize and administrate a role playing game of some kind, be it online or in person.
Typically GMs have been playing RPGs for a long time or otherwise possess the skill, creativity and energy it takes to bring players together and create captivating fiction.
A GM is a guide. They are the ones that gently steer the players in the direction they need to be going to beat this weeks Big Bad.
The GM should create the story
The GM has many duties. Most of them revolve around advancing the story. The GM has to push players towards the ultimate goal of a particular story, without making it seem like Railroading. (forcing players to follow a train track story), when they should be creating an off-road paradise. The GM fleshes out the world that the players live in, most of the time creating it from scratch. I like to do this, as it means people use their imagination more, especially if you describe it well. Make the world too detailed, and people will be scared to write something about it in case they get it wrong, and describe it too little, and people will be scared because they don’t know enough about what’s there.
It’s not just the creation of the story, the GM is in charge of keeping up momentum in the story too. Often a story can start of strong, as it’s captured the imagination of all the players, but as the story develops it can get more complicated and looses the initial excitement. The GM should keep up the momentum enough to allow the story to come to its conclusion.
A GM is responsible for creating a story, or plot for others to engage in. Ideally, they’ll create a beginning, middle and end, and then guide the rest of the group between these points. This might involve throwing up challenges for the players to overcome, or privately sending an email to one or two players with specific instructions for their character to perform in order to create certain scenarios.
On top of this, and perhaps most crucially, the GM carries the burden of keeping the momentum going, to keep a story interesting and make sure it is moving in the right direction. While no GM wants to have to write the entire plot by themselves, it is essential that they are as hands on as they can be in order to keep people posting.
Make sure the players always have something to do
To keep the momentum of the story going, a story might be broken down into smaller parts which can be completed by different members. The GM might also want to make the characters always have something to do. One of the ways to do this is make sure they’re always threatened by a big baddie.
One of the main jobs of the GM is to introduce the weekly Big Bad. Making sure the enemy isn’t too weak or too powerful is a part of that. The players should be challenged, and a TPK (Total Party Kill) should never happen. Luckily, this is much less an issue for PBEM games, since there aren’t any game rules (roll to hit, roll damage) that need to be worried about. You can show how powerful the Big Bad is by killing an NPC you created specifically to be killed!
The GM describes the setting
An important part of the story a GM tells is the setting. This should be described in the correct way to the players.
The GM fleshes out the world that the players live in, most of the time creating it from scratch. I like to do this, as it means people use their imagination more, especially if you describe it well. Make the world too detailed, and people will be scared to write something about it in case they get it wrong, and describe it too little, and people will be scared because they don’t know enough about what’s there.
The GM should resolve disputes
Sometimes you members might get into arguments, or heated debates. This is where the GM needs to step in and resolve the disputes, as this is another role of the GM.
Once we have players, a GM has to ensure that members of the game all get along and that everyone is comfortable. This can be especially difficult at times as there are many uncooperative people out there and if conflicts cannot be resolved when they do occur it falls on us as GMs to do the dirty job of eliminating trouble makers.
To maintain the appropriate atmosphere in the group, the GM might have to take special measures if an argument gets out of hand, or one of the members is a troublemaker.
The GM also has to deal with issues the players have. If there is a fight between two players, the GM needs to step in and find out what’s wrong, then deal with it. If this comes to kicking one or both of the players out of his game, so be it. The job of the GM is to keep the atmosphere of fun, even if it’s a serious game, and not a comedy. People should enjoy writing for it, or playing in it.
The GM should recruit new players
As the leader of the group, the GM should be in charge of recruiting new members into the game.
To really make an online role playing group work you first need players. Recruiting can be frustrating at times but with enough diligence a clever GM can find players who can appreciate his/her particular game.
Maintaining the website
As the gateway to your RPG, having an attractive website that explains the premise and rules of your group is crucial. The appearance will serve as your first impression, if a site is unattractive or hard to navigate then many potential players will never dig deeper. Once they start digging its important to have writing samples and any other information that they might seek readily available for review.
Your website should always be kept up to date, and this might be showing the most recent story posts, giving a summary of recent events, or showing the characters in the game. It’s important that someone makes sure this information is kept up to date, so that it can be a point of reference for new and existing members. The GM should be responsible for this, by either doing it themselves or delegating it to another member.
The GM should be available to give guidance and encouragement
The GM has to be a good leader, they are the people who are in total control over the game and know what’s going on at all times. So they are the ones that the players will go to for help. The GM should be helpful and provide encouragement.
A GM needs to be approachable and friendly. There will be occasions when players are stuck for ideas how to progress, so they need to know that they can go to the GM for guidance. The GM should provide advice, and help to formulate ideas where necessary.
Finally, a GM needs to be fair. They need to make sure that there is something for everyone to do, even if it is not possible to give someone a specific role in a plot, that person needs to be able to get involved somehow, and be given encouragement by the GM when needed. A player will not remain a member of a group, where they are unable to join in.
The GM doesn’t have to be just one person
The story doesn’t always have to be run by one person, which means that your players could take it in turns to be the GM for each story.
To me, a GM is a figurehead. The ‘face of the game’ for the duration that an overall story which affects the entire group lasts.
The GM doesn’t have to be person who has any authority over the day-to-day running of a group, like a moderator, instead any member of the group who can create an engaging, involving story for others to act out can act as a GM.
It’s up to the GM to create the environment where the game can take place
…at the core of the RPG there must be a solid/interesting premise. A good story that existing and potential members will want to be a part of.
Ultimately we all role play because we love to create, we enjoy a good story and want to be a part of its making. Its up to the GM to facilitate an environment where that can take place.