Game Masters


Player characters are the stars of the show. The main event. The tavern. The Ones Who Get Things done. The GM knows it, and the players know it. Nothing happens in the world that does not affect them and nothing gets done which they do not do. This article suggests ways to make your world bigger than your PCs.

When most people think of our journey to the moon, they picture Neil Armstrong taking his first historic leap onto a new world. They never imagine the amount of work that got him there. In the same manner, players rarely consider the amount of work a Gamemaster, or GM, places into campaign creation. A GM must be the assembly worker, the engineer, and the astronomer if they want to create a successful campaign.

This discussion over dungeon construction became far too theoretical over practical. Where I had hoped to discuss nails and material weights I ended up talking gravitational waves. No, that's not the best analogy. I ended up talking zoning laws and building permits, the social side of dungeon construction. Truthfully, this is the side that no one wants to talk about, because it is the dreadful side. It is the bureaucratic side, the dull side, the side that is all regulation and not creative freedom.

The situation stays the same. One minute you're bleeding to death. The next minute you're on your feet, thanking the Gamemaster that you didn't get snuffed. And as your bandages get pulled away, you stride confidently back into the world with a gleam in your eye and a smile on your face. Where you're immediately faced with the one villain you know you can't defeat.

Writers spend years creating and embellishing roleplaying settings like One World By Night and the Forgotten Realms. Game masters labor for hours on their campaign worlds, defining everything from two thousand years of global history to the color of the robes worn by a tiny sect of monks dedicated to a forgotten god. Why this obsession with minutia? To create an imaginary world that seems as complete as possible for the gaming group or, to borrow from the computer age, to create a Multi-User Shared Hallucination.

With Space already covered, it makes sense to next discuss Time. The two can, after all, be considered aspects of the same space-time concept. Time is an important factor in any role playing game, because it is a constant element of our existence, and like space, it forms the framework within which we live.

Read the rules, roam the boards, visit the games and it's all the same: Acting has replaced gaming in RPGs. Players are discouraged from studying the gamebooks; knowing about common monsters or enemies is disparaged under the derogatory term of "meta-gaming." Instead, characters should stare in wonder at the story and atmosphere that the Gamemaster creates, then blunder and stumble through the adventure. As long as they blunder and stumble using flowery language, Gamemasters reward them. I'm disgusted. I'm sick. How has it gotten this bad?

War. The word seems so petty to us here. The war started before anyone can remember, and the historians don't even bother tracking the events of it. Some say it started over a woman, others say it was a skirmish over political boundaries, but nobody is certain. Violence begets violence, that's why the war doesn't stop. If a sliver of peace begins to appear, there is always a small battle that shatters our frigid hopes. War does have its advantages, though.

There are advantages and disadvantages to playing a freeform system. DMs have the freedom to create whatever is in their imaginations, to write good stories and focus on character and story, not mechanics. It's nice, for such a system provides an outlet for the creative junk my mind comes up with at random times during the day. But such a freeform system has its disadvantages as well. For starters, have any of you fellow GMs out there ever noticed just how difficult it is to get a campaign started?

But how do you know? How do you ever know what is worth stealing? Sure, if looking at it causes a "wow" reaction, that's a fair sign there might be some worthwhile qualities present. Obviously, you want to use it if it is a good dungeon. But if a good dungeon is only defined by its purpose in an adventure, then how could it be good?

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