Myth of the GM as a Ruling Caste

Started a thread on RPG.net with the above title.

Check it out, if you have some time.

NOTE: It appears that when I edit something it comes up again in my RSS feed.  I went looking for this because the latest Brilliant Gameologist episode sounded awfully familiar to me.  We also recorded a more solid form of this idea on Sons of Kryos, episode 25.  Hopefully, I can get those episodes up sooner rather than later.

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32 thoughts on “Myth of the GM as a Ruling Caste

  1. I’m not even going to try and post in that thread, but I’d put people’s exhibit A – DMGR1 Campaign Reference and Catacomb Guide – as a book that singlehandedly spawned much of the damaged understanding of how GMs are supposed to work.

    It was the first DM’s reference book released for AD&D 2nd edition. If it didn’t turn anyone into a dictatorial DM, it sure as heck provides insight into how such a critter thinks.

  2. *Sigh*

    Yeah.

    I have to admit, though I still love the group as a whole, this overall attitude is still a major problem for my college gaming group. NOT, oddly enough, some of the specifics you posted–just the overall idea that some people are “just better” GMs than others.

    Matt

    • Hm. This post got me thinking, and I may do a bit of rambling.

      I think that GMing is a lot easier than people sometimes make it out to be. (Fer Rao’s sake, I’ve done it successfully.) I think that there are a set of skills that make effective GMing happen, and that those skills can be learned.

      That being said… I also think some GMs are “just better” than others. I think that goes with there being skills involved; I’ve taught, and trained others to teach, and honestly I’ve yet to meet a skill that some people just couldn’t perform to a level that others could never equal.

      But the existence of people with more developed GMing skills than I have — even of people whose GMing skills are finely tuned to a level I could never hope to duplicate — doesn’t mean I can’t GM, or that I’ll do a lousy job, or people at my table won’t have fun. I think the second assumption Paka mentioned, about the GM having all the responsibility, plays a big role here; but so does that fact that you don’t need to be an exemplar of GMing skills to perform them adequately. (And that’s not even getting into the fact that which skills matter most change from game to game, from group to group, and even from session to session.)

      So, yeah, I do think some GMs are just better than others at the skills that make for solid GMing. But I don’t think it’s really all that big a deal.

      • I’d argue that good GM’s are generally those who have practiced the skills and techniques that make up GMing a whole lot. Not that it is just purely a time at the heavy bag issue but that practice is tremendously important.

        • I agree that practice is a huge part of it, like any skill set; practice can (and probably often does) lead to someone who might not have started out with a high level of aptitude becoming better at skills within the set than someone who did. But addressing GMing as a skill set means taking the whole package: some people are going to start out better at some aspects of it than others, some are going to be better at some aspects than others at a given time, and some are going to be better at some things than others no matter what those others do.

          I think what’s important is identifying the skills, determining which ones are important for a given situation, figuring out how to help people get better at them, and (maybe most importantly) realizing that the bar for “acceptable and even awesome GMing skill” is a lot lower than many people think.

          (BTW: I’m wicked tired, and I hope to heck I’m making sense at this point. 🙂 )

        • I agree that practice is a huge part of it, like any skill set; practice can (and probably often does) lead to someone who might not have started out with a high level of aptitude becoming better at skills within the set than someone who did. But addressing GMing as a skill set means taking the whole package: some people are going to start out better at some aspects of it than others, some are going to be better at some aspects than others at a given time, and some are going to be better at some things than others no matter what those others do.

          I think what’s important is identifying the skills, determining which ones are important for a given situation, figuring out how to help people get better at them, and (maybe most importantly) realizing that the bar for “acceptable and even awesome GMing skill” is a lot lower than many people think.

          (BTW: I’m wicked tired, and I hope to heck I’m making sense at this point. 🙂 )

        • I agree that practice is a huge part of it, like any skill set; practice can (and probably often does) lead to someone who might not have started out with a high level of aptitude becoming better at skills within the set than someone who did. But addressing GMing as a skill set means taking the whole package: some people are going to start out better at some aspects of it than others, some are going to be better at some aspects than others at a given time, and some are going to be better at some things than others no matter what those others do.

          I think what’s important is identifying the skills, determining which ones are important for a given situation, figuring out how to help people get better at them, and (maybe most importantly) realizing that the bar for “acceptable and even awesome GMing skill” is a lot lower than many people think.

          (BTW: I’m wicked tired, and I hope to heck I’m making sense at this point. 🙂 )

        • I can testify to the negative example, too. I have spent a lot of pain unlearning the skills that make you a “good” illusionist GM. One of the particularly tricky things is disentangling the parts of those skills that are actually good to have from the habits of how and when to use them that are destructive. I must learn to use my power for good!

      • I’d argue that good GM’s are generally those who have practiced the skills and techniques that make up GMing a whole lot. Not that it is just purely a time at the heavy bag issue but that practice is tremendously important.

      • I’d argue that good GM’s are generally those who have practiced the skills and techniques that make up GMing a whole lot. Not that it is just purely a time at the heavy bag issue but that practice is tremendously important.

      • The thing about my college gaming group is that, while there are probably a few people in the group who are “just better” GMs, for whatever reason, really everyone in the group is a really creative, talented individual, and that’s why I’d like to see them playing more games where all the people at the table get to have more input. But in this LJ I suspect I’m just preaching to the choir at this point. 🙂

        Matt

        • Indeed. Like I said, the relative skill level is much less important that a lot of people think. Sadly, often the only thing with the power to convince folks that they can GM is a good experience behind the screen. They’ve gotta take the plunge.

          Maybe a game with only a couple of the players from the group? A one-shot? I know that’s the sort of thing that got me thinking I could GM in the first place.

        • Indeed. Like I said, the relative skill level is much less important that a lot of people think. Sadly, often the only thing with the power to convince folks that they can GM is a good experience behind the screen. They’ve gotta take the plunge.

          Maybe a game with only a couple of the players from the group? A one-shot? I know that’s the sort of thing that got me thinking I could GM in the first place.

        • I ran a BW one-shot for a few folks at our yearly con, back in March. It went over pretty well. And has been getting some people into PrimeTime Adventures and one or two other indie games as well. And there are a few other folks in the group who have been playing around with indie games too. So we’re getting there, it’s just taking awhile. I think it really helps that the group has never really been focused on the major trad games, but rather on a) smaller-run corporate games and b) homebrew systems (some of which are quite good, actually!).

          There was one incident a few years ago which kind of poisoned the well. This was a very socially dysfunctional Riddle of Steel game which eventually broke down so completely that we switched systems over to TSoY (which is also a great system, and indie too, but it was still a huge mess). This is the game that was going on when I first met Judd, actually.

          I think enough time has passed that people are beginning to recover / be more open-minded.

          Matt

      • The thing about my college gaming group is that, while there are probably a few people in the group who are “just better” GMs, for whatever reason, really everyone in the group is a really creative, talented individual, and that’s why I’d like to see them playing more games where all the people at the table get to have more input. But in this LJ I suspect I’m just preaching to the choir at this point. 🙂

        Matt

      • The thing about my college gaming group is that, while there are probably a few people in the group who are “just better” GMs, for whatever reason, really everyone in the group is a really creative, talented individual, and that’s why I’d like to see them playing more games where all the people at the table get to have more input. But in this LJ I suspect I’m just preaching to the choir at this point. 🙂

        Matt

    • Hm. This post got me thinking, and I may do a bit of rambling.

      I think that GMing is a lot easier than people sometimes make it out to be. (Fer Rao’s sake, I’ve done it successfully.) I think that there are a set of skills that make effective GMing happen, and that those skills can be learned.

      That being said… I also think some GMs are “just better” than others. I think that goes with there being skills involved; I’ve taught, and trained others to teach, and honestly I’ve yet to meet a skill that some people just couldn’t perform to a level that others could never equal.

      But the existence of people with more developed GMing skills than I have — even of people whose GMing skills are finely tuned to a level I could never hope to duplicate — doesn’t mean I can’t GM, or that I’ll do a lousy job, or people at my table won’t have fun. I think the second assumption Paka mentioned, about the GM having all the responsibility, plays a big role here; but so does that fact that you don’t need to be an exemplar of GMing skills to perform them adequately. (And that’s not even getting into the fact that which skills matter most change from game to game, from group to group, and even from session to session.)

      So, yeah, I do think some GMs are just better than others at the skills that make for solid GMing. But I don’t think it’s really all that big a deal.

    • Hm. This post got me thinking, and I may do a bit of rambling.

      I think that GMing is a lot easier than people sometimes make it out to be. (Fer Rao’s sake, I’ve done it successfully.) I think that there are a set of skills that make effective GMing happen, and that those skills can be learned.

      That being said… I also think some GMs are “just better” than others. I think that goes with there being skills involved; I’ve taught, and trained others to teach, and honestly I’ve yet to meet a skill that some people just couldn’t perform to a level that others could never equal.

      But the existence of people with more developed GMing skills than I have — even of people whose GMing skills are finely tuned to a level I could never hope to duplicate — doesn’t mean I can’t GM, or that I’ll do a lousy job, or people at my table won’t have fun. I think the second assumption Paka mentioned, about the GM having all the responsibility, plays a big role here; but so does that fact that you don’t need to be an exemplar of GMing skills to perform them adequately. (And that’s not even getting into the fact that which skills matter most change from game to game, from group to group, and even from session to session.)

      So, yeah, I do think some GMs are just better than others at the skills that make for solid GMing. But I don’t think it’s really all that big a deal.

  3. *Sigh*

    Yeah.

    I have to admit, though I still love the group as a whole, this overall attitude is still a major problem for my college gaming group. NOT, oddly enough, some of the specifics you posted–just the overall idea that some people are “just better” GMs than others.

    Matt

  4. Judd, dude, what incredibly good timing.

    I’m kinda having some issues with this very situation right now.

    I was hoping to get a discussion going like this on HHM, but I’m happy to go where the action is, so I’ll follow this over there.

  5. Judd, dude, what incredibly good timing.

    I’m kinda having some issues with this very situation right now.

    I was hoping to get a discussion going like this on HHM, but I’m happy to go where the action is, so I’ll follow this over there.

  6. Judd, dude, what incredibly good timing.

    I’m kinda having some issues with this very situation right now.

    I was hoping to get a discussion going like this on HHM, but I’m happy to go where the action is, so I’ll follow this over there.

  7. Oh, my. That was quite a bit messier and chewier than I expected. I got through a few pages of the “BW/anti-GM” thread and then a decent chunk of the thread you started, Judd, and wow, there’s a lot of passion out there on this. Almost overwhelming. I can’t consume it all in one sitting.

    But you, sir, I salute and admire. Thanks for helping keep the fire lit.

  8. Thinking about it overnight …

    It’s one thing to argue one way or another and state opinions and wrangle with stuff, but it really irks me that you’ve got guys over there who are doing nothing but dismissing your thoughts outright and claim you’re making something out of nothing.

    Well you’re not making something out of nothing.

    Oh, and by the way, Playcollective? You go, dude!

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