Let’s put this baby to bed. It is one of those phrases that was and is said as conventional wisdom and when its said in a group, most gamers will just nod and bring up their favorite all-star GM story.
I think people believe that the Forge’s theory response is that a game’s mechanics can replace a good GM, which is untrue, not stated anywhere that I know of and is rubbish if it is stated anywhere.
Are good GM’s important to a fun game experience?
What is a good GM?
A good GM is someone who understands the techniques necessary to help facilitate a fun game, whatever that might mean. Someone who has been GMing the hell out of GURPS is going to have developed different GMing muscles than someone who has been GMing Sorcerer, just as someone who has been GMing Sorcerer will have different muscles and comfort zones than someone who has been GMing Burning Wheel.
There is a real danger in thinking that GMing one game makes you perfectly capable of GMing anything. The danger lies in GMing every game with the exact same techniques and editing out anything that is outside of you and your group’s comfort zone. I have noticed that many gamers are using house rules to make every game more or less run the same, to back up their strengths and stay away from rules that make them edgy because of personal experience with that kinda thing (be it player input, group chargen, whatever).
What about GM-less games?
Yeah, this is where it get’s interesting. We find that we still need a leader in a creative endeavor, whatever it might be. In games of Shock:, Polaris and Capes we still need someone to get gamers together, organize a time and know the rules inside and out. Creative endeavors need a leader.
There is also a kind of pendulum swing that I see, particularly after seeing a PTA brainstorming session go well, where every game should be a touchy-feely brainstorm-a-thon with everyone having input. It is nice when it happens but it just isn’t necessary for buy-in for every game.
It is just as valid for a GM to act as a strong leader and say, “Let’s get together and play a game in which you are both orc who have lost your horde in an elven attack.”
The smart leader, however, takes in player input too, so when one of the players takes a hated rivalry with an unmentioned Troll Warlord and states, “His army of trolls was supposed to strengthen our northern flank and did not show up, leaving us undefended against the Elven cavalry,” they take this kind of input and make it part of the game, rather than being a lame-ass and seeing it as an opportunity to assert dominance.
“Oh no, on the date of the battle, the Troll Warlord was in a fight against human mercenaries to the south, it says so in my game notes.” C’mon, man. There are times when you toss out an idea and no matter what it is, the player wants to play a ninja or a cowboy or whatever it is, time to just drop a -NO- and crush a concept. More often, things just need work and further communicating.
A creative endeavor needs a leader and different games call for different types of leadership, different levels of delegation and different responsibilities.