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Who is the GM?

    As it might be painfully obvious, the GM is the GameMaster. And that is putting lightly. The GM is more than just the one that sets up the game, runs the game, or even adjudicates the game's rules. The GM has at least five functions that the she has which intrinsically connects them to the game itself: Driving Force, Creator, Designer, Arbiter, Director, and Referee. The GM is also the Narrator, the Force of Nature, the Non-Player Character and the "Supernatural" power of the game.

    The GM should be the power behind initiating and sustaining the play of the game by inspiring, encouraging and maintaining the creative energy within the game. As the driving force she alone is responsible for the vitality of the game, its continuation and revitalization to avoid the stagnation of the game.

    As creator the GM is responsible for creating a realism and interest in the game and the campaign. Even within published worlds and games systems, the GM has to create the life within those worlds and systems. She is responsible for creating and re-creating the tenor and the excitement of the game.

    Like the role of creator, the role of the designer is an aspect of the GM that requires that she must be the most knowledgeable of the game they a running which allows them to re-design or design new rules to cover the exceptions that the rules themselves do not cover. The human imagination is far too expansive for any rule set to cover every possible element that players will come up with. As a superior GM she will need to devise and design new material to cover what is lacking in the rules.

    Perhaps the one of the more challenging jobs the GM has is as an arbiter. Here a GM needs to interpret the spirit, the system of rules and the game laws correctly. She must be able to answer questions more ably than any other person at the game table. Some players will consider that as a group that they must determine the interpretation of the rules, and in some cases this player input is necessary. Ultimately it is up to her to be the final authority.

    Playing in an RPG is often described as "theater of the mind", and while this is an understatement, it is true. A theater requires a director, someone who can help direct and inform the players of how their interactions with the rules and game world have affected it. At the very least, the GM gives cures that the players may follow and interact with. It is her responsibility as the GM to direct so well that the whole tenor of the game is raised to epic proportions, whether this is dramatic, tragic, or comedic. As director, she must help set the scene, give the descriptions of the senses and then direct how the Non-Player Characters interact with how the players respond.

    Finally, as referee the GM focuses on her interactions with the players as individuals while maintaining the integrity of the game. This role is not a biased one, she is neither personally for or against the players. As GM, only she can know the motives, thoughts, plans, actions or reactions of the entire world from animals to the foul lords of death. She must serve, as indicated throughout the above, as the sole decision maker concerning the actions within a set up, a combat and whatever else occurs where the activity would require a determination of results of interactions and the various dice rolls called for by the rules or the activity.

    She also determines the rewards that the player characters receive for their activities in a scenario, represented by merit points. Giving too many can upset the game's growth, too few and the game begins to falter.

    So who is a GM, she is the power above all other powers in the game, the sole and final arbiter and referee of the rules. She is everything else in the entire Omniverse of the world. She is the principal force that motivates all other interactions in the gaming experience, she builds dramatic realism, and she actively participates in the course of the game. Yet, she must by pure definition of Game Master is to remain a disinterested party within the game. But this is not meant for her to be aloof or uninterested in the plot, the scenarios, or the play of the characters. She is the one who performs all the functions listed above in a manner that brings the maximum excitement and enjoyment to her group as well as to herself.

What kind of GM are you?

    So now you have to ask yourself what kind of a GM you are going to be? From the five functions of a GM, each GM is going to approach their job differently. Deciding what kind of GM or style of GMing you are going to take on is not meant to pigeonhole you into one style. There is often a great deal of overlap between the various "styles".             

    Understanding or having an idea of what style you tend to lean can help you keep away from trouble with your players and the game itself. Most GMs are a bit of each of the styles.

    The following is by no means the end-all of GMing styles. There are dozens of gaming articles and many books that help give you a sense of your GMing style. In the end, the best GM knows when it is best to sit back, shut up, and let the players do what they do so well: Play!

The Adversary

    While the name and the title have the connotation of an opponent, it is not meant that way in the sense of your GMing style. This style often is labeled as the "Killer GM" who by the way actually sets up the game and herself as the hostile entity playing against the players.

    As a style rather, the adversarial GM places the party and the PCs in strong stories where the conflict, whether it is combat or social intrigue, pushes the PCs to their character's limits. They portray NPCs and foes designed to test the abilities of the character's, sometimes with ruthless efficiency. They GM very much by the book, often sticking with the Rules as Written. While players are in complete control of their character's and their actions which may affect the adventures, the world around them changes little because of their actions, and the world moves on.

    The adventures and campaign are set to high, and the encounters are arranged to put the PC's at risk with every turn, and total party kills occur a great deal. The sense of danger and risk is increased, making the Players feel more accomplished than most.

    This is not a GM vs. Players mentality, or at least it shouldn't be. Rather, this is a GM that implies real-serious and harsh conditions of a world meant to challenge the PCs.

    The thought that a GM would want to “defeat” players through any possible means is silly—the GM would always win, and the players would likely walk away and not want to play again. The Adversary's goal is to run the bad guys (or the situation) as realistically as it is reasonable. It's not you, the GM trying to kill or harm the PCs, it's the trap or the oku attempting to harm them. Though some players will perceive it that way because you are running all the other creatures, and characters in the world, some just happen to be against the PCs. Remember the bad guys want to win as much as the PCs.

    The adventures that you design as an Adversarial GM must be within the power level of the players. Pitting a group of 5th rank players against a 30th rank Baal-Rog, is unfair. However, making your scenarios dangerous is perfectly fine, but they should grow into that level of danger. Those party's that decide to head over the hill to take on the earth dragon or taken on the Ocolot Demon Void Armada have set their fate into play. Still if those same monsters or scenario appears out of nowhere and attacks, that is reasonably unfair and should be avoided.

    Those GMs that are adversarial in this way must be careful not to rub players the wrong way, not to appear like a bully. These types of GMs must use their "god-like" abilities to heighten the excitement of the scenario for the players. This type of GM must be aware that their players might be more interested in a good story than the constant risk of their characters dying.

The Author

    The author is perhaps the most dangerous of the various styles you could take on as the GM. Not because you are looking to tell a story. The danger lies in the fact that this style of GMing tends to lean towards you plotting a story arc around the PCs through the use of GameMaster controlled characters. Which become more important to the story you are telling than creating the story arc through the PCs.

    This author style can often lead to railroading the players into the story instead developing naturally around the PCs.

    All GMs are authors. However, when the story becomes more important than the players participating in the story, then you have overstepped the correct style of author GMing. This style must be aware of stopping or taking away the player's ability to interact with the story and their desire to help build the story.

    In this style be careful that you do not force the game to follow your pre-designed story, rather work towards influencing the direction of the story within the story by using appropriate and meaningful scenarios.

    But do not hesitate to allow the world around the Players to continue to move forward. Allow any consequences occur to the Players as much as the rest of the world. If the Barons daughter is set to be killed at dawn and the PCs decide that they are going to explore in another region instead of a heroic rescue. Then, the Players might have to face down the consequences of an angry and vengeful Baron with a great deal of resources.

    A good author style GM tends to plan out, in the loosest sense, a plot of the story of where the story plays around the Player Characters are the heroes, creating the setting, populating the region with well-rounded villains and other NPCs with established backgrounds, motivations, plans and resources.

    Remember, as the author it is your responsibility to make the PCs the center of the story, so write the story around the players' actions, and background. You can still plan out the Ruins of Zulthag around the players without overriding their interaction within the world, their character's desires, and letting them have a meaningful impact to the campaign.

The Benevolent One

    A benevolent style of GMing is almost the direct opposite of the adversarial style. Instead of challenging the PCs with fair but dangerous conflicts or scenarios, this style attempts to try to make everything fun and fair, but without the more significant challenges that the adversarial style will use. This style tends to modify the mechanical rules to more benefit the players, even ignoring rules if they conflict with the logic of the scenario, sometimes these exceptions are made to further the story. This style, if done well, helps produce fun flexible games.

    However, this style is can fall into a series of attempts to keep the players alive, despite their actions, bending rules one time but not bending the same rule under a different circumstance. At its worst, it can lead a campaign into devolving, dead-end quests with aimless wanderings.

    While a benevolent GM is attempting to keep the players happy with being fair to the PCs, they slowly begin to allow the players to take advantage of the rules and the GM, appealing to your desire to please the players, despite the scenario or the campaign story.

    This style can often lead to a monty haul campaign. The players end up with staggering amounts of treasure and can cherry-pick which magical or powerful technological items they want to keep because had so many to choose from. Players often deplore this part of the style and it is highly discouraged.

    So while you attempt to be fair, keep the players alive and create a story, be sure not to be so kind as to forget that being fair does not include being a push over.


The Director

    As with all campaigns, there tends to be a specific "right" path or course of action. While it does not have to be directly followed by the players, most stories have check points that move the story along. The Director Style of GMing is often motivated to get her players to act in given situations and stories.

    Similar to the Author Style, this style becomes more about directing the PCs towards the specified goal of the adventure, or scenario, than on writing a compelling adventure. The director style becomes more concerned about the outcome of the story, rather than the story itself. This can limit the freedom of choice of the players and their opportunity to have fun.

    This style can also lead to railroading by encroaching into areas where the players should feel able to make their own decisions for their characters. It can be abusing attempts to keep the plot moving forward. This style of GMing can often penalize players who take reasonable actions that do not fit the campaign plot.

    However, a proper director can guide players through a scenario and campaign with input and useful bits, helping to mold player's outcomes with subtle direction, much like a movie director does with her actors in a film. They do this through strong scenario themes, and elaborate plots. She also is very involved in PC generation, helping to develop a strong group of PCs. She knows how to build an adventure and provide appropriate hooks within the story for each player. She also knows how to keep the players on track without limiting their characters actions.

The Improviser (The Free-Former)

    This style is perhaps the style that most GMs hope to be able to perform, but it is also the most difficult and can create a great deal of issues for the campaign and the players, and for you as a GM.

    The improviser or free-former tends to prepare almost nothing before game time. They are an energetic lot and enjoy thinking on the move, and tend to relish being in this position. However, they rarely go into a game session with anything more than a thought or perhaps a couple of notes and a rough concept of what the PCs will encounter.

    This style hangs on the concept of the GM having a vague idea of how the story should proceed and pushing the players to approach their style from any angle to further improvise the story. This style can be a lot of fun, flying by the seat of their pants this GM allows the players to truly control their own stories and destinies and attempt anything they want in the world.

    However, this style is hazardous unless the GM keeps notes outside of the game that they can reference between sessions, as the GM can forget important details or paint themselves into a corner that they cannot get out of or be able to wrap up all the loose ends within the scenario or adventure. While note taking and a careful eye for detail will help keep the overall flow of the campaign going, this style can easily devolve into a game and campaign that has a lack of goals, missing details, a loss of focus and overall sense of going no-where fast and ending in confusion and disappointment.

The Manager    

    The manager style of GMing is concerned with managing every aspect of the campaign. She is concerned with making sure that all the bases are covered from the right type of characters; is there a main fighter type, does the party have a healer, can they sneak or open locks easily, casting of spells, or using jinhu. Can the party pilot the correct vehicles, do they have the right skills, etc. This style manifests itself when the adventure is a published adventure module rather than her design.

    She has carefully read and understands the rules of the game. She is concerned that the rules are being properly used. If she decides something is not allowed, she will have particular reasons for why.

    This style is concerned with balancing issues within the game, and players do not have to worry about them facing impossible challenges.

    This style also tends to have the GM prepare their games in a variety of ways. She will have read, noted, and understood the adventure well ahead of time. She will have gathered the appropriate miniatures, props, printed out maps and handouts, and have a list of notes so that they can run a game smoothly. She will have a contingency for most everything and focus on resolving issues as quickly and precisely as possible.

    While this style appears to be strong, well purposed and in control, this style tends to be to focused on keeping the status quo of the game, not adding new elements to the game, playing the Rules as Written, and playing to the group rather than individual stories or plots.

    This style can often lead to rough ridding over players and their desire to explore new and exciting character concepts preferring to stick to only what is written in the core rules. She is also in danger of over-prepping and becoming attached to this prep work so that if the players decide to go off the path, she will not feel in control of the game.

Player-GM Trust

   Trust within the game is essential, both from the player's side and the GMs side. Your players should trust you. This kind of trust can be gained over time with you being consistent in your use of the rules, not taking sides between players, and making it clear that you are not vindictive towards the players or their characters when they easily defeat your big boss in a final fight; and that you are not forcing players to do or play in specific ways (this is railroading).

    The players should trust that you will make fair calls and will soon learn not to question or second-guess you. This way, players can focus their attention on playing and having fun, and they will trust you to do whatever you can to make sure that they are enjoying themselves playing their characters.

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