Roll Call: Always the GM, Never the PC

Let me open by saying I think absolutely everybody should try their hand at GMing an RPG. Find one you like and that you have preferably played before and give it a go. Whether you are doing a pre-written campaign or a fresh bit of homebrew, it is an exquisite, rewarding experience that challenges you creatively. 

That being said, here is a warning: if you are a GOOD Gamemaster and don’t associate with many other experienced GMs, you will probably end up stuck as the one constantly running games and barely playing. This has happened to myself and a handful of others I know (wherein distance keeps us from playing in each others games). If your main group is happy with the job you’ve done as GM, they may rarely step up to the plate. There may be a few factors to why they don’t want to step into the GM pants, but I think it usually either boils down to confidence or just generally not wanting to. GMing is certainly not for everyone. Even with pre-written campaigns, it requires a TON of set up before each session, ridiculous amounts of focus during the session, and a whirling torrent of ideas and “don’t forget _____” notes after the session. It’s a demanding role to play, and many people just prefer the ease of being a player. And that’s FINE. It doesn’t make them moochers or lazy or anything like that. Ultimately, these are GAMES, and as I’ve harped on in previous posts, we should approach them with our sense of what we might enjoy in mind.

For the other people, those who compare themselves to whatever solid/awesome campaigns they’ve been a part of and are worried about holding up to those, the GM that ran these campaigns should take this as a compliment. If you have a player that would like to try but is afraid of how it will turn out, this is because they feel you are running an amazing campaign. Take a bow, champ. Pat yourself on the back. Once your ego is fully stroked, grab that player by the hand, stare deep into their eyes and whisper “I can show you the wooooooorld.” Offer some sort of co-GM experience to get them acclimated. Help them come up with a quick one-shot that you can squeeze into the midst of the campaign they’re currently playing. Let them borrow and read through the ever-guarded tomes of GMing that players have been forbidden to read. However you have to do it, help this person understand that each campaign will run and feel different. Sure there can be poorly run campaigns, but as long as the focus is on the fun of the group, then it will be a success in the end.

In other words, if someone has interest in GMing, I think the “Group GM” has a responsibility to cultivate that interest and help it grow into its full bloom. However, you may find yourself stuck in the role of “Group GM” for quite some time, even if not forever. If you’re having that player itch, here are some ideas I’ve come up with over the past couple years.

  • Inject a very hands-on NPC. Don’t let this person turn the tides of combat or the narrative, but let them actually feel organically a part of these things. My example is that I once had my players being chased by a giant alien centipede in a horror-themed mission where they could only really run. I placed two very fun NPCs into this scenario and made them the same as the group. They had to roll the same checks or risk demise. It made me and the players on a very rare similar plane and helped me feel like I was playing my own game. Focusing on the checks and a few random d6 rolls to decide outcome of situations helped keep me on my toes almost as much as those who didn’t create the world.
  • Make GMing a competition at times when it won’t kill the entire party. I’ve always said a GM is an ally, not a villain. Many GMs have this thought that it’s them versus the PCs, but that’s bull. Everybody wants to have fun here, and while you shouldn’t pull your punches, it helps to not be ruthless. However, going full maniacal can sometimes make you feel more directly involved in the narrative. Toss in an aggro bar patron from time to time. Perhaps some lecherous weirdo that follows the team around town. Maybe a bartender or club patron character that pops up in every scenario like Bruce Campbell in Spider-Man movies. Just something weird or annoying on occasion to mess with the PCs and connect you to them. Obviously this relies on the sense of humor of the group, but I feel most people playing these games enjoy a good laugh from time to time.
  • Force them to GM. I just did this and haven’t seen the results yet, but my group recently split up to each take care of a separate mission toward their end goal of saving the galaxy. I am having a different player GM each mission, giving them a quick one/two shot chapter in a campaign they already know inside and out (we have been doing this for nearly two years). Again, no idea what the result will be with this experiment, but all three of the soon to be GMs are very excited. So that’s good at least.
  • Worst case scenario, find another group. This isn’t to say LEAVE your current group. Your go to group is like family. They will always be there and they will always want you to GM some craziness. But if you REALLY need to play and they just aren’t the types to GM, then find someone who is. Hit up a local gaming shop or library. Check out websites like reddit or Meetup. Find someone somewhere who is willing to roll 20s with. You may even find more people to integrate into your home group, making you core audience even stronger.

I absolutely love RPGs and I think they’re something everyone should experience at some point. Keep playing, keep running, keep writing. Keep making awesome games and telling awesome stories. It just takes the will to do so.

Roll for initiative.


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