Lets face it, if you are a total improv GM or an uber-prep GM, game mastering is work; more work than being a player. Considering that most of us do not make a living GMing, and have other jobs and responsibilities, why would we want to take on more work in our lives? There must be a reason we accept the responsibility and work of creating a game and running it session after session. So dim the lights, light some incense, and let’s do some soul-searching.
I never really thought about why I GM’ed. I know my own pedigree of GMing, but the timeline alone does not speak to why I GM, and more importantly why I enjoy GMing. Having GMed now for nearly 30 years, I am sure that I am enjoying it , but I never really gave it much thought about what I am enjoying. Recently, I took some time and thought about the reasons why I was GMing and why it gave me enjoyment to do so. After some introspection, I realize that there is not one single reason, and that the reasons I like GMing have changed as I have matured (in Gaming at least) over the years.
A Long Time Ago: Because No One Else Will
I came to GMing like a lot of us do; conscription. When I got into gaming (Moldvay pink box D&D), I had some friends who were interested in playing, but no one wanted to GM. So I took up the mantle of GMing. My enjoyment at this stage was simple, it was just being able to play an RPG with friends. I was not a skilled GM, and I made every rookie mistake possible, but back then it did not matter, getting to hang out with friends and toss some dice was fun enough.
A While Ago: To Tell Great Stories
By the end of the 80’s I had GMed a great number of games for my friends, under a number of systems. These campaigns were entertaining, but I would not call them great in terms of sophistication or my ability to create a story, atmosphere, etc. In the late 90’s on a lark, I purchased the Amber Diceless RPG, and was changed forever. Through the GMing advice within the rules and the campaign I ran in the summer of ‘91, my eyes were opened to the storyteller style of gaming. I came to understand the role a GM had in creating the world around the players, and the power to develop a story that evoked real emotions from the players. I had since middle school been a frustrated writer, and suddenly games like Amber and Vampire tapped into that need to create story.
At this point, my enjoyment came from crafting great stories for my players. I would create complex plots and shocking twists. During this phase my GMing style was dominated by preparation and planning. A great story needed structure and foreshadowing, so I would spend hours and days brainstorming into notebooks and crafting scenes for upcoming sessions. To keep the story moving forward, I became very skilled in the art of guiding players without railroading them, all for the purpose of telling the great story.
Understand, my players loved these games as well, and being able to sit at the table and play a game was still a source of enjoyment. At that time I believed that I had found my spot on the GMing continuum and was sure that my role was to craft the great stories and be the director to the cast of players.
Today: To Facilitate Great Stories
Until a few years ago, I stayed in that role of the storyteller and director. One day, something really cool happened during a game of d20 Modern. A player decided to go off script, but within the confines of the game, and created one of the most dramatic moments of the campaign (thanks Sargon). It opened my eyes, that there was tremendous power in the interaction of the players and GM to create a story as a collaborative process.
Soon I was reading all sorts of Indie games, and was changed by the philosophies of games like: Dogs in the Vineyard, Burning Wheel, and Houses of The Blooded. My enjoyment had shifted from crafting stories and being the director, to one more like a drummer in a jazz band. My job was to lay down an interesting beat and let the players come in and do their thing. The end result being greater than what any one of us could have scripted.
There was also great enjoyment in not knowing what was coming next. As the Storyteller/Director, the immediate outcome may not have been known, but the overall direction of a campaign was something that I had planned out. My enjoyment of revealing that to the players waned and was replace by the excitement of having to think on my feet what to do in response to the players decisions within the campaign.
Today I have moved away from heavy planning and now find my enjoyment in setting up scenes and being surprised when a plot goes in a direction that I was not expecting, or when a player’s actions take the game to an new place.
I tossed out this question on Twitter asking people Why You GM (#wugm) and here are some of the responses that came back:
- @martinralya– I GM because I like to create, improvise, tell stories, roleplay, imagine different worlds, and be surprised by my players.
- Kristian Serrano – GMing is a lot like hosting a party. You get to organize and be creative. In the end, you’ve created something that your guests enjoy, and that’s the payoff for all of your hard work.
- @MaW–because it’s great fun to cook up a situation, put the PCs in it and see how the players respond to your ridiculous scenario.
- @twwombat– Creation & control of a world, collaboration, flow of the game, I feel alive juggling everything. Come to check on it, I blogged about this 5.5 years ago. May rethink a bit, but feel free to use ideas. http://goo.gl/rAl95 
- @CorporationRPG–Why do I GM? – to make the worlds in my head real. Same reason I write.
Breath Deep And Concentrate
So that is why I GM and where I find my enjoyment when I GM. What about you? What makes you GM and what is it about GMing that gives you the drive to keep on running things, when real world commitments, player conflicts, writers block, and such crash against you?