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Why Do You Love Game Mastering?

“Why do you love GMing?” is a deceptively simple question, and I’d like to ask it in a specific way. In doing so, I think our answers — the responses from everyone who reads this article and comments on it, whether here or elsewhere — have the potential to be incredibly useful to each other.

As a self-reflective person, I’m always interested in looking back over things like this — interests of mine that I often enjoy without examining them — and seeing what I can learn by examining them.

I’m equally interested in hearing what fascinates, inspires, and otherwise keeps other GMs coming back to this craft. It’s harder than playing [1], and over the years I’ve observed that GMing often draws people who have quite a few traits in common.

I believe those commonalities are part of why there is a GMing community within the larger gaming community, and seeing as I run a website for GMs, I have a vested interest in finding out what makes us tick. If that sounds like fun to you, read on!

It’s a Big Question

Since this is a big question, I’d like to tackle it like this: as you answer it, write down whatever comes to mind in no particular order, then break down your answer(s) into the smallest possible components.

I think that’ll be easier for others to parse than, say, one big narrative-style response — and breaking this down is what I believe will make our responses useful to each other.

I’ll do this myself to demonstrate; this is also my response to the question itself:

I love GMing because:

  • Nothing else makes me feel quite like GMing does; it’s a truly unique experience.
  • I feel weird if I’m not running a game, thinking about running a game, or at the very least thinking about GMing on a regular basis. I generally can’t go too long without GMing.
  • I like the control. Not control over my players, but control over all these tiny-yet-awesome aspects of the game: how I make the setting come alive; what my NPCs are like; what story arcs I run; how I put my weird spin on things; and so many other details, some large and some small.
  • Watching people have a blast interacting with something I created — and which we’re now creating together — is magical. This is also part of why I write, blog, and engage in other creative pursuits.
  • It fires my imagination. I’m a creative person by nature, and GMing taps into that in a huge way.
  • I love creating things. Along with RPG writing, GMing is one of the best opportunities any gamer gets to create big, nutty, awesome things that other people will actually use.
  • I enjoy how it shapes the way I think about life in general. This is pretty fuzzy to describe, but here’s an example: When I watch a movie, I can’t help but think how it would work as an adventure.
  • Every session is an opportunity to try something new.
  • It combines constraints with endless options in a unique way. For example: creating an adventure that can be played in one night; working a spotlight moment for each PC into every session; building on what has come before in the game.
  • It makes me nervous. I got over my fear of public speaking a few years ago (because of my job at the time), but even so I always get at least a bit nervous when I sit down to GM a session.
  • It makes me think crazy-fast. I love to improvise, and GMing (especially because I’m not wild about prep) provides ample opportunities to do that.
  • I get to picture everything that happens in my head. My brain is very visual, and I unconsciously visualize everything that happens in sessions that I run or play; it’s more vivid when I’m GMing.
  • The collision of my planning and my players’ actions is always entertaining. Sometimes it goes horribly wrong, but even then it never fails to be interesting.

I tried to cover everything, but I’ll probably think of something else as soon as I hit “post,” but that’s always the way it goes. Anyway, that’s me — how about you?

Update: Using the first 16 commenters’ responses, I created a very rough spreadsheet that plots motivators by commonality. Check it out on Google Docs [2].

20 Comments (Open | Close)

20 Comments To "Why Do You Love Game Mastering?"

#1 Comment By JohnnFour On January 5, 2010 @ 7:44 am

Great question! My top 3:

* This activity offers the best combo of creativity, logical thinking, problem solving, strategy, tactics, acting, etc. Somebody should hook up an EEG to a GM’s brain while running a game.

* It’s always my turn. The greatest difficulty I have with being a player is waiting between turns and competing with everyone else for the GM’s attention. Whoever shouts loudest gets the bobble? Grrrrr.

* Running the bad guys.

#2 Comment By callin On January 5, 2010 @ 9:55 am

-I love creating…worlds, adventures, etc.
-Creations are meaningless unless they are viewed by others. My players are a captive audience.
-Bringing enjoyment to others. It is a symbiotic relationship. I get enjoyment from bringing enjoyment.
-Getting people to think outside of the norm.
-Surprising the players.

my blog- [3]

#3 Comment By Zig On January 5, 2010 @ 9:57 am

A few reasons for me:

* I love the action of creating something new and which my players will hopefully enjoy.

* I love the surprises that occur once an adventure makes contact with the players. Inevitably they will come up with things that I had not anticipated. That makes me think on my toes and is a good deal of fun and challenge.

* I enjoy making up fleshed out NPCs for my players to interact with. Whether that NPC is a major villain the players will celebrate finally defeating, or an ally/friend who they will treasure.

* I find it challenging to engage every player in each game session as they have different styles, but doing so makes for a better game and engages all the folk around the table, so it’s well worth the effort.

* I enjoy bringing a game world that I initially created to life and seeing how it is altered through the actions of the players. I love that feeling of communal creation.

Many more, but that’s some off the top of my head.

#4 Comment By Scott Martin On January 5, 2010 @ 11:05 am

* I love working with mechanics– and no player deals with half as many as the GM.

* I enjoy a good story, but not every good story. As a GM, I know the story will be one that I really enjoy.

* Reacting to crazy player plans while trying to stay straight faced is fun!

#5 Comment By BryanB On January 5, 2010 @ 11:20 am

*I love seing the player reactions to various NPCs that I create. You know you have done well when the players collectively have a similiar reaction to a particular NPC — “Oh great, she’s here on Coruscant.”

*Like Scott, I love scrambling to deal with unexpected player plans, especially those I wouldn’t have imagined in fifty years of game prep. Improvising is great fun, especially when everything flows along without too much of a hitch. It is funny how those snack breaks come along at the most convenient moments for a scrambling GM. 😀

*I get a kick out of being a facilitator for table fun. It is nice to be the center of attention sure, but something about player enjoyment and excitement gives me a charge. I feed off of player feedback. If the players are having a good time, then I’m having a good time. There is a synergy there that I really enjoy and sometimes miss when I’m a player instead of a GM.

#6 Comment By Zig On January 5, 2010 @ 11:30 am

[4] – Nice point.

I also love to have an NPC showing up that the player(s) have strong feelings towards. You know you’re players are engrossed in the game if they start to treat some of the NPCs with strong emotions whether a friendly NPC or an antagonist.

#7 Comment By Troy E. Taylor On January 5, 2010 @ 11:34 am

Getting to dabble with every component of the game — classes, spells, magic items, feat and skill combos — even if (most) of my creations die 5 rounds later …

… and the monsters. I get to be a monster! Growwwwwwl!

#8 Comment By ChattyDM On January 5, 2010 @ 12:05 pm

Because being a Game Master is an intricate part of who I am.

I’ll turn 40 in a few years and yet I still get all excited at the prospect of having friends around the table, ready to chuck dice and laugh for a few hours.

#9 Comment By drow On January 5, 2010 @ 12:51 pm

i’m a sadistic bastard who loves letting unsuspecting monsters wander lost in twisty passages, until the PCs are set upon them.

#10 Comment By pseudodragon On January 5, 2010 @ 2:50 pm

* The thrill I get when one of my players says, “That was totally awesome!” or “I never thought about (insert topic here) like that.”

* Being able to sit down with people I have never met and connect on such a casual level while having a good time, whether it’s at a convention or running a game for friends of a friend.

* Having the opportunity to share ideas and designs with people from around the world.

* Because most of the people I game with either don’t want to or they aren’t very good at DM’ing.

* Getting published (good)! Getting paid (better)! (Although it has been quite a while since I submitted anything for publication.)

#11 Comment By drummy On January 5, 2010 @ 3:29 pm

My name’s Dan and I live in the Boston area. First time posting here — love the site!

Why I like GM’ing (even if our game is the old 1980 Metagaming ‘Fantasy Trip’):

1. I get to draw pictures and maps again. I’m only a decent artist, but I never get the motivation to draw something unless it has a practical outlet in our game.

2. I get to apply logical outcomes to the players’ actions in order to create a ‘realistic’ story whose outcome is always a mystery. In my current game, for example, my players often find ways to do something I wouldn’t have expected; from these actions, however, the next game session often writes itself.
For instance, a few sessions ago our mage tried to use a new-found healing spell to save a dragon that had died fighting on our side. He failed to do so, but the dragon’s mate saw his efforts before it headed back home. After the session was done, I reviewed my notes on the dragon’s homeland and reminded myself that their Eldest had been struck by a strange sleeping disease. After a few days, the dragons returned to “fetch” the mage and his friends in order to try his spell upon their Eldest. So instead of wrapping up our time in the Necromancer’s valley we found ourselves flying off to encounter the dragons on their home turf…a wild departure initiated entirely by a player’s action and its logical outcome.

3. I love laughing with friends, which I do more when roleplaying than in any other activity.



#12 Comment By Kurt “Telas” Schneider On January 5, 2010 @ 6:15 pm

I’m a former jock, and I love having power over the nerds who used to make fun of me in high school.

I like converting the real (imaginary) world to game mechanics and vice-versa.

I like being the center of attention (admit it, you do too).

And most importantly, I like the challenges: Mechanics, logic, acting, social skills, problem solving, etc. Nothing else has the same set of challenges and rewards as running a good game.

#13 Comment By Patrick Benson On January 5, 2010 @ 8:16 pm

I am an aggressive alpha type personality who wants to be in charge.

I like to be a leader, and I enjoy facing the challenge of bringing a group together to accomplish a goal.

I have a lot of creative ideas, and GMing provides me a way to unleash those ideas.

I get a great feeling out of helping the players to achieve their goals.

I want to be the best GM, and the desire to constantly improve my skills is a huge personal motivator.

#14 Comment By OgRib On January 6, 2010 @ 8:17 am

I played D&D for the first time in 25+ years this past weekend, I DM’d a session for my kids, their friends, and another dad.

I loved creating the framework and seeing what they did with it. I got excited by the events they were trying to pull off (say yes or roll is very liberating 😀 )

Thanks Gnomes for helping me get back into something great after a very very long absence.

#15 Comment By Razjah On January 6, 2010 @ 10:51 pm

I love the “light bulb” moments. Either for me as a GM or on my players. When I get an idea from something or on my own and make it happen in an interesting way, or when my players get a crazy idea and make the most ridiculous thing happen. The “light bulb” goes off and the mechanics take a step back to let fun run rampant.

#16 Comment By Katana_Geldar On January 7, 2010 @ 3:44 am

* I love the control that GMing gives you over every aspect of the world and all the little people in it.
* I love the unpredictability, particularly when I plan for my players to surprise me and they always do.
* I love the fact that I am creating a story with real people as characters and I need to cater my plot to suit their needs

Oh, and GMing is like something else: teaching school

#17 Comment By Martin Ralya On January 7, 2010 @ 10:10 pm

This is awesome — thank you for running with the format.

I decided to plot [2]. As you can see, it’s pretty rough; I basically wrote down elements as they arose, then incremented the count for responses that more or less fit.

The top three are interesting to me: #1 is creativity, which isn’t surprising; #2 is surprises, and the fact that GMs like surprises makes perfect sense yet is still somewhat surprising (and I like it!), and #3 is players interacting with your creations.

I would definitely say that those three are common motivators for most GMs I’ve known, and I suspect that if presented with a list to check off, nearly everyone who responded to this article would check all three of them.

#18 Comment By Martin Ralya On January 7, 2010 @ 10:11 pm

…and a special welcome to drummy and OgRib! I’m glad you dig the Stew. 🙂

#19 Comment By Eric Wilde On January 8, 2010 @ 12:22 pm

To me its a means of self exploration and, equally critical, sharing with others as they explore their own selves. All in the form of play and making it fun.

Jorge Luis Borge articulates the self part of it pretty well:

A man sets himself the task of portraying the world. Through the years he peoples a space with images of provinces, kingdoms, mountains, bays, ships, islands, fishes, rooms, instruments, stars, horses, and people. Shortly before his death, he discovers that the patient labyrinth of lines traces the image of his face.

h/t hicksville [5]

As far as sharing with others, what is art when it isn’t shared? What is fun when alone (hey, get your mind outta the gutter!)?

#20 Pingback By The James Bond Treatment « Level 1 GM On July 22, 2010 @ 5:04 am

[…] think of half a dozen ways for them to complete the mission, they will think up a new one. A recent survey by Gnome Stew ranked the surprises that players bring to the game as one of the top reasons why GMs do what they […]

#21 Comment By Animus On October 29, 2010 @ 6:58 am

My reasons:

* I love weaving the stories my players and I create.
* I love reacting to what the players come up with.
* I love bringing people together to have fun together.