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You Should Quit GMing, Right Now

Face it: You’ll never match the polish and cool factor of a published adventure developed by a team of professional game designers in your home game.

Nothing you run will ever be as cool as your favorite movie, with talented actors, a multi-million dollar budget, an experienced director and a massive creative push from dozens and dozens of other people.

There’s no way the plotline of your campaign will ever equal the story in your favorite book, or that the NPCs you roleplay will convey the sound and fury that they would if you were a Broadway actor.

You should quit, right here, right now, and never GM again.

Because you know nothing you can possibly do — from creating your own adventures and homebrewing your own worlds to entertaining your players and giving them the rich, enjoyable experience they deserve at the gaming table — will ever measure up to Hollywood, to quality television, to the Lord of the Rings.

So quit. Now. Before you embarrass yourself at your next session.

If you can’t equal — or exceed — a blockbuster movie, Broadway show, piece of classical literature or even an episode of The X-Files, why should you try?

Stop wasting your time. Go play video games. Go watch a movie. Enjoy the fruits of someone else’s labors, because lord knows your players aren’t enjoying the fruits of your labors as much as they’d enjoy watching a great action flick or re-reading Snow Crash.



28 Comments (Open | Close)

28 Comments To "You Should Quit GMing, Right Now"

#1 Comment By Joey On July 30, 2008 @ 1:22 am

Although I would love my adventures to be as good a a multi-million dollar film, and stories to be as good as the books I read and my NPCs sounding like they trained on Broadway but that isn’t teh point of GMing. Its for fun. I do the best I can do. Sometimes the voice of an NPC comes out just right or the action between players and monsters is like being a major film and sometimes the story of an adventure is as good or better then some book which inspired your adventure.

If you are expecting your adventure to be one of those three, then you are more then likely going to be dissappointed. But you should keep GMing and tyr to make it like that

ans as I type this that is probably your point Martin

#2 Comment By brandelune On July 30, 2008 @ 2:48 am

A movie is nothing more than processed food, well processed sometimes but processed for the masses. The book from which it is based (if any) is like a chef’s published recipes. You dream by merely reading about what you could do. And RPG is about cooking the stuff yourself and enjoying it with your friends and family. The dimension is so different it is not even fun to mention.

Your article is basically like saying “You’ll never match the polish and cool factor of a fast food joint, so quit cooking for your family and friends”…

You can only talk about a movie. But you can act in a game, in very powerful ways. That is what GMing is about: enabling action. Not mere reaction.

#3 Comment By amatriain On July 30, 2008 @ 3:05 am

Ok. Guess you wanted some readers’ reactions with this. If so, congratulations, I just felt compelled to register and comment.

And my comment is: the kick I get from creating something, being an active part of the entertainment, more than makes up for knowing that my storylines are not as amazing as Neil Stephensons’s.

So s*d *ff, I will keep GMing, thank you very much. This very saturday I have a game scheduled in fact.

#4 Comment By PaPeRoTTo On July 30, 2008 @ 3:37 am

One of the best posts ever read.. fantastic! 😀

The fact is that reaching those level (broadway, hollywood) is an utopia..

“..and you know.. while you do 1 step running following that utopia, she will do 3 steps to runaway from you..

so why do you follow utopias?

Because they make you run.. ” 🙂

Obviously that is a quote, even if I don’t remember the author’s name.. but i think it’s the best answer to Martin’s post.. 😀

#5 Comment By gospog On July 30, 2008 @ 6:13 am

Ok, I quit.

#6 Comment By LesInk On July 30, 2008 @ 7:17 am

But GMing is a different medium all together.

Where can you make a story and the have the ‘audience’ change the plot and take it in a new direction that you, as the GM, never expected? In what other medium does the ‘audience’ get to roll dice with drastically different results each time they play — even if they repeat previous adventures? In what medium does the audience get to pick the type of characters in the story AND their history — and have it affect the interaction of all the PCs and NPCs?

Playing role playing games is cooperative. Everything else is passive and impersonal.

#7 Comment By Kurt “Telas” Schneider On July 30, 2008 @ 7:26 am

Rough night? Or are you just trying to weed out the non hackers? 😉

Do not make the perfect the enemy of the good.

#8 Comment By brcarl On July 30, 2008 @ 7:34 am

Good bait post, Martin! 😉

I think RPGs do often forget their strengths over other forms of entertainment. The personal interaction, the creative outlet, the immersion…

Video games, especially MMORPGs, have taken quite a bite out of the tabletop gaming lunch. As my two tabletop groups (all 30+ year-old guys with families and jobs) reinforce over and over, it’s WAAAAY easier to jump onto WoW for a couple hours a few times a week than try to get onto all 6 people’s schedules on a consistent basis. I’m curious to see if WotC can get their on-line portion D&Di up and running well; this may help reclaim some of those lost souls…

Still, I can relate to some of the frustration that is likely behind Martin’s post. It is frustrating to have actual play fall short of your vision. Almost by definition, the story you have dreamed will get side-tracked and re-worked more than once. So embrace it! Go with the flow, as much as you can! Revel in the curiosities and inconsistencies! Suggest with a smile to that nay-sayer that they might have more fun playing a video game or re-reading that book! After all, it’s a GAME folks, right?

#9 Comment By grieve On July 30, 2008 @ 8:02 am


#10 Comment By LordVreeg On July 30, 2008 @ 8:29 am

Great post. Really sticks out and forces response. My kudos.
I somehow don’t worry about this. My current setting is over a quarter century old, I have kept some of the players all 25 years, and it houses 2 current live groups and 2 online groups. So as the proof is in the pudding, I have a waiting list for people waiting to put off a night at the movies or few hours playing a MMORPGs to join one of these groups.
(I think I create to create anyway, and just convince myself it is for the players…)

Still, though provoking and a good perspective shift.

#11 Comment By Fang Langford On July 30, 2008 @ 8:47 am

Despite the nature of your presentation, thinking through what you’ve said…you’re right.

Everyone should stop GMing…like that. They should be playing WITH the players rather than playing AT them. All of the examples given are a one-way flow of ideas. Those ‘GMs’ create it and send it off, ignoring all response.

And if that’s GMing, we should all stop!

I myself am trying to create a game where that simply isn’t an option. In [1], the GM is as much a player as anyone else. They get a character sheet (for their milieu) just like the players, they have to work to accumulate meta-game resources just as hard as the players. It’s all shared.

This is a very thought provoking post. Thanks for bringing this up!

#12 Comment By Virgil Vansant On July 30, 2008 @ 8:50 am

Pffft. Lesink pretty much said what I was thinking. Being a GM doesn’t make you a movie producer or an author. It’s an experience you share with your players. And those published adventures, while good, don’t hold a candle to an adventure I weave with my specific players and their specific characters in mind. I can pull in events from their characters’ background or the party’s previous actions, play on character idiosyncrasies and party dynamics. Then I watch them role-play the whole encounter with style. We’ll feed off each other, and sometimes come away with something unexpected. It’s about the interaction.

That’s why I’m going to keep on GMing.

#13 Comment By farfromunique On July 30, 2008 @ 9:39 am

Here’s hoping you’re just baiting us, and not actually encouraging us to quit. On the off-chance you are…
We’re sorry for whatever we did to you.

#14 Comment By RoboSheep On July 30, 2008 @ 9:59 am

I know this game, this is when a blogger says nothing and the fans try to read something profound out of it; it’s the same idea as trying to gain wisdom from a fortune cookie.

#15 Comment By vanir On July 30, 2008 @ 10:01 am




#16 Comment By Taliesin On July 30, 2008 @ 10:03 am

I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.

My adventures kick Peter Jackson’s ass. 🙂

#17 Comment By Kurt “Telas” Schneider On July 30, 2008 @ 11:11 am

Taliesin: Like that’s a small target…

#18 Comment By drow On July 30, 2008 @ 2:27 pm

if only i could, man. if only i could…

#19 Comment By ChattyDM On July 30, 2008 @ 3:06 pm

You’re right Martin… And given the total incapacity of the average RPG geek to actually know the difference between a Shared Narrative and a Barf Bag (much less realize that polyhedral Dice were not meant to be snorted), we’re all better off spending all that time watching a singing Felicia Day get killed by Shrapnel…

God I’m happy that someone finally had the guts to say it…

#20 Comment By davethegame On July 30, 2008 @ 3:27 pm

Wait, are you saying those 5 years at Julliard were for nothing?

#21 Comment By Martin Ralya On July 30, 2008 @ 5:01 pm

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I wrote this. 😉

This — not measuring up as a GM — is something I worry about. A way to articulate that popped into my head, and it seemed like it would provoke some interesting reactions. (For the record, it’s not borne out of frustration with my current game — it just popped into my head.)

In being a smartass I was looking for wisdom, advice and some smartassery back. There are lots of reasons to GM, and it’s fun to hear why you do it, what motivates you and what ticks you off.

Your points about roleplaying being a different animal from my examples, about not letting the perfect get in the way of the good, collaboration and about striving anyway are all excellent. Everyone took this in a slightly different — and often unexpected — direction, which I thought was awesome.

Being called a troll was the piece de resistance. 😉 Thanks for all your comments — there’s no wisdom in the post itself (only in its obverse), but plenty in your responses.

#22 Comment By V. Hobbs On July 30, 2008 @ 8:08 pm

Apparently my wisdom’s been tapped out; I immediately started wondering where the last eight months had disappeared to, because it was apparently April Fools’ Day on Gnome Stew. (Come back, wisdom! I didn’t mean what I said!)

Hell of a way to get a reader’s attention, anyway….

#23 Comment By DarthKrzysztof On July 30, 2008 @ 9:40 pm

Good one, Martin, but I never do whatever I *should* do, regardless of who tells me or how obvious it is that you may be right. ; )

And I can’t be the only one here…

#24 Comment By Matthew J. Neagley On July 31, 2008 @ 5:39 pm

Wasn’t this pretty much what someone once told YOU about blogging Martin? If you’re not going to listen, why should we?


#25 Comment By Tony Graham On March 2, 2009 @ 2:07 pm

Martin Ralya tips his hat to Jonathan Swift.
Raise a glass… 🙂


#26 Comment By Sir William On April 3, 2009 @ 1:40 pm

No offense to whoever wrote this article, but you don’t need the million dollar budgets to create good adventures. What you need is a million dollar imagination like these guys.

#27 Comment By SaTaN On May 20, 2010 @ 12:03 am

I totally disagree.

RPG is not about Ctrl+C Ctrl+V a movie/book/something.

I have alot more fun playing a good game of RPG them i have watching any movie.

Thats because in RPG you are part of the story.

Some players want their game to be exactly like a movie, them they fail. And in this matter i agree with you.

But thats the wrong way to do it.
I have “GM’ed” star wars games, LoTR games, any many other “expansive midia” based stories. And still my games are far more interesting.

Everythime i meet my friends, just to talk and drink a beer, we all remember past games, and laugh about good moments, much more them we remember ANY hollywood product.

You can do better them hollywood. You just need to have the right focus. Dont try to be better them hollywood on production or acting. You can find alot better things to focus your game on.

Sorry by my bad english (Not my main Language)

#28 Comment By AsenRG On March 14, 2012 @ 1:57 pm

“Nothing you run will ever be as cool as your favorite movie, with talented actors, a multi-million dollar budget, an experienced director and a massive creative push from dozens and dozens of other people.”
Don’t bet on this, is my advice.