Thursday, April 22, 2010

"They Should Pay Me For This..."

So recently, the Doc and I have been in discussion to start an on-line Traveller campaign…in fact, he’s already made a character and named his ship. But I’m having a difficult time getting jazzed for the project.

Especially considering I just re-read MechWarrior and can’t help making an un-favorable comparison with the Traveller universe. For the record, I believe I prefer Traveller’s over-all system to MW, but for whatever reason, I find MW’s background to be much more compelling. I’m not sure why…perhaps it’s the lack of aliens.

Outside of serious space opera like Flash Gordon or Star Wars (in which all the main characters are human anyway), I find intelligent alien life to be the corniest, hokiest (and most boring) part of any Science Fiction RPG. Doc, on the other hand, LOVES aliens…he prefers Farscape and Star Trek to Firefly and Star Wars and was telling me how much fun he had in his last Traveller game playing a “cat-person.”

When I told him I wanted to run a “human-only” Traveller universe, he was NOT pleased (though his character is human). I HAVE relented (it IS Traveller, after all…the encounter of strange new life is expected), but it doesn’t instill in me a burning desire to play, I’m afraid.

Which reminds me of something I wanted to write about last week. Over at Grognardia, J.M. talked about the referee as being a player, too…something I totally agree with. There are capital P “Players” that sit opposite the GM(s), but everyone at the table, including the GM is a “player” of the game. And as a player it is important that the GM have fun, too.

So...Why the hell would anyone want to be a GM?

Assuming you capitulate to the demands of your players (as I am doing with the alien thing), and assuming you are not breaking one of the Big GM Commandments:

Thou shall not railroad your players into your plot.
Thou shall not raise thy NPCs to a place of prominence above the PCs.
Thou shall not allow external strife to influence in-game events.

…assuming, in other words, that you are not a person who GMs for the sake of getting your jollies playing Master with the Players as Slaves…well, if all you’re doing is playing “Santa Claus,” facilitating everyone else’s fun, why the hell would you want to do it?

Because “someone has to?”

Because “it’s your turn?”

Because you’re the guy (or gal) that “knows the rules the best?”

Ridiculous…all of these reasons.

Now for Mr. Maliszewski, he enjoys the surprise of seeing “what happens next,” partly due to player innovation, partly due to random dice roll…I guess you’d call this the Wide-Eyed-Curiosity motivation. When I was a DM, I enjoyed challenging (aka “beating on”) the players: putting them in situations/scenarios to see how they react…call this the Saw IV or Sadistic-Overlord motivation. Of course ,nowadays I’m also interested in teaching the game to newbies…call that the Mentor-to-Grow-the-Hobby motivation. But is that fun? Or rather, is it ENOUGH fun?

Maybe not, as I struggle to find motivation to start up a new campaign. Oh, I’ve often thought about posting a “gamers wanted” sign down at the local hobby shop, and I’ve thought of a couple-few games I’d love to try out. But I still haven’t done so. It’s a LOW PRIORITY. Which means it’s not all that important to me. Which perhaps means it takes a special kind of masochist to be a game master, and I’m just not cut out for it anymore.

I look at JM’s Dwimmermount campaign and I see a couple things going on that fire him to continue:

- A serious study of the hobby’s roots (an in-depth analysis)
- A teaching of the game to his own children

I am far less interested in empirical observation than James (note my half-assed theories spewed all throughout this blog), and I have no children of my own (yet!). I search through the blog-o-sphere for other long-term RPG campaigns and I see the connecting thread is that the players are long-term friends, and gaming is just ONE of the things they do together. Otherwise, both on-line and face-to-face “pick-up” games tend to dissolve just as quickly as they start.

Could it be that the lack of glue to hold a group’s cohesion comes from a lack of interest/motivation on the part of the GM?

Maybe. Certainly, when I have been a capital-P PLAYER in these on-line games, the ONLY reason I ever walked away from a game was because the GM was a douche that didn’t know the rules. Otherwise, I always had fun as a player, rockin’ and a-rollin’ with my character. It was the DM/GM that would eventually walk away.

Is being a good GM/referee a truly thankless task? Is being a good Dungeon Master supposed to be “its own reward?”

I have acted as referee for my nephews playing Warhammer 40,000 on multiple occasions, and I can tell you that while being a ref greatly facilitates the fun of the players (providing that “impartial-voice-of-reason-and-rulings”), I would much prefer to be “in the game” and kicking ass than sitting on the sideline with a whistle.

Is it an age thing? I mean umpires and field referees for sports are often ex-players that just don’t have the stuff to play at their prior level (they "got old"), and so referee as a way of staying in the game, in addition to finding a practical application for their experience and knowledge of a sport and its rules. But RPGs (and war games) are NOT age restrictive in the same way as athletic sports…a player can be 85 years old and still roll dice and write down how many arrows he’s expended at a group of orcs. The only issue age might have is calling it an early night…and that “negative impact of age” will only be amplified if the octogenarian is relegated to the role of GM/referee.

It’s a quandary. RPGs need a referee to be effective (games like Polaris not withstanding). Referees, to be good at their job, need to set aside their personal expectations and attachments in favor of the players’ fun. So what’s to keep the ref at the table, besides some sense of duty or obligation.

I really don’t know. Money maybe? Once upon a time, I considered a scheme to become a “professional game master,” but quickly discarded the idea. Setting aside the issue of how the hell you’d get anyone to pay you in the first place (and would they pay up front? Would there be a “money-back guarantee” if their characters died?”), I could see no way to charge enough for the time, energy, and preparation one would need to expend to be a pro-GM. That is, no way one could charge enough AND get people to accept the bill.

And anyway if you started charging people for the service/act of being a GM would that suddenly turn gaming from a fun hobby into work?

But is it fun NOW to be a GM? Or is it already work (just without the cash)?

Ah, well, I’m not really looking for answers to these questions, I’m just musing. Running games IS fun, after all…that’s why people do it. And some folks (myself included) are “control freaks” anyway, better suited to being on the GM-side of the screen than the player (where we’ll question and second-guess and “rules lawyer” to our detriment).

Of course, even knowing THAT doesn’t get me super-fired-up to run Traveller. At least not with aliens.

; )


  1. Almost my entire gaming career has been me as a GM. I would say part of it is the 'control freak' in me. Part of it is the fact other folks didn't run where I grew up, or if they did, they burned out 'too fast'. And part of it is I like to share my imagination with other folks (duh). I have never been the 'killer' GM (heck, I think I've only ever killed one PC in all my years). But yeah... like you said. There is a PART of me that does enjoy making the PCs squirm—to make them really think their way out of tricky moral situations. In my Star Wars campaign (that has been going on for a gazillion years), the players are so high-level that physical challenges don't really carry the same impact. Moral choices, however, can hit hard no matter how powerful you are.

    But I'm rambling. In any case, it is odd- the psychology of the GM. And in most cases, I would say it is the GM's lack of interest that really puts the nail in the coffin of a campaign. I know I've done it.

    Oh. And aliens? Meh. Unless they're Wookiees. Wookiees are cool.

  2. p.s. if you ever figure out how to get someone to pay you to GM, let me know. I'd like to open a franchise.

  3. There are a number of examples of professional GMs - the most successful is Becky Thomas of the Roleplay Workshop. The secret for her (and for my school auction D&D game) is running games for kids, as this is an existing niche - parents are already in the habit of paying for kids' education/entertainment, while adult gamers are in the habit of gaming for free. A google search for "professional GM" will turn up some other stuff I've written over the years about other ways people have made games for adults work to a limited extent, though.
    - Tavis

  4. Creation of world etc and getting to show it off / have players muck with it. This is the artist motivation.

    Socializing, which otherwise would not happen if I weren't DM, this is the human motivation and btw why I have no fun/little interest in online games.

    DMing is playing the game and the game is fun, esp when you make up all the rules ;) This is the gamer motivation.

    btw long term campaigns, participants are all friends because you don't play a game for years and not become friends.

  5. @ Norm: You are a fortunate man, my friend.

    @ Rologut: If I do think of a way to franchise the option, I will totally let you open your own storefront under my banner!
    : )

    @ mule: Thanks...I'll check her out when I get the chance!