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Thursday 21 January 2016

10th Anniversary Classic Rant: GMs are Not for Entertaining?

Recently, there had been some talk in certain Storygames circles about how shall they ever deal with the "problem" that some gamers have about perceptions of the GM, about how to re-educate gamers to "get it" that the GM isn't supposed to an "entertainer" of the party.

What?! That's exactly what the GM is supposed to be doing. Yes, the players should not expect to be passive in this, and should not be trying to thwart the party's fun; but its really the GM who's purpose it is to make sure EVERYONE has fun, and who's job it is to provide the premise of the night's entertainment.

If one player isn't having fun, it might be that player's problem, but if all the players are not having fun, its the GM's problem.

If, as the Storygamer Swine would seem to want, the GM was not the one who gets to entertain, then what's the fucking point of being GM?

I really don't know what the fuck their massive problems with GMs and GM-roles are, I've speculated sometime that it comes down to some bad GM having tried to entertain himself instead of the party, at the players' expense, and that this makes some frustrated players turn into GM-castrating Forge Swine, but really that's only a theory. What is clear is that what they want, and will not rest till they achieve, is for the GM to be reduced to nothing more than the Monopoly banker, only he doesn't get to play, either. So its meant to become a dull chore, the least likable part of the gaming party. Being a GM is what the Storygaming Swine wants to force you to do if they want to punish you, apparently.

Taking away the joy (and the power required to make that joy a reality) of providing fun for a whole group of people for an evening is essentially the agenda of a group of people who want the GM job to be boring, lifeless drudgery. Perhaps its due to the resentment of not getting their way too often, perhaps because they lack the talent to be GMs, its hard to know. What's clear is just how retarded their policies, really, their recipes for discord and misery, really are.


Currently Smoking: Castello 4K Collection Canadian + Image Latakia

(Originally Posted April 3, 2009)


  1. Even if you, through some sort of logic, conclude that the GM shouldn't be responsible for entertaining the players, that doesn't change the fact that if the players aren't having fun, they'll stop showing up and there won't be a game at all. The GM has to focus on entertainment first.

    This may be wild speculation, but I think that where most story game designers get their ideas is because they are designing their games to be run at conventions where their audience is pretty much stuck there for the duration of the game. Things like Narrative Control make much more sense in this context as the setting itself is meaningless as it will cease to exist the moment the session ends.

    1. That's a very sensible insight! Almost all Forge games are made to be run once or twice at most, never in campaigns. They can shit all over things like emulation, immersion, a living world, etc. as well as GM authority, because their games aren't made to work (and would not work) the way regular RPGs work.

    2. Depends. I'm assuming by storygame you are talking about RPGs like Fate or PbtA. But that's based on past rants I've seen.

      In my preference, Fate is better in a long campaign. That way you can spread out the complications that are brought up by Aspects in a more natural manner rather than clumping them all into a short space of time as tends to happen with convention Fate scenarios.

      I feel a lot more pleasure to kludge story elements in so that every character can feel the spotlight like equally in a one-shot. It is easier with a small number of players, of course, but it still works our better in a long campaign where you can tailor entire scenarios around one or two player Aspects and keep a running tally of who you spotlighted and how many times.

    3. I apparently have to reply twice because browser.

      Anyway. I've played in two Fate games that ran over six months each with plans to return to them. One was a continuation of a campaign we played in BESM for a year prior. I have also run two playtests that went in excess of four months each. Both with options for continuation later.

      I've run several Fate one-shots but they're never as satisfying. They're always a bit more on rails than I like and they always leave me with unresolved developments I want to come back to.

      On the other hand I definitely am curious about the long term capability of PbtA games and am looking to run a Monster of the Week campaign starting soon to toy with that. I do know of several actual plays that have run long Apocalypse campaigns so it is definitely plausible, but I'm not sure how easily it is to adapt to such.

      Then again some PbtA games are certainly designed on the assumption of long campaigns and use mechanics like Influence and Debt which only really make sense in a fluctuating social environment that a one-shot typically won't have.

      For my mind, the older style of RPG where you can grab a class/race combo and go are much more conducive to convention scenarios and leave me with fewer regrets about unexplored avenues

    4. Anyway. On to the topic. The idea that the GM does not entertain sounds like a rather dangerous misunderstanding of the RPGs in question. The GM absolutely has the most impact on the enjoyment of the game.

      The GM has to decide when to use Aspects to complicate player lives.

      ...adjudicate whether he's going to allow a player's narrative invocation of an Aspect to pass.

      ...determine the costs involved when players roll low. (Fate die rolls are less about success/failure and more about how many resources are going to be used up to get past an obstacle with knowledge that not having enough resources later means bad stuff.)

      ...has to call BS when a player is doing stuff that is ruining everybody's fun.

      ...has to keep track of the developments in the campaign in order to design the next scenario.

      ...has to control the Fate economy to match the mood of the game. In an optimistic action-packed game with humorous slice of life elements you want to give them lots if Fate points with silly social shenanigans so that that have tons of Fate points to use in the danger parts. In a horror you want to make more things require Fate points (often by hiding and raising difficulty targets) and give them out only slowly so that their resources are visibly dwindling over a session or scenario.

    5. All in all. The GM is a heavy responsibility and lots of fun done right in either style of game play and the hobby has room for both styles. There is no one right way to play. There's the way you like to play.

      I also don't particularly see a problem with praising new innovations in game style.

      There seems to be this idea that new is inherently better than old and that's just not the case. Coming up with something new is laudable but doesn't erase the things that came before. That seems to be a variation of the attitude that when someone else gets praised that I must have done something wrong, which is rather poisonous and prone to build anger.

      I play Fate, Dungeons and Dragons of various types (Pathfinder, 5e, 3.X), White Wolf Storyteller Systems, PbtA, BESM, Hero System back to 1st Ed Champions, GUMSHOE, Shadowrun, Monster of the Week, Masks (a little bit), Middle Earth Role Play, Kuro, Chill, Call of Cthulhu, Mutants and Masterminds, Savage Worlds and others. I enjoy some over others and have a preferred style but the games I enjoy are all over the board.

    6. Also, the main reason for the short campaigns is having mostly groups that like to change up GMs every so often. So we run one chapter of our campaign and then switch. The actual longest campaign I ran was a Scion campaign that ran 5 years.

    7. FATE isn't really a storygame. It's an RPG (based on FUDGE), which has some grafted-on storygame elements.

  2. From DM'ing many big (6+) groups I've found that it's not just an entertaining role but also entertainment managing job. Especially with a range or players from narcissistic extrovert to bordering autistic. If one player is not having fun it could be the players fault, it could be that my style of DM'ing is not his or her thing, it could also be that I've neglected in reigning in the limelight seeking antics of the rest of the group. I'm not just the DM to the persons that write 3 page long backstories for their characters and loves to roleplay their encounters with npc's, I'am also the DM to those players that just love to roll some dice to kick some orc's ass.
    Sometimes there are no books on botany in the library because some players politely waited for 2 hours while you talked your way past the ancient sentient guardian gargoyle and convinced the two cult factions to fight each other, and they would like to kick down the door to the next room, roll initiative, kick some monsters ass, get the loot and go back to town to spend verything to get some bonusses on the "carousing table" for extra xp. I might be the worst Dm to you for arbitralily saying:"no, there are no books on botany here", but at least some others got their chance to roll a fucking crit on the barbarian chieftain's golem, wrestling the black opal from it's claws to wake up in jail the next day because they spend their part of the loot to finance their risky magic research, which caused an explosion that wiped out a whole city block.
    I'm not just entertaining you, I'm also entertaining my other players, why not let your character hire their characters for your great botany books heist.

  3. DMing takes a lot of time to learn, and today's culture really frowns upon making people feel bad. Kids aren't used to failing, and everybody wants to be awesome NOW. We all know that when one first starts DMing, they are going to be terrible at it until they find their system. Society doesn't want to be bad because they can't learn from mistakes, they pass the buck. It's not me, it's the system that sucks. They don't even ask themselves how they can fix. I think that the companies who keep writing system rules which remove the DM out of the equation do so because it is better for their bottom line, to keep people as bland and as unoriginal as possible so that they can keep selling modules.

    In many ways, I think that the Internet can be looked at for blame as well. There has been a reverse in creating lore, it used to just be easier to make stuff up, now with smartphones and Forgotten Realms Wikis, it is just as fast to look it up and just do that. You see it all of the time, DM's freaking out because they can't find the history of such and such and they don't know what to do.

    1. I agree in part. I don't think that it is generally generation or now vs then related. I do think that, in an information, option, choice and oppotunity rich enviroment as the current era it is harder to realize that option A for you might mean options 1 minus A for the others.

  4. Saying the GM is not responsible for entertaining the players is like saying the host of the party shouldn't entertain his/her guests. In other words it is insane to even say that.

  5. I agree. Of course it is the GM's job to entertain, duh. It's a responsibility I would hope is shared by the players as well. I think everyone wants to make the game exciting, dramatic, and fun... so each brings what he or she can to the table.

    I also think that GMs bear a lot more responsibility than the players. They prepare for the game. They adjudicate. They make sure everyone is getting a chance to shine. They portray the environment as a character and every other character there is besides the ones the PCs portray.

    They have to respond appropriately to being derailed by unexpected player actions and improvise madly on the spot...

    Therefore, I think GMs should be given special privilege and respect for their roles. I think reasonable players understand this and have a sense of the inherent fairness of accepting that the GM's word as law, because the GM is wearing so many hats and providing so much for the entire group.