GMing is the RTS of fiction

Posted: May 10, 2011 by pointyman2000 in Articles, Roleplaying Games

An odd thought came to me early this morning while getting ready for work today… the act of playing in an RPG is often likened to improvisational theater, but personally I find that running a game is very much like playing a Real Time Strategy game except in the context of a shared fiction.

While it isn’t about churning out unit after unit and outsmarting your opponent to win, I liken GMing to RTS play due to the fact that they share some interesting similarities:

  • There is no such thing as perfect information – As a GM, you can know a setting and a game and your NPCs, but ultimately there’s no telling what your Players will do in a game.
  • No plan survives contact with the opponent – likewise any plot you may have in mind will have to change in order to react to what your Players choose to do.
  • Your units are expendable – Losing a unit in an RTS is a minor setback, but there’s always a chance to build more.  In GMing, you have the massive advantage of building any number of NPCs or opponents for your players.  In both cases it is not advisable to end up too attached to them.
  • The real fun comes from playing with other people – an RTS game is amusing against the computer, but it’s never quite as satisfying as going up against a real person.  Likewise writing plots and notes for a campaign are fun, but it’s only when you’re running the game does the full enjoyment of GMing actually manifest.

I suppose it’s this sort of uncertainty and need for quick-thinking that really hooked me on the creative process of GMing.  Rather than just typing away at a computer to put a story down, I’m forced to keep on my toes and adapt to decisions that I would never have thought of.  Take note that I do enjoy writing fiction, but GMing scratches an entirely different itch.

  1. jlcsusara says:

    An odd thought yet it rings true. RTS’ are fun solo but much better as multi-player – just like a regular tabletop RPG session. 😀

  2. Hikkikomori says:

    It’s interactive storytelling.
    It’s not as fun playing with yourself as compared to playing with someone else.

    With interaction, inputs come from different people from all walks of life which you would never have thought of yourself being only one person in a big world.

    Opponents can come in different shapes and forms — from a moral brick wall or a mechanical iron gate, to a fast-talking, quicker-handed rogue or androgynous and savvy dandy.

  3. yamasaki says:

    Great observation, pointy!

  4. sheimauren says:


    Show me the money: dump resources on my units despite it not making sense

    medieval man: ignore certain requirements to make units

    there is no cow level: fast forward plot hooks and get to combat

    black sheep wall: use player information to influence decisions of NPCs despite it not making sense

    power overwhelming: rocks fall everyone dies…

    … well first thing that came to mind when you mentioned it’s an RTS.

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