GMing used to be about control. In early RPGs, the GM is the ultimate End-all-and-be-all, the Alpha and the Omega. As the ultimate authority in a game, the GM enjoyed the final say on how things were in a game.
Recently however, that attitude has begun to relax, as systems start shifting towards games which share control among the players to varying degrees, ranging from giving players the ability to edit a scene or change elements in a game, to removing the need for a GM altogether.
As a GM who became fully committed to the hobby back in the 90’s, I’m not quite old enough to say that I’m an old school GM, but I can say that the systems with a much more relaxed attitude is new to me.
Ultimately, the difference between both schools of mechanics is an issue of responsibility and control. In the traditional setup, the GM is beholden to the players. Since he’s responsible for everything, he has to spend his free time plotting and planning and statting up challenges that will entertain his entire group. As payoff, he gets to make the final call on how things happen, as that power is necessary for him to fulfill his responsibility.
With the other method, the players share this load of responsibility and control upon themselves, with each one now having to think not just of how their characters behave and react, but now have to find ways to engage their characters in adventures as well.
My personal preference lies towards the traditional method, as it preserves the ability to surprise people. In a shared system, there are no real surprises beyond the dice roll. Without a central GM to think up of plots and schemes that you don’t know of, the element of surprise and discovery is muted. Certainly there can be entertaining twists and a game of that method can be entertaining, but sometimes being taken by surprise is a good thing.
That’s probably why I like the traditional method best. I enjoy the fact that I can’t tell what the GM has planned, and have many great memories of when a GM pulls a fast one on me. I’ve not played that many games (having GMed most of my gaming career) but the moments where a GM springs a surprise are among the most memorable and entertaining to me.
But that’s me, what do you guys think of relinquishing control? Is it better than the traditional method? Do you have any stories to share about how a game like that turned out great? Feel free to share them in the comments below!