GMs: Never put yourselves on a pedestal

Posted: July 28, 2016 by pointyman2000 in Articles, Roleplaying Games
Tags: ,

One of the longest running myths in RPGs is that a GM is somehow “better” than Players. Sure it’s not always expressed as such, but the sentiment remains. There’s always talk of the GM being the one to make the big sacrifices, that GMing is busy, thankless work. GMs should be afforded respect and admiration for taking on the burden of planning and running games to his fortunate players, who just show up on game day with their dice (and sometimes not even that!)

I’m starting to see that this is a bad point of view to have (and to encourage.) GMs are simply participants in the group activity of an RPG, the same way players are. We all come together to play the game, and each of us has a part to play in making the activity work. More traditional systems have a clear GM-Player role description, while modern systems have begun to blur the lines, giving Players more and more narrative control to the point that being a GM is almost indistinguishable as being a Player.

The real concern about the mindset of the GM as a long suffering hero is that it enables a form of inequality. Suddenly, GMs matter more by virtue of the tasks that they do. While players, being “just” players, are beholden to the GM. This is a slippery sort of situation that could easily lead to the GMs perceiving themselves as an elite subset of the RPG population… and that kind of thinking leads to a culture and mindset of entitlement.

I can’t always speak for other GMs, but when I run a game, it’s because I derive great personal joy from being able to craft a story from my player’s actions and deliver surprising moments where they get to be big damn heroes. Sure there’s work in the form of world building and such, but it’s not a burden, and certainly not one that I’d blame on the players.

So given that we’ve identified that this sort of GM Elitism is a disservice to yourself and the people you play with, what can a GM do? Well, self awareness and reflection helps. It’s easy to fall into the trap where you start dismissing Player opinions on improving the game simply on the basis that they aren’t GMs.

Remember, the GM is still part of the same team. Sure you serve a different role in the activity, but that’s just like saying a Goalie is more important than any other player in a football team. They do different things, but one is never more inherently important than the other.

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