Saturday, April 8, 2017

Whose game is it, GM or Players? Both.

For a while I've been meaning to sit down and post one of the lessons I've learned from gaming as long as I have.

The Christopher Rice went and encapsulated that lessons in his latest Gamemaster's Guidepost article.

It's basically this: it's not the GM's game. It's not the players' game. It's the GM's and the players' game.

We tend to discuss campaigns as if they belong to the GM. Peter's game. Chris's game. Gary's game. That guy at the hobby shop's game.

But you'll get people who say, no, it's not the GM's game. It's the players' game. If you as the GM think it's your game, you're doing something wrong.

But honestly, it's everyone's game. The GM has to enjoy running it enough to put in all of the effort needed for a good game. The players need to enjoy it enough to keep showing up and put in the effort to make it fun for themselves and others. If either is lacking the joy of their part of the enterprise, it's going to end sooner or (perhaps rather than) later.

Once I really got this lesson deep down, my gaming became better overall. We all have different roles around the table, but it's meant for the enjoyment of everyone. If you put the players' enjoyment ahead of the GMs, or the GM's enjoyment ahead of that of the players, I think you're headed down the "end sooner rather than later" road.

And that's it. It's everyone's game.


  1. The problem with that reasoning is this: Joe, Gary, Brenda, Marsha, and Hannah are all gaming together. The GM has created a complex world and adventure location, which the players are enjoying immensely.

    Marsha gets a job in a new city and has to quit. Does the game end for the others? I.e., must they now start a new game?

    1. Marsha drops out and if the rest want to continue, they find a way to continue. I think you're reading something into this post that isn't there.

    2. "They find a way to continue"? Why do they have to "find a way"?

      I don't think I am reading something into the post; I think that, at a certain point, the post is wrong. It is all your game when you sit down to play. If one player moving affects "your" game more than another, it isn't really as much "yours" as you thought it was.

    3. And that is why they call it "Gary's game" or the "Guy at the Hobby Shop's game". If Gary or the Hobby Shop guy don't show up, you don't have the same game. Even if Bob steps in and runs a game based off what you know about Gary's game, when Gary shows up next week it is unlikely that the events of Bob's game remain "canonical" in Gary's.

      In the example I used, if Marsha is a player, the game is little changed by her moving....Unless, of course, she is a wonderful player who enriches any game she participates in just by being there. Even then, though, the post-Marsha game is the same game as the with-Marsha game.

      If Marsha was the GM, though, and Gary carries on with "Our Game", attempting to run the "same" milieu as Marsha, the game will not be the same. The players may not immediately be able to identify this, but when Marsha returns a year later, and the two game milieus have greatly diverged, it should be evident that they are not both the same games.

      So, if you mean "game" by the session where you sit down and play, yes, that is all of your game session.

      If, however, you mean "game" as the ongoing milieu in which the action takes place, then we are talking about what is usually meant by "Gary's game".

      Even in the first case, though, the GM has special responsibilities for the individual session, and has the rights required to meet those responsibilities.

      GM-less systems, of course, are different.

    4. Another way to look at it just occurred to me: The "game" is the GM's character.

      How many players would be happy to be told that their character, in fact, belonged to the group?

      As a GM, I would never claim that a player's character was "mine".

    5. (The idea that a GM would take a player's character sheet and rip it up seems like a gross violation to me. I don't care if Gary did it.)

    6. I may have chosen my words poorly, because that's not what I'm trying to say at all.

      I'm trying to say the GM's role isn't to just be a neutral party making sure the players have fun. Equally, the GM's role is not superior to the players. You're all participants in what's going on, all of your fun is important, all of you are making the game go together. This whole thing about ownership isn't intended by the post.

    7. I see. That may not have been because of poor wording, but because the debate has gone on for a long, long time.

      I'm not sure what you mean by "superior to the players"?

    8. Above them in a hierarchical sense.

      Really all I'm talking about is fun, enjoyment, and whose fun and enjoyment matters. And my answer is everyone. When I thought my game was about me, and when I thought my game was about the players, I didn't have as much fun as when I started to think it's about all of us.

    9. Hmm, growing up, we never used that terminology. We never "played in Jeff's game", we "played on Jeff's world".

      This made even more sense when we rotated DMs on the same campaign. In that case it simply wasn't possible for a DM to own the campaign if next week he might be a player in the same campaign.

      We also have a habit of identifying the games by the character we are playing, and naming campaigns after the characters - or at least the characters that are most consistently played.

      So instead of saying he was "playing on Jeff's world", the player who played Larenth on Jeff's world might say he was "playing Larenth"; and if he had characters in more than one campaign he might request a particular campaign by asking if he could "play Larenth".

      I think most of us just assumed it was a communal activity.

  2. Of course it's communal.

    I suppose you can consider it like going to a party. With a good host, and good guests, it doesn't matter whose party it is. The limits of "hierarchy" are based on fulfilling function. If Jeff is the host of a dinner party, he might decide when dinner is, and what's on the menu.

    But if you start breaking the lamps, it is still Jeff's house, and Jeff's party, and you are no longer invited.


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