The GM Element; Considerations, Overview.

First, let me begin by noting that I’ve just found out Britt Daniel, aka Tetsujin78 is dead. What a blow. I have nothing to say really, no way to put it into the right words.

Our usual bunch of service announcements come first, as always, and we seem to have more of them as time passes. Our discussion concerning Immersion and the definition of RP spawned a further discussion on John Kim’s RPG LJ. Both discussions got mentioned on rpgtheoryreview in turn.
Also, I broke down and ponied the cash to get the Wiki Gold membership for a year, we have jumped from 12.5 MBs of storage room to 2,500 MBs, feel free to load files for your games, playtest games, whatever. I want the place to become a one-stop depot for our games.

Also, I am sorry for the sometimes slow nature of updates to this blog, I’ve been suffering from an extreme bout of tiredness over the last couple of weeks, and had been sleeping instead of writing and posting.

So, the Components posts are a direct continuation of the Blinders posts, in fact, the previous post about Blinders is probably a Components post. Whereas in Blinders we talk about external limitations you set upon yourself, Components talks about specific elements, usually mechanically, of games. CSI Games in particular, but I think such discussions would benefit all games.

In his Gamism article, Ron Edwards said:
All of them utilize control over narration as one of the variables of play, thus shifting around the privileges of a traditional GM role, and all of them are explicitly about winning the game much as one wins a traditional card game”.
I sent him a question asking him why he thinks these games share these traits(specifically the GM-role-shifting), but in a nut-shell, this is what this post is about.

What is the role of a GM(“Game Master”) within a game, what are the different options for including or not including him? The answers will be given in specific combinations.

GM as “Storyteller”, when the game is Competitive, this gives you two options.
When the competition is not about setting a story(Cranium Rats), that creates a problem of there being two games played at the table. There is the competitive game, and there is the story-creation game. The real problem is, that the GM doesn’t get to play the Competitive game, which is “The Game”, he agrees to not get to play the CSI Game, but a Story Game.
When the competition IS about setting a story(Capes), then you simply can’t allow for a GM as Storyteller. The whole point of the game is to compete for telling a story, and if you have someone who acts as over-Storyteller, then why bother competing when he can make the shots? That’s what Filip refers to as someone “Moving your rook” while you play Chess.

When the competition is between the GM as “God” and the Group(note, group, not individuals)(Hackmaster), then for me the whole game is problematic. The “competition” only acts between the group and the GM, is often not rooted in rules, and isn’t as all-encompassing as I like. Most of the game is actually Cooperative between the players as a group. This mode of play also gives rise to many bad play experiences, as it often promotes antagonism without a strong Social Contract in place.

When the GM is a referee(Cranium Rats again, or any sports), it creates and solves a host of problems. So long as the GM doesn’t act as part of the competition, all is fine with the competition, but this requires the GM to be impartial, or the Competition(and the game!) will not go as planned. This also creates the same problem with the story-setting GM; the GM agrees to not play the game. He agrees to sit on the sideline and act as audience for the most part. If that is fun for you, cool, but if it’s not, then there won’t be a game!

Games where the GM is rotating(Rune) solve some of these problems, you may not be part of the game now, but you will be later, and then again, everyone shares these duties. You can build further on it, like Capes did, and simply do away with the GM, which is what many Competitive games do. You have the rules/other players(Polaris) act as referees, and the Scene Framing rules are shared by all players(numerous games).

You can always have rare games where the GM as “God” or part of the competition actually enhances the competition. In Orx for example, there is Competition between the players, there are story-setting elements shared by all, and the competition between the GM and the players actually adds a level of Competition. It also created a situation where while you wanted to compete with your fellow players, you sometimes had to help them in order for your competition against the GM to not falter! I find that a great design that is often hard to accomplish, myself.

If you have a Competitive game, the issue of “GM” needs thought. Whether you decide to have a GM or not, it introduces new problems and new solutions. Whatever role you assign to the GM does likewise.
Whatever you choose, this needs to be given thought, and the alternatives considered. I hope this post will prove instrumental in such musings.


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