Every year, Monte Cook Games, in partnership with several other gaming companies puts on New Gamemaster Month in January. It is an opportunity for people who so desire to get some advice on running different games and how to think about the process of doing so. We have always been really impressed at the time that it takes to provide such advice and have been grateful to those who do so. It also impressed us that, while the majority of such advice is “cross-system” in nature, instead of leaving a potential Game Master to figure out how to apply it to a different system, they add the advice for all the systems that they cover in system-specific terms to make it easier. The focus here being on lowering the learning curve, which is fantastic.
Even with such resources, however, we see and talk to many players who are apprehensive about becoming GM’s. While we’re sure there are many reasons, we want to focus on just one today: What Josh likes to call GM Envy. One of the things that many players fail to recognize is that being a GM is a skill that can be learned. It’s one of the reasons we appreciate the way New Gamemaster Month is presented. Often, they will point to people like Matt Mercer and Matt Collville, and others (insert your favorite live game GM among them) and say, “I could never do that. Why try?”
There are two obvious answers to this. The first is, “Matt Mercer did not start out being THE Matt Mercer, and he still puts his pants on one leg at a time just like everyone else.” (Josh – I don’t know, actually. He may be one of those both-legs-at-the-same-time people who put their pants on weird, but it’s a saying – you get the point). He learned to be a voice actor. He learned to be a GM. Yes, he has a lot of great skill, but it was all learned. The production Critical Role is a fantastic thing and has gotten a lot of people into role playing. It’s one of the things that has in recent years made role playing “cool”. But in the end, Critical Role is now a production.
Which leads us to the second answer. “Who said you had to?” You do not need to stream a 4 hour session with voice acting and props, professional cameras, microphones, and sound equipment and elaborate worlds you spent the last fifteen years building. You start out small. You. Your group. And a small story, and you build from there. More to the point, one of the reasons we have discussed Session Zero so much here on Angel’s Citadel is so that expectations can be set. Do you truly know what your players want? Have you asked? If not, don’t assume. You could be setting yourself up for way more work than they need to have fun.
Going back to the topic of Critical Role, let’s talk about what goes into Critical Role and Matt Mercer being held up as the ‘Ultimate GM and Game.’ Is it the voices? The rich world of Tal’dorei? Maybe. He did release it as a supplement for 5E. However, in the end, the thing that makes Critical Role awesome is the fact that they’re having fun. It’s a bunch of friends around a table being goofballs. They’re playing together, telling a story together and enjoying their time together. In the end, isn’t that what a tabletop roleplaying game is supposed to be about? Having fun and being together with extensive communication both inside and outside the game.
GMing is a scary proposition, trust us, we know. Being a GM is more than just ‘fun’ voices, or creating this world for the players. It’s a time investment, knowledge gathering, and trying to keep track of pacing while ensuring everyone at the table is engaged and gets an opportunity to interact. While you’re telling the story with the players, you’re also world builder, mediator and adjudicator. It’s a lot of time and effort and it’s OK to be afraid to do it. Even we, with as much GMing as we both have done, still get nervous before the game. We’re only human.
Joann – You’ve probably read a lot of the posts where we talk about session zero and why it’s so important to game development for you and your players. Now I’m going to talk about the next steps. The first session and developing from there. First: notes. I tend to use OBS (Opensource Broadcasting Software) to record my sessions. I only record. I do not want to stream them (that’s a scary thought) But it let’s me stay focused on the game, and then go back after and take notes on what they did, what the results would be, and what the future options are.
Being envious of other GMs is OK, it’s human. But don’t hold yourself back because you aren’t Matt Mercer. Because let’s be honest, no matter how much ‘like’ Matt Mercer you are, are your players going to be the same as his? Are you going to have Marisha Ray, Laura Bailey, Liam O’Brien, Ashley Johnson, Sam Riegel, Taliesin Jaffe, and Travis Willingham at your table? No, no you’re not, most of your players are going to be ordinary people that just want to have fun. More importantly, they want to have fun with you, or they wouldn’t sit down at your table (Virtual or Physical).
Just our advice… That and a buck fifty will get you a bottle of Mountain Dew. Come to think of it, it’s time for some Mountain Dew right now. Happy Gaming!
- Josh & Joann Walles