Unlike A Boss

This is another thing that has been on my mind for a while, so I figured I’d get it out there, too. I’ve seen many people try to run tabletop RPGs, both personally and through secondhand accounts. The question of “What makes a successful game?” is raised many times, and few have succinct answers, save for “as long as everyone is having fun,” which is sadly a little vague.

But after running a game for eighteen months, some things have become clear to me, and while I don’t consider myself the final authority on anything, I do think my views will offer some insight to the matter.

Simply put, I think the error many Game Masters make in regards to running their games is to assume that their role is that of an employer, and the role of the players are that of their employees. So, the GM says something, the players have to follow what he says. This works for a while, certainly, but you have to consider that your players are human beings. They will eventually want to do their own thing, and if they constantly find their suggestions shot down, they will eventually want to quit. You know, much like I feel with my RL job.

The error here is making the game more like work for the players. Games should be fun. They should look forward to joining you whenever you meet. They should not dread it, as I have dreaded it at times in my gaming career.

My suggestion is simple, but by no means easy: Yes, you should consider yourself a business owner, but not the player’s boss. No, fairer to consider yourself a proprietor, and the players, your clients. It now becomes imperative that you please them and make their stay enjoyable and fun, as if you do not, you would soon lose their “business.”

Yes, this requires a bit more dedication on your part. Yes, this can come dangerously close to making the game more like work for you, and yes, this can lead to some serious burn out, just like any job. It all comes with the territory of being a Game Master.

However, I have good news for you: None of this precludes running the game in a manner that pleases you, if said manner also pleases your players. To wit, back when I was running the game in The Phoenix, I would very often be running an encounter I had just read (or, indeed, just cobbled together!) while I was riding on the bus over. I kept scrawled notes of potential encounters in one of my spiral notebooks I carry in my pack, just in case. On days I was running late, I would call Burns and ask him “Okay, could you please break out the Monsters, Tieflings/Drow/etc, and Animals boxes?” referring to Chris’ “organized” collection of figures. Then I’d pick out what I need, set up a map (often using a Flip Mat or Map Pack), and run two encounters, plus some exposition. So, yes, very often bare minimum preparation time as a consequence of my having a full-time job, and yet, because I was running a plotline that interested and excited my players, and one they had input in- input I often used to save me time!-and I was able to both, take the game seriously, and enjoy it myself.

Is it a perfect solution? No, it’s a lot of work. It may involve running the game twice monthly, as opposed to weekly, it may involve trading off with another player, as I am doing, it may involve a number of things to make your role easier.

But, I find, acting as if you wouldn’t be there without the players is best. After all, it’s not the other way around: If a Game Master’s players leave, where does that leave the GM?

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