This blog post series is about Game Mastering for TTRPGs – I’ve run some talks at various events about this topic, but thought it’d be nice to share my thoughts here on my blog. This first part will mostly be about how I came to be a GM and what game I started with (and what I thought about it) – enjoy!
The Game Master volounteer
I’ve been a TTRPG (Table Top RPG) Game Master for 4 years now. It started a bit out of spite. I was tired of being part of gaming groups that the Game Master down-prioritized, tired of playing with Game Masters that punished you for any wrong you made (which was extremely exhausting as a newbie player), and Game Masters that didn’t tell you anything about the world so you couldn’t plan your character. Finally, I was really tired of making characters for games that never even had a first session. If I wanted to play, I had to gather my own group and Game Master like I wanted a Game Master to be.
Baby’s first game (it was not D&D)
I started my journey as a Game Master with the Mutant: Year Zero game, which in hindsight was both good and bad. It’s more of a sandbox game with some areas created by the publisher that you can use for adventuring (but the descriptions for what’ll happen there are limited, so you need to invent a lot by yourself). You are encouraged to add a lot of random encounters when your players are traveling the world. Sure, there is an “endgame” to the campaign, but how you get there is pretty much up to you as a GM. At the beginning, I had no idea what to do with the areas and the plot. I had so many options, but each option had very little info so I had to invent a lot by myself. I fondly remember one part of the adventure that said “The players might do X and then anything can happen!”…
However, I continued working with the Year Zero game, and me and my players played the campaign for almost three years. In parallell, I started up a game of Genlab Alpha (also in the Mutant:Year Zero universe) with another gang of players. That was a proper campaign with a bit more guidance on what happened – but there still was a lot of room to make it my own as a GM. I had to create two of the animal habitats since they weren’t explained in the book and I made a “halloween” adventure and a “beach episode” for my players to enjoy between the bigger story beats. That game lasted for about 1½ year and we reached the end of the campaign (with only one player’s character dead).
What I liked about these two games were that:
- The setting made sense to us – it took place in a postapocalyptic Sweden (Northern Sweden for Genlab and Stockholm for Year Zero) and it was easier to make up stuff and play with easter eggs based on our location.
- The rules were pretty simple and it was pretty easy to create a character.
- I learned a lot about improvising and building on already existing settings.
What I didn’t like about them were:
- As a newbie Game Master that would’ve liked more guidance, the sandbox setting of year Zero was a bit too much for me until I “got it”. In hindsight, I should’ve started with Genlab Alpha in order to get less stressed out.
I would still recommend a new Game Master to try out the Mutant:Year Zero games, and if you’re like me and would like a more stuctured campaign, I’d wholehartedly recommend Genlab Alpha (or Mechatron, if you enjoy playing robots instead of animals).
Parallell to my Game Mastering, the players in my group have started to Game master their own games as well. So now I’m not only a Game Master for a game our group play, I’m also a player in three others. By being the first brave soul to Game Master in our group, I influenced others to try their hand at it! I really enjoy being a player in a game since I basically just have to be there and play my ranger goblin (or whatever character I’m playing), but being a Game Master is still something I enjoy very very much.
Why being a Game Master is awesome
As you might know I’m a comic artist and one of my passions is to tell stories. But being a comic artist, especially an indie comic artist, can be quite lonely, and you might not get any feedback about your comic. I noticed that as a Game Master, I’m pretty much a storyteller as well – or maybe a story facilitator. I create some kind of setting and characters for my player to interact with. This setting and especially the characters have their own agenda, and the players of course have their agenda. To see how the players interact with my characters to reach their goal and greate great stories together is so much more rewarding that I could ever imagine. As long as I understand that my job is to make things fun and worthwhile for my players:
- Give them plots they feel motivated to engage in
- Give them NPCs (non-playable characters) they feel motivated to engage with
- Adapt the story according to my player’s choices)
…and not to write a book that the players can’t deviate from. It’s a giving and taking from both parts, and when it works, it’s magnificent.
I don’t consider myself the leader type, and being the Game Master honestly scared me in the beginning. In my next blog post, I’ll talk a bit more about how to create an environment where you can thrive as a player and a Game Master and make things feel less intimidating.