Recently I watched the new documentary Dungeon Masters that featured a GM who managed to kill his whole party simply because they were dumb enough to charge into a Sphere of Annihilation… And it got me thinking.
Over my nearly 30 years of playing RPGs, I’ve encountered a variety of GMing styles. Everything from being adversarial to strictly hands-off “see what happens”, from lockstep “don’t go off the path” to “wow did we just roleplay a NPC-NPC conversation for the last 45 minutes?” They all have a place, but I have to wonder if it’s a progression through which most GMs work through in their gaming careers.
When I was young and just starting out in RPGs in junior high, the GMs I played with were mostly focused on the critical path. Whether it was a pre-written module we were going through or something they had thrown together, we focused on getting the job done. It was less about roleplaying and more about roll-playing at that point. Combat was everything on both sides of the table.
In high school and college, we started getting more into playing the characters. Combat was still important, but less so. We became enamored with the collaborative effort within the party. But our GMs started to diverge a bit. Some were interested in the all-important story, pushing combat to something that only happened rarely. Some were focused on trying to kill players, which made the players more apt to simply trying to defeat the GM’s nefarious schemes.
After college, wow there have been even more extremes. In one Vampire game we played, I swear the GMs (it was a boyfriend/girlfriend pair where one typically played and the other GMed) simply wanted to hear their own voices. However, we were really able to focus on character development to the max. And in one game I GMed I lost control of a game simply because two players became more dominant than I was.
Now I haven’t GMed for a while – at least nothing more than the occasional playtest or one-off adventure. But my goal would be to offer a focused sandbox that gave enough wiggle room, but could accommodate combat and roleplaying in equal amounts. I’d probably sway more towards the roleplaying than roll-playing these days, but there are plusses and minuses to both approaches.
The odd thing to me is the advent of RPGs on the computer in the last 25 years. Everything from Bard’s Tale and the Gold Box games from SSI/TSR to World of Warcraft and Neverwinter Nights… none of them have managed (beyond Planescape: Torment maybe) to capture the roleplaying/storytelling aspects of the tabletop roleplaying experience. As such, when new folks want to try playing tabletop after playing CRPGs, they tend to focus on the roll-playing combat aspects more than anything else and have to work through all the things the rest of us who started with tabletop years ago went through…
Anyway… Where are your GMs in the continuum? Where are your players on that same continuum?
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