Gamemastering 211: Advanced GMing for Majors (Introduction)

GM with a lightsaber
ThatOneGM armed with a lightsaber.

Everyone please take your seats and quiet down. That includes you two in the back. My name is Andrew Y., but while you are here you may call me That One GM.

I would like to welcome you all to Gamemastering 211: Advanced GMing for Majors. This will primarily be a lecture course, though I will happily hold question & answer sessions or discussion groups if there seems to be a need for it. As you can see in your syllabus, each lecture falls under one of several main headings (Deal with It, Fresh Ideas, The Great Divide, and Gaming the System), but rest assured that the specifics of each week will be unique.

While this course is aimed at Gamemastering majors, I have received special permission from the department head to allow auditing for anyone with an interest in the subject.  However, please note that this is an advanced course, and so many beginners may find the lectures overwhelming.  So, if you expect to grasp the material in this course, you should already be a gamemaster and should have a thorough understanding of and experience in the following: refereeing players, creating and portraying characters, designing and describing locations, managing the opposing side in encounters, creating adventure hooks, plotting out stories, and distributing rewards.  We’ll be delving into the finer details of those concepts as well as tackling more advanced ideas and theories.

I think that’s enough introduction for now. I am sure you’re all prepared to get started on today’s lecture which is a brief review of the basics.

Gamemastering is an incredibly fulfilling avocation, but one that is not without its own difficulties. Being a gamemaster (or GM, as you should all know by now) is not something that everyone wants to do, nor is it something that everyone is capable of doing well.

To put it bluntly, the GM’s job is to be defeated by the players in the most entertaining way for everyone involved. With this core concept in mind, it’s easy to see how the role of GM can be both fulfilling and frustrating. There are, of course, many other responsibilities that fall to the GM, plenty of which are enjoyable.

The GM creates (or at least describes) the world in which the player characters (PCs) live, and fills the world with non-player characters (NPCs) with which the characters can interact (or which they can ignore entirely; it’s rather hit and miss). The GM imagines, borrows, or steals the seeds of plot and adventure, which evolve as the game progresses. Finally, the GM portrays all of the villains, monsters, robots, and other antagonists or obstacles that impede the PCs’ actions. It is this last point that is often the core of both fun and difficulty for most GMs.

I hope I haven’t scared anyone away from this course today; it is certainly not my intent to do so. Though I will speak a lot about the difficulties and obstacles faced by a GM, keep in mind that I, and hundreds and thousands of others, have such a passion for GMing that we want nothing more than to share our love of these games with others by being the storyteller, or the narrator, or the director, or the dungeon master.

The next class will be about some of the differences between being a player in a role-playing game (RPG) and being a GM. I hope to see you all there.

8 thoughts on “Gamemastering 211: Advanced GMing for Majors (Introduction)

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  1. I like your presentation, it is just brilliant. You hooked me from the first sentence, and it deserved it. But, I don’t think that I totally agree with you. I don’t think that the GM role is to be “defeated by the players in the most entertaining way for everyone involved” but to entertain everyone involved. The reason that I stress it is that there are games where not the players, nor their characters, are supposed to emerge victorious from the game. In games like CoC, it’s pretty damn clear that the characters are gonna lose, or to win at most a little desperate battle that will result with the monster coming a little later to finish what it started.
    Another thing is that the game has a few levels, and only in one of them the characters are supposed to confront the GMCs- in the story level. In both the mechanical levels and the table level, the players are supposed to join forces with the GM to tell a greater story in the story level. It’s a huge difference.
    Other than that, a promising start, and I’m waiting for the next part (although you can skip the differences if you ask me, it’s 211, not 101…).

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    1. It seems the first and last parts of my comment were omitted (my fault), so here’s the gist of what I said “out of character”:

      Thanks so much for the feedback, I’m glad you took the time not only to read but also to contribute. Keep reading and keep GMing!

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  2. <>

    I think I see your point when it comes to some games, such as Call of Cthulhu, but I’m still not sure I agree. I don’t disagree with your counterpoint, that a GM’s job is to entertain everyone involved, but I believe my point is still a valid one.

    Even in a desperately difficult and notoriously character-fatal game such as CoC the players should still be able to overcome obstacles, to defeat at least minor challenges, and to feel some sense of progress before ultimate victory is coldly ripped from their grasp by an indefatigable and alien force.

    Bear in mind, also, that “being defeated in the most entertaining way” does not simple entail the final encounter of a session, an adventure, or even a campaign. As I noted above, every victory for the players should be an entertaining one (even the bitter victories rife with tragic consequences are entertaining, if not happy).

    It is a rare role-playing game indeed (though not an impossible one) in which the players are defeated at every turn and do not even succeed at their ultimate goal, but in which everyone still enjoys themselves. The ability to GM such a game goes above and beyond even advanced GMing skills.

    Such a specific set of skills might be a good topic for your end-of-semester essay, however.

    The next lecture will be one of The Great Divide series which you seemed uninterested in. It will cover the topic of “fun” and builds further on your point: that the GM’s job is to entertain everyone involved. I hope you attend and I welcome any further feedback or discussion on this and all of my future lectures.

    <>

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    1. I get what you’re saying. It’s true that the GM should make his characters (monsters or NPCs) lose, at least sometimes, but it doesn’t make the GM’s role to lose. The GM isn’t there to lose, but to help creating and telling a better story. If the GMCs should lose sometimes, then it’s part of the GM’s role to make it happen, but it’s not the GM’s only role.
      I gave CoC because it was an easy example for this, but I think that it can be seen in any narativistic game. I think that the failure of the PCs is a great tool to create drama, and as such can’t be left out of the job. As I see it, saying that the GM’s job is to be defeated eliminates the part in the GM’s role where s/he should make the PCs lose.
      I do agree with you, though, that when the PCs win (or lose) it should be as entertaining as it can be. I also agree with you that the GM should not always win or always lose.
      Thanks for your kind response, and I really like this persona. I will attend the next lecture, but bear in mind that I may be less enthusiastic about it. 😉

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    1. -Wow! Thanks for sharing this with so many others. I appreciate all of the feedback I can get.-

      I believe the issue with my previous statement was that I deliberately spoke bluntly and did not explain myself. It seems, then, that the fault lies with me. I have my next lecture already planned out, but I will re-examine this statement and I’ll dedicate a lecture to explaining my point in more detail, as well as examining other points brought up. I hope to see you all there.

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  3. Wow ummm….really really disagree. The early 80s called, it wants your GMing style back. This is honestly why I’m getting fed up with the retro-games movement is they insist the One True Way of doing things is gygaxian obtuse and confrontational.

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    1. -Thanks for taking the time to read my column and post your feedback. I hope that, even if you disagree with something in this column, you’ll come back and give future columns a chance, too.-

      Hmm, I’m afraid I have nothing to say to the early 1980s; they know what they did.

      I do want to explain myself to you, however, if I can. I don’t lay any claim to perfection, but I can claim a dozen years of GMing experience, including plenty of mistakes from which I’ve learned, many incredibly fun sessions, and consistent constructive feedback (positive and negative) from a variety of players. I certainly hope you’ll come back for at least a few more lectures before speaking to your advisor about dropping my class. I plan on addressing my contentious sentence in the lecture after next, and would certainly welcome further discussion on that more detailed explanation.

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