The other day, I was reading a Game Master Tips newsletter I receive by email. I enjoy articles, newsletters, blogs, and podcasts about role-playing games, because I’m of the opinion that even the most experienced GM can benefit from learning new tricks.
This particular issue, however, caused me to question why I bother reading this particular newsletter. It was just one sentence out of the whole issue, but it almost caused me to close the window, delete the other issues I had, and unsubscribe.
And the sentence was simply this:
“Being a GM is a thankless job.”
Now, I’ve heard such sentiments before, but I’ve never understood them.
Being a GM is more work than the other players of a game, sure, but if you’re going into the process with the attitude that it’s a thankless job, then, to borrow the internet meme, “You’re doing it wrong.”
I can’t say that GMing is for everyone. Although anyone can theoretically do it, not everyone feels comfortable being that crazy blend of adjudicator, narrator, referee, improv actor, and antagonist.
For me, however, it’s the role in the game I prefer by a wide margin. If it were truly thankless, why would I do it? Why would anyone do it, for that matter?
The rewards of being a GM are many and varied, and I’ll try to share some thoughts for those of you who have been wondering why someone would want to give up the freedom of being a player to help everyone else have fun.
Stories To Tell
First and foremost, I have stories to tell. If I weren’t gaming, I’d probably be writing short stories, novels, scripts, and screenplays. I’ve always loved telling stories, and this aspect of the game makes me very happy. I happen to believe, however, that it’s the interaction with the other players that makes the stories fresh and interesting to me.
I can sometimes predict what my players are likely to do, but I’ve often been honestly delighted at a player’s fresh new perspective or option that I hadn’t even considered! GMs will sometimes whine about how the players will throw something at them that’s totally out of left field, but I’m never happier than when they do. By the time my players experience an encounter I’ve written, I’ve often known about it for weeks ahead of time, but their involvement with the story is what makes it new and exciting.
Worlds To Build
It’s a strange sort of hobby, but I adore world-building, and I know I’m not the only one. Sitting down and pondering what-ifs, seeing a photo of an exotic location that really inspires me, or just flipping through a book of monsters…these all get me thinking about how the monsters, situations, or locations might fit into a fantasy world.
Popular (and wise) advice holds that you needn’t develop anything for your campaign until your players are about to encounter it. Despite this very sage advice, this has never worked for me. I’ve always needed to understand how my setting works. I need to know where different creatures come from and what their role in the world is. This often used to lead to notebooks full of sketches, notes, and maps. These days, it leads to large wiki entries on my websites.
I’m a sucker for audience-level instant gratification. Seeing my players’
faces when I throw a surprising revelation or plot-twist at them is delicious. Hearing the moans of dismay when I keep piling orc or stormtrooper figures onto the battle-mat is music to my ears. And because RPGs are about telling a story together and not some kind of them-vs-me situation, every triumph they enjoy, I get to share with them.
Memories to Enjoy
Another joy I take is in a lot of good memories. When I come across a map, or a prop, or some notes from an old game, I get taken back to that moment, remembering what it was all about. When I see friends I haven’t gamed with in a while, the conversation often ends up in old “war stories,” sometimes to the amusement of those who weren’t there, and sometimes getting them to ask, “When’s your next campaign starting?”
I actually do get thanked by my players. They buy me soda or dinner, sometimes, when we’re gaming, and they celebrated the last GM’s Appreciation Day with a cake and a couple of packs of minis for me.
They’ve even been known to applaud at the end of a game. What gay man doesn’t love applause? *wink*
Now, hopefully, if you’re a GM whose spirits have been flagging, this article has helped remind you about why you do what you do. If you’re a GM who honestly thinks that what you do is a thankless job, then I beg you to reevaluate your game.
Many GMs suffer from the well-known malady of GM Burnout and need a break. If you evaluate your gaming situation and honestly don’t think you’ve ever enjoyed being the GM, however, then I beg you to stop, for your sake and for the sake of your players.
Being a GM can be intensely rewarding, but you should never force yourself to do it if you honestly don’t like it. You’re not doing anyone, least of all yourself, any favors by taking on a hobby you dislike.
How About You?
Do you think being a GM is a thankless job?
What rewards to you find in the act of GMing?
How have your players thanked you?