There are those who write stories, who create characters and worlds and vast histories.
There are those who roleplay, who find voices and mannerisms and dressing to bring characters to life.
There are those who study, memorizing every rule and ability and feature of a system.
A good Game Master does all of these things. A Great Game Master does none of them.
When a GM has a story to tell, it’s often at the detriment of the creativity of the other players. Of course they have their characters, and you may have even rolled them into the story to make them feel included. However when you have your story goals and plots that you want to hit, there is little room for the characters to make their own mark on the story. Your goal as the GM is to facilitate the story; you must create a background and lay out the platform on which a collective story can be told. You need to have a good base story created, and know what will happen in the future, but you cannot plan too much for the present unless you feel comfortable directing the actions of the characters. Be open to the characters acting in direct opposition to what you thought would happen, because it’s those moments where inspiration will truly hit you and the story will improve by leaps and bounds.
When a GM has a character in mind, sometimes your personality and acting can overshadow those of the characters telling the story. While props and accents are helpful in conveying an idea, you don’t want the entire session to be about you acting out your various bad guys and kings. Of course you want to set a precedent for the rest of the table and allow them to freely express themselves as much – or as little – as they wish. However, you also have to remember that this is a shared experience and you need to allow the other players to be just as much of the experience as you and your various characters are. Ultimately, you want to develop your characters just enough to get the point across, but if it takes you time to get into a costume or the other players are caught off guard by an accent, then your investment ends up fighting against the flow of the session.
When a GM abides by every rule and regulation, it takes away from the freedom and creativity of every player at the table. While we have all agreed to abide by the guidelines of a specific system, not every situation can be covered within the pages of the rulebooks. Occasionally a character will want to perform an action that is not covered in the rules, like diving off a cliff to attack an enemy or using the corpse of a sprite as a projectile weapon. In the same vein, you need to know the rules enough to break them while still making sense enough that it doesn’t break the session. Whenever a character poses a situation that is not in the books, you need to be able to take a few different rules, tear them apart, and then mash them back together in a logical equation. And you need to do this in a matter of moments as to not pause the gameplay.
Those who wish to tells stories should write books.
Those who wish to portray characters should be actors.
Those who wish to memorize rulebooks should play board games.
We are Game Masters because we enjoy the creativity, interaction, and logistics of being around a table with a group of fellow players. However we do not simply want to sit idly by and wait for these opportunities to arise. We also do not think that these are exclusive events. Creativity can be found within the rules with on-the-fly decisions to unusual events, or with the way in which you portray characters and encounters. Interaction can happen during the story when you decide to turn over the creation of events over to the characters, or in the rules when another player makes a creative suggestion for an action. Logistics are a little trickier to tie into the trio, though often times plot hooks are best told through encounters and combat, while nearly every memorable encounter is based around interesting and unique mechanics. It’s the times when you are able to find the crossover of these that truly make the job worthwhile.
We as Game Masters also hold far too much in our minds to be limited to a single character. There is a vast universe hidden within – often times much more than we even realize – but very little of it can actually be released on our own. We need the give and take of the session, the development of characters, and the surprise twists to fully utilize our creative tools. It’s that facilitation of the collective storytelling that really drives what we do. It’s the need for that development with the rest of the players, and the feeling of being that bridge between the individual characters and the rest of the world at play.
Ultimately, we are Game Masters because we crave a connection. One that you cannot simply get from sitting down and writing a book, or acting out a character, or playing a board game.