316 The Role of the GM


Being recorded 10.26.2020

Todd Crapper from episode 311 asked us: “What’s the role of the GM?” are they a player at the table? more?less?


@Warden - we may well have totally f’d up the actual thing you wanted us to discuss in this. After you listen to it, let us know how off we were :thinking:

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Oh, don’t you worry. You’ll hear from me either way. With a bouquet of flowers or a knock on the door at 2am.


Mildly explosive right? :wink:

image https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&url=https%3A%2F%2Ftenor.com%2Fview%2Fexploding-flowers-destruction-red-so-red-the-rose-gif-17001594&psig=AOvVaw0TBFcVRdH-wcPmr783QONu&ust=1603910631855000&source=images&cd=vfe&ved=0CAIQjRxqFwoTCPih0_C21ewCFQAAAAAdAAAAABAD


Umm… I’ll get back to you on that.

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High adventures! For sure Elminster has special weed in his magic pipe. Ed’s Canadian. It’s legal up here now!


The pipe throws off multi-colored sparks, so it’s a good bet it’s not tobacco.


I still have some scars from the issues brought up in this episode. For a while, when I was running at the FLGS, I was having a really hard time, because I had the same bunch of players, which I appreciated, but when I wanted to run things they weren’t interested in, they would still stick around to play, weigh the game down like an anchor, and got me to end the game early.

This was especially bad when it came to the store owner, because he always wanted to play in my games, and I really wasn’t comfortable telling him that I didn’t think he was a good fit for some of them. He hated Star Wars, and he joined a Star Wars game I was running. He got into fights with other characters in my DC Adventures game because he felt that “roleplaying = conflict,” even if there wasn’t a good reason for it. He joined a Monster of the Week game, and instead of investigating monsters, he tried to get into a gunfight with the military. It would . . . rough.

But more recently, I spent a month getting ready to run Odyssey of the Dragonlords, the 5e Greek mythology themed adventure that Modiphius published. I shared out material with all of the players, asked them if they had any questions, sent out house rules and alternate rules for the game and asked for input, and got very little back, except, “sure, Greek Mythology sounds fun.”

Then, right before we had session zero, one player suddenly hated the campaign. The game has Epic backgrounds that tie you to the storyline, and if you do specific things in the adventure, you get special rewards. This particular player was bent out of shape, because if you pick, for example, the Demigod Epic background, you are assumed to be the child of a SPECIFIC god, to tie it to the story, not whatever god you wanted.

This player was so sure that this was a major railroad. If you were destined to slay a dragon, it should be any dragon. If you were a demigod, you should be the child of any god. If you parent disappeared, you shouldn’t find them in a specific part of the adventure, because it was all too scripted. Nevermind that those bits don’t come up of nobody in the party doesn’t pick that background. I liked them because they did some of the work of helping the DM build in player backstory into a published adventure.

Anyway, he was constantly grousing. After we had session zero, he said he was okay with it, and would shut up. Then he decided that some of the other players needed to change their Epic backgrounds, because they wouldn’t be able to play them without stepping on other character’s toes. Finally, I gave up.

I did a bunch of campaign planning. I solicited a ton of feedback. I even started watching a bunch of Greek Mythology themed media to get me psyched up, and to give me ideas for “ad libbing” when the moment might call for it, and having those tropes loaded in my head.

We eventually moved on to playing Agon, which is also about Greek Mythology, but very different than the adventure we were going to play. At this point, I don’t even want to look at the adventure, because it just emotionally burned me out to do all this work. I think I would really like running it, but I don’t think I can now, because I’m too worried that, maybe someone else would see all of that as railroading, even if I don’t? Maybe I’m missing something? So my confidence in me running the adventure is kind of dead.

I don’t think being on the player’s side of the screen, people realize some of the things they put their GMs through.


Some of what you’re talking about here, IMO, touches on the Trust topic @Sean and I had a while back. I mean, the player in question is “certain” of everything before anything even happens? Seems like they don’t trust you, or they only want to play one thing and will actively try and break the game until they get what they want. Makes it impossible for you to really trust that player.

Based on what I’m reading it seems pretty clear that at least some of them pay lip service to Session 0 and don’t really care. They’re seeing it as a necessary thing to go through “shut @JaredR up so we can game” - Maybe I’m being to harsh with that, but the complaints and unbending actions your describing tells me at least some of these folks feel it’s your job to entertain them by giving them what they want the way the want it. Your fun doesn’t matter - just be the dancing dog they want and everything will be fine.

Honestly, I don’t know if I would stick it out with a group like that.


It seems that Matt Colville is a secret G&BS listener - I mean… how else do you explain his latest video?


It’s can hard with a long term group. I, love trying new things as a player and GM. Most of my long standing group will say the same, “we want to play new things”. Until books are need read and or gotten. Or a little work done to learn the new rules, or any aspect of the old rules changed. As long as none of that is needed and it stays 5E,
I guess they love new things.
When I tried to introduce DCC into the group one player actually looked at me and said “are you really going to make me play this?” Probably every response going through your head right now went though mine too. What came out of my mouth was “no, not if the group doesn’t want to try it”
Needless to say 5E all the way, lol.
Here’s my advice. Have the other players DM one shots. Not everyone will, but the ones that do come away with a new understanding of what it takes to run even one small game. Even if they never run another game they will become better players.
I run a group we call the DM’s group. To play you also have to run a game. We do one shots and have been using the old adventure league seasons for the game modules. This keeps a running theme going and using the league rules keeps everyone on a level field so to speak.
As for my take on is the GM a player? The GM is playing the game but, he is not a player. Fun should be had by everyone at the table.

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So the GM is a player, but not a Player. Makes sense.


So… The “Big P” is the difference eh? :rofl:


Don’t be a D, B. :wink:


Let’s just say it’s kinda like driving a car. We’re all in the car but there’s only one driver.
[Unless my wife is there, she’d tell you there’s only one driver too “her”, ] but that’s a topic for a different show. Back to the car.
So one driver. He too is a passenger in the car but, it doesn’t really go anywhere with out him/her.
Sure other passengers can work the radio or AC. Open windows for fresh air and stuff like that, but only the driver is truly driving. This is not about power being the driver. Passengers often play the role of navigation.
Side bar - could that mean google is a passenger? See what I put up with? My mind just starts wondering away.
Sorry, maybe this analogy makes sense, anyone can drive the rpg car but, only one can drive. Heck you don’t even need a license or insurance. Wait don’t tell the RPG police I said that, lol!


If this wasn’t the same group where I’ve been having a great time running Star Trek Adventures, I don’t think I would have attempted to run again with the group. It’s also complicated in that one of the players that was actually excited to play in the campaign is the brother of the one complaining, so I couldn’t even do the “hey, let’s all play over here and just not mention it to X” thing. Not that I wouldn’t feel guilty doing that.

I’m cutting some extra slack for everyone being high strung over 2020, but I was really upset about the whole thing. I would have been way less angry if this would have come up even a week before it did. It just kind of reinforced that all of my campaign prep is basically to make me feel more prepared and I’m going to have to teach any house/alternate rules in the moment, because nobody else cares.


How DARE you call out one of your players (unless it’s Jeff) on your show! I log on to listen to my favorite podcast and I’m insulted right off the bat. DISGUSTING! I hereby call for a boycott of the Gaming and BS Podcast and will no longer play with the likes of Sean. Brett, are you looking for an online/Zoom player?

Nah…just fucking with you, but you get -1 Inspiration.

In my defense, I put my character together a couple months ago while we were still running Mothership. Although I included quite a few details, my primary purpose was to develop a background that would fit the criteria set by the DM…plus, I don’t even recall what I did last week, so…

…and I can fix this! Chrisian is a common as Jeff, John or Joe in Cyre. Nathanial’s father disappeared in 984YK, and the suspected location of his disappearance wasn’t remotely close to where we were travelling. Nathanial still doesn’t even know where he is, or how he got here. Why would he automatically assume that the Chrisian that was mentioned was his long ‘dead’ father? If he knew that he was in a demiplane that can show up where ever/whenever…:man_shrugging:

Nathanial will continue to refute the knowledge of a Chrisian. If/when he begins to suspect that his father is the person in question, he will be in a state of denial. “No, that’s impossible! My father is DEAD!” “What kind of game are you playing?!”

Keep rolling out the episodes. I’ll keep listening.


Listened to the episode and it accomplished exactly what I was hoping for: a moment of reflection on what you, as a GM, want as the GM.

I’ve reflected on this personally through my game design. As I started moving away from a more traditional approach and built more narrative than crunchy games, writing how to run these games made me reflect on what I wanted for myself. In doing so, I’ve very much changed how and why I GM any game. For me, it’s the rush of improvisation. I squandered my chances of acting doing something in legitimate improv theatre and competitions but I can get that same high by improvising a story using the mechanics as the shout outs from the crowd. I prefer to GM because there are no turns for the GM; they are always in play. Playing one character and waiting my turn is like asking a race car driver to go slow. It’s the mental challenge and reflexes that got me back on my feet after suffering some serious head trauma years back. Plus my memory is shit anyways and it can difficult for me to recall names of things or people.

My point is, Brian and Steve, that we GMs are doing it for the thrill of doing it. We get something out of this, some level of satisfaction for the deed. For me, it’s the adrenaline rush of creation in its purest, rawest form. It’s tangible and right there to shape like putty. Like how the pilots’ minds merge together to operate them big robots in Pacific Rim. It’s such a joyful experience for me when it works that I rarely stick to my own script or even my own mechanics. That is how I like to play as the GM and it’s why I’m emphatic about the GM as another player and not another person at the same table.

Well done, lads. Thank you for bringing a smile to my face.


I agree with Beholdershorde, the GM is playing the game, but is not a Player. Think of the GM as the referees in sports. They are going to interpret the rules and make judgment calls in the grey areas, but are not playing the game per se. GM’s who want to be “Players” risk ending up using NPC’s as Mary Sue’s to steamroll the other people at the table. I have caught myself doing this over the years, especially when I recycle old PC’s as NPC’s with a new group.


I laughed out loud.