Why are you a Game Master?

Why do you do it?

Why do you take on the massive responsibility and workload of providing a game experience for other people?

This topic is particularly in response to what @sean is going through right now … but this is a concept that has always fascinated me.

Even when I ask myself the question, I’m not sure? (Outside of work)

There are so many components to being a game master, so much responsibility, and our enjoyment of the game can be snatched from us by a perception of a player not enjoying the game or a player not buying into what we are laying down.

So why do you do it? Why do you put your neck out there for players, most of whom barely know what their characters do let alone have bothered to read the rules, to chop off if they feel “their” time has been wasted?

What do you get out of being a GM?


The act of creation - drawing maps, creating interesting puzzles and mysteries for my friends, lore /world building, painting minis- the whole package is about the joy of creation for me, and the immediate joy of sharing that creation.

The “work” part of dming IS my hobby, and if I’m lucky I get to share that at the table with friends every week or two.

I have not run a game for about a year / but I’ve been enjoying the creative aspect of being a DM every week of that year.



In 5th Grade, I read (and reread and reread) The Hobbit, then The Lord of the Rings. By the time I entered high school, I had read LotR more than ten times.

But reading hadn’t been enough. I had wanted to enter, as wholly as possible, into that subcreated world. As Tolkien suggests in “On Fairy Stories,” I wanted to escape “modernity,” which I perceived (at the time) as a bit of a “jailer” (Tolkien’s metaphor). But mostly, as a young person, I just hungered for “real” adventure. I wanted excitement.

Slowly, by fits and starts, I discovered a fairly complete means of immersion that was more structured and less lonely than solitary reading and writing. It began with Middle-Earth Role Playing, but, when the Star Wars Roleplaying Game was published, and when I became interested in other genres such as superheroes (because of the 1989 Batman), I began to play more and more games.

I say “play,” but perhaps I should say “run.” I was the one who was curious about GMing, I was the one (mostly) who bought the games, I certainly was the one who read them and understood them best, so I usually was the one who ran them. Most people preferred for me to run, too. I probably was the best storyteller among us, kind of like the narrator in Stand By Me.

In fact, I always fancied myself a storyteller. For most of my life, I meant to be a successful Writer, but now, in middle age, I’ve settled into recognizing that my true passion is tabletop rpgs. I like to have an audience (gamers) rather than whiling away alone at a novel no one wants to read. I’m fascinated by the intersections of rules (“physics”) and narrative. I think most roleplaying games have done more than most creative writing manuals at breaking down the form and pacing of Story. I like human interaction.

I’m more passionate about this than most people I know. I’m the GM.

That’s not to say that I haven’t met other GMs, and, with such company, I’ve learned that I enjoy playing, too. My favorite mode is a shared world with rotating GMs. I enjoy collaborating simultaneously with game rules, often an IP that is being emulated, and other players. My craft these days has incorporated one more element of collaboration: other people’s narratives. For my pulp games I try to adapt some actual weird fiction. For an Alien scenario I’ve been preparing, I’ve been using a short story recently published in Asimov’s Science Fiction. I’m fascinated by what happens when story interacts with players.

I guess the last thing for me to do is to try to run a pre-published adventure. Historically, I’ve been too much of a “maker” to do that.

Thanks for the question/subject, @Pure_Mongrel


This is a really good question, and I’m glad it’s been asked. Need to actually think on it. I’ll comeback to this thread at some point and answer…


I like to kill people.



We’re talking characters… right?

It’s that constant state of non-stop creativity during play that gets me. It’s like a drug. Being the GM is like being that one player who’s allowed to do something EVERY TURN, including your own. Applying the codified rules (+10xp to me for using the latest episode terminology), making rulings to suit the story, portraying multiple characters, plotting against the lead characters while making them think their plan was their idea, sleeping with their wives on the side, stealing from their wallets as they sleep… all of it!

After watching a few documentaries on stand-up comedy, many stand-ups talk about that ultimate adrenaline rush from being on stage and it sounds very much like what I go through during a game. Which is why I have such a hard time playing… it’s too fucking slow.


Player characters…players… it’s a fine line.


Thank goodness for section 230

My friend who introduced me to D&D lost interest after the first game. To keep playing I had to build my own group and 36 years later, I am still running games.

At this point, I keep doing it because I enjoy the prep as much as the game at the table. I’m always working on improving my craft so I can run a great game. Being a great GM is one of my passions.


Ok, I have given this a lot of thought now, and I have come to a couple of conclusions.

When I was drawn to that Red Box all the way back in 1981, my world changed.

I grew up in a place called Darwin, which at that time was an isolated frontier town on the central north coast of Australia. The town itself was still rebuilding after it was completely wiped out by Cyclone Tracy on Christmas day 1974.

My family moved there in 1979 as jobs in Darwin at that time payed double what similar jobs in the bigger cities payed.

Unfortunately money did not keep my step father a happy man and I was his go to target for venting his frustration.

D&D offered me a world that I could escape too, a world I could control, a world of heroes that righted wrongs.

As a player, my default was the Dwarf. Tough, stalwart, and able to fight

As a GM, the adventures I created were standard fair dungeons. It wasn’t until the Blue Box that wilderness adventures were even considered (hey … I was nine).

Hitting high school, AD&D entered my life, which was a good thing because as a small kid that didn’t get his growth spurt till late, my sense of “justice” would cause me to challenge kids much bigger than me. Early secondary school consisted of floggings at school and at home.

AD&D introduced me to Greyhawk and the concept of world building. I can hand on heart say AD&D saved my life.

2nd Ed, I played but it never captured me the way it’s predecessors did. I had a new mistress, Star Wars D6. The tales I built the foundations for there, spanned a galaxy and exemplified the struggle of rebellion against injustice.

I became known as “The Star Wars GM” and players would seek me out to experience my games. It was not only good for my ego, it taught me how powerful effective communication and presentation was.

Without RPGs, this high school drop out would never have been skilled enough to talk his way into Microsoft and lead part of the team that launched the first XBOX in Australia. Nor would I have gone on to be an Area Manager of EB Games (GameStop in the US).

RPGs helped me maintain my ability to learn, which allowed me to study to become a Data and telecommunications tech … Running my own business for 14 years. If not for the change to optic fibre technology, I may still be doing that.

Thankfully our network changed and I had to evaluate what I really wanted in life. I had a couple of years to study Mental health and Youth work before the work dried up.

From there I went in to the service industry, made the link between gaming and its power to change lives, and GAMER was born.

So all this was a really long way of me coming to the conclusion that I am a GM because it is the best way I know to explore, present and celebrate the ideals I hold dear.

I GM because I enjoy the craft. Performing it, exploring it and improving my skills.

I GM because I love to tell stories, but revel in adapting a story on the fly so it is organic and credible. I live for the challenge that players throw at me to have an entire world adapt at a moment’s notice.

I GM because I love watching players overcome, grow and succeed.

I GM because it is a calling.


Simply beautiful, man. Seriously. Brings a tear to my eye… in a good way.

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Totally agree with Joe. Wonderful insight into who you are as a gamer, Pure_Mongrel. My upbringing wasn’t as difficult, but there is no question that AD&D gave me a measure of much needed control as a teenager in a house where alcoholism loomed large. This might be part of why so many people in their 40s and 50s are returning to the hobby as well – the damned game was therapy, in its way.

A guy named Tom introduced me to the game in 10th grade. I’d just met him, and our friendship wouldn’t last beyond the two times I played with him. He was a complete control freak / killer GM (as many 10th graders were in those days), but it took playing Fonkin Hoddypeak exactly twice before I knew I had to own, read, and run this game. (Yes, I started with G1-2-3. And I will note that was the first and last time I played an elf in any RPG.)

What I am just now realizing is that Tom was hurting. His father had died before I’d met him, and I never learned the circumstances. I had no idea at the time the two things were connected.

On a brighter note, @sean discussed this topic on the show last night. I commented there that one of the reasons I GM is that I just enjoy way too many systems / genres / settings / stories. In the old days, at least in my tiny circles, the only way to really explore different games was to run them… that’s different now, and it’s glorious. Now I run and play in tons of different games.

Love this hobby, and I always will. Thanks for this topic, Pure.


I reread what I wrote this morning.

I’m a little embarrassed to be hounest. That kind of just came out as I started typing.

I had always made the connection between RPG as a coping mechanism for me, but I had not made the connection between how much I used RPGs to express my ideals.

I was an angry young person. Angry at a world I thought didn’t care. Rereading I realised that many of the fights I got into at school, I initiated. I think I knew I couldn’t win. I wonder if I was trying to prove that no matter what, I couldn’t be knocked down … or, more likely, it was a cry for help.

I’m sorry this turned into an exposition of my childhood, and I apologise if anything I wrote triggered anyone.

For the record, I gained peace with my childhood a while back now. Again RPGs played a big part of this. :wink:

As odd as it sounds, I’m now kind of grateful for my childhood journey. Without it, I don’t think I would be where I am today.


Don’t be embarrassed. If anything, in this community, you’ll get similar stories and mad props.


This is the theme of a fairly ingenious short story I read in a Best Of short fiction one year. Here it is:


I’ve had a player tell me, “You’re my game master.”

The implication being that after having played in a few other games, the player felt like my game was the most entertaining and challenging.

The creative outlet is great. I really enjoy churning up everything you need to do the job well. But, the positive feedback really made it worth it.


I am not an artist, nor a writer. But I create this thing, this place. This place where my friends are truly terrified, amazed, excited. A place where they hang on every word, where they peak around every corner. A place where I put the odds severely against them. A place where they can triumph heroically. A place where they can forget their woes and play like a kid, play pretend. This is why I GM.

And because I like to kill people.


Love the short story, Gabe – thanks for sharing it.