The following post is a little argumentative. What can I say? I feel strongly about this topic, and I’m feeling particularly stroppy today.
You have been warned.
And I hear one story more than any other:
“Yeah, me and my friends used to play roleplaying games, but then our GM moved away*, so we don’t game anymore.”
And while I nod sympathetically, inside I’m asking myself:
“So what? If you lose your GM, why doesn’t someone else take over? Was your GM the only person in the group who can read?*”
Now, I admit my gaming group is something of an aberration, based on what I see elsewhere. We’ve got a core group of about a dozen, spread through different games, and in that mix we have three folks who run games regularly, one who does so occasionally, and another who wants to start. That’s a pretty high GM-to-player ratio in a group*. In fact, our gaming schedule is so packed that we have to take turns offering new games to the group, so that all the GMs have the opportunity to run if they want to.
But still. Is it such a leap that, if you like to play, maybe you should try to GM?
I hear a lot of reasons that people don’t do it. I’m going to take some time to discuss some of the big ones.
“It’s too much work.”
I’m tackling this one first because it’s the toughest one. Running a game is more work than playing. You generally have to do more preparation, you have to keep track of more stuff, you have to juggle more things on the fly. It’s a fair cop.
But is it really too much work? I mean, at the height of running D&D 3.5 for a high-level campaign, I was putting in about two hours of prep work for every hour of play. Our sessions usually ran for about four hours once a month, so that means I was putting in another eight hours a month. That’s only two more hours a week, and D&D 3.5 is one of the most complex systems to prep for I’ve ever played* – D&D 4E, for example, has me doing maybe half an hour of prep per hour of play because of the great online tools, and games like Dresden Files and Trail of Cthulhu take very little prep time because the systems are simpler and easier to work with for GMs.
Now, really, if you don’t have the time to put in the prep time, you don’t have the time. Real life should always come first. But most people can probably shake free an hour or two a week – certainly, everyone who comes to the D&D Encounters sessions have already done so to make it to the sessions.
As for the work at the table, when you’re running it, well, all I can say about that is that it doesn’t need to be. If you start small and simple, you’ll gain the skills you need at a surprisingly quick rate, and can move on to bigger, more complex things as you’re ready for them.
“I’m no good at it.”
Here’s a secret: neither was any other GM, the first time they ran a game. Honest.
Running a game is a skill like any other. When you start, you’re not very good, but practice makes you better. You know what doesn’t make you better? Not running a game.
Tied to this idea is the thought that your friends are going to judge you harshly. Well, I don’t know your friends, but if they’re your friends, they’ll likely take it easy on you. If they’re not your friends, why are you playing with them? And if you’re worried about your GM judging you harshly, don’t. The second most common story I hear from gamers is, “I always run the game, so I never get a chance to play.” Offer to run a game, and your usual GM is probably going to be so stoked at the chance to sit on the other side of the screen that he or she will do whatever is necessary to help you and make sure you enjoy the experience. Because then he or she will get to play more often.
“It’s too expensive to buy all the books.”
I have two responses to this.
- What the hell? You mean you’re okay with freeloading off the one guy in the group who buys the books? Do you seriously not see the issue with counting on one of your friends to spend his or her money to entertain you? I hope you at least pay for the GM’s snacks. Then maybe he or she will let you borrow the books to run a game.
- It’s not that expensive. Suck it up.
Now, when I say that it’s not that expensive, what I’m really saying is that there are games out there for every price point, including a wealth of free RPGs available online. You can pick up complete new games, complete in a single book, for under $20 from small publishers. Electronic files of the games are available from many online retailers at a significant discount over the cost of physical books. And used game books can be found both online and in many game shops and used book shops. You’d be surprised how cheaply you can put together a solid collection.
“I have to learn the rules.”
Well – yeah, you do, but you learned the rules in order to play, right? There’s not much more in the way of rules to learn in order to GM in most systems. And you don’t have to learn them all at once. This isn’t an exam; open book GMing is fine. And if you take a little more time than you like flipping through the book to find the rule you need, well, see what I said above about running games being a skill. It’ll come. Just give it a chance.
“I’m too lazy.”
Nothing I can say to this one but, “You suck.”
Okay. There’s all your excuses shot to hell. But why should you run a game? Here’s a list. I’m not explaining them in detail because, quite frankly, if I need to do detailed explanations of the reasons, you’re just not going to understand them, anyway.
- Because it’s fun. There’s a reason I’m running four games currently. It’s loads of fun.
- Because it’s another creative avenue of expression. Sure, you get to do a lot of neat acting as a player, but you get to do more as a GM. And you also get to shape the entire world the way you want it. Which leads to…
- Because of the power. Even if you’re not using the GM chair as a throne to oppress your players, GMs have more control over most games than anyone else at the table.
- Because you owe it to your GM. C’mon. Give the poor guy (or gal) a chance to play for a change!
- Because it grows the hobby and the industry. More GMs = more players = more sales = more good games. The math is irrefutable.
- Because it’s fun!* Honest!
So, take the plunge. Decide to run a game. Pick out a game you like, and read it. Talk to your friends about it, and get them on your side. Start small, but start. Go slow, but go.
*Or got married, or had kids, or enlisted in the army, or died, or whatever. Back
*Yeah, that last question is a little spiteful. What can I say? I get that way sometimes. Back
*We’ve also got a pretty high female-to-male ratio, with roughly half the players in any of the current games being female. But that’s a different topic. Back
*To be fair, Amber was worse, mainly because of the bookkeeping I had to do behind the scenes, and Decipher’s Lord of the Rings RPG, though I loved it a lot, was a lot of work mainly because of the lack of good stats. Oh, and Serenity was a lot of work, but that was mainly my fault for setting the game up the way I did. My Hunter game is a long time between sessions, but that’s mainly because it takes me some time to come up with a cool idea for the next episode. Not the same thing at all. Back
*Yes, I listed that one twice on purpose. It’s an important reason. Back