There are some of us who always seem to be the Game Master. We rarely get to play in the game worlds we most love and sometimes it rankles. Sometimes we just want to create a character and be as awesome as the players we build stories for. We want someone else to create stories for us. Most of us don’t get bitter about it, but we do miss the opportunity to play. Why is it we always seem to be shoe-horned into the role of Game Master?
I have a few ideas of how someone becomes a Chronic Game Master. No doubt there are more than these five reasons. It’s also likely that more than one of these explanations apply to the Chronic Game Master you know. Although there are treatments for the Chronic Game Master, we have to recognize the causes behind the malady.
1. Your Group is Comprised of New Players
This is, so far as I can tell, a very common tale. Many Chronic Game Masters are stuck being the Game Master because they are leading a group of newbies. It’s very rare, unless the entire group is new to Role-Playing Games, that a new player will take on the role of Game Master. That means that the person who has most experience (usually the Chronic Game Master) is forced to take on their traditional role. This is completely reasonable! After all, you want the person who knows the rules and has experience to help lead you through your first adventures.
This cause for Chronic Game Mastering is ever more pervasive because it is often the Chronic Game Master who most wants to introduce friends, family, and anyone they meet to their favorite hobby. When you enjoy gaming enough to take leadership of a group, it’s only natural that you want to bring new people to the hobby. The constant stream of new players means that instead of trading off the role of Game Master as other players gain experience, you are sucked by good intention into always taking the lead.
Occasionally this is caused not by having players who are new to Role-Playing Games, but by having high turnover in your group. As the Game Master during the time of transition, it’s largely your job to help the group meld into a cohesive unit. When you have people dropping in and out of the group periodically, it makes it difficult to transition away from that role.
There are a couple suggestions I have for anyone suffering from this type of Chronic Game Mastering. First, stop bringing new players in for a bit. Create a stable group where everyone is comfortable with one another. Doing so will make the second step much more comfortable for everyone. Second, start coaching any of the players who might show an interest in being a Game Master. Give them a chance to take the wheel, whether for ten minutes or an entire session. Hopefully, after a while, they’ll catch the bug and want to take over occasionally. They might even want to run their own campaign!
2. Your Group Just Wants to Play
Sometimes you become a Chronic Game Master solely because nobody in your group is willing to trade off. It doesn’t really matter why the members of your group don’t want to bear the mantle of Game Master. After all, RPGs are meant to be fun. If they don’t have fun being the Game Master, then it’s not really worth playing. My wife, though an exceptional player and an asset to our group, has no desire to be the Game Master. Not even for a single session.
That really complicates things. What if you love your group, but none of your players want to lead the group? You don’t want to break up your group or ruin the fun by “forcing” someone to Game Master when they don’t want to. It’s a very sticky situation. I can really only offer a single piece of advice.
Communicate openly with your group. If you’ve got a group you love, they’re likely your friends and will understand if you express your desire to be a player. It may not change their preferences, but at least they’ll know how you feel and will likely try to do something to help you out. I’ve found that in most situations honest and considerate communication will make all the difference.
3. You’re a Natural
Another cause of Chronic Game Mastery is that you are simply a natural Game Master. That isn’t to say that you’re naturally good at being a Game Master (though I wouldn’t doubt it at all if you are). What I mean is that your temperament is naturally inclined toward being a Game Master. You’re creative and constantly think about new worlds and characters. If you’re like me and have a long list of characters you think would be awesome to play, then this is probably one of the causes of your Chronic Game Mastering. If this describes you it’s only natural that you be the Game Master. You’ve got ideas that will make the game fun and interesting for everyone.
You could also be a natural leader. Perhaps you are charismatic and could easily found a cult of the game. Chances are, though, that you’re just one of those people who bring people together with your passion for gaming, your willingness to accept others, and your desire to have friends who share your interests. That’s a good thing. But it also leads you into the trap of Chronic Game Mastering. As the leader it’s almost inevitable that you’ll end up as the Game Master. When you mix your friend groups and bring them to the hobby they’ll often look to you to guide them in the game.
How can you possibly battle this? It’s in your blood and bone. My advice: Don’t. Don’t fight your creativity and passion. Don’t stop bringing people together. Those are two of the best parts of Role-Playing Games. Instead I would suggest examining your schedule. Do you have time to play another game? If so, join another group as a player. If not, maybe figure out a way for other players in your group to take on the role of Game Master once every few sessions. You’ll still get your Game Master fix, but you also have the chance to play.
4. You Want to Try Something New
Those of us who suffer from this malady see TV shows and read books and think “How awesome would it be to play in that world? I wanna play that game!” I can’t read a book, watch a movie, or hear about an idea I like without thinking about how to make it into an awesome RPG setting. The problem with being the “idea guy” (or gal) is that you’re constantly switching things up. When you’ve got the idea, you’re in charge. If you want to bring something new to the table, you’re going to be responsible for being Game Master. Hello Chronic Game Master.
The solution? In my mind there are only two. The first is to get someone else in your group as excited as you are. Then ask them to be a co-GM. You’ll have to share the experience, but at least you’ll get to play! The second solution is to think about how cool it would be to play that, but stick with what you’ve already got going on. This second solution also has the benefit of ensuring you’re not wishy-washy.
5. You Just Can’t Let Go
Finally, I think one of the greatest causes of Chronic Game Mastering is that you just can’t let go. You, my friend, are a control freak. Okay, that might be a bit harsh. Perhaps the better way to phrase that would be that you are just used to being the Game Master and cannot let go. If someone in your group has offered to take over, for any amount of time, and you turn them down: YOU JUST CAN’T LET GO. It’s a painful realization. Especially because you really do want to play. You crave that opportunity. And yet.
It’s not always a bad thing. You love to game master. You might have fun guiding your players through adventures, seeing them accomplish things. You like knowing the secrets and seeing the excitement as your players discover your carefully planned clues. That enjoyment can get in the way of being the one at the other end of the secret. You miss out on discovering the mystery at the end of the cavern. You miss out on being the one to take out the enemy leader.
I know you don’t want to miss out on these because you stubbornly hold on to your role as the Chronic Game Master. It’s easier said than done, but the next time someone offers to take the lead stop and say “Yes.” You can always become the Game Master again. Don’t miss out on the chance to be a player because you don’t want to let go of the reins.
I know EVERY SINGLE ONE of these causes. After all, I am a Chronic Game Master. Do you have more to add? Additional treatments for this malady? Feel free to share in the comments. We can’t wait to hear from you!
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