A Good GM Makes For A Good Writer

GM – often interchangeable with DM – stands for Game Master (or Dungeon Master). You see GM usually in the context of a table top roleplaying game like Dungeons & Dragons (in which case it’ll probably be DM) and sometimes also in a forum roleplay since “admin” can get confusing with a forum admin.

A stereotype of GMs is that they are the enemy. Players versus GM. The evil GM laugh, or smile. And in a way, that’s not wrong. The bad guys that the characters face, those are all the GM’s own characters (with rare exception). The traps, the plot twists, the betrayals, usually if not always come from the hands of the GM.

However, I don’t really see the GM as the villain, per se. In fact, the GM is much like a writer. I mean, it sounds familiar to writers for me to say “a storyteller who finds that his/her characters are blatantly ignoring the course he/she wants them to take,” yes? It is a little different with players ignoring plot hooks and characters doing unexpected crap, but only a little, if you ask me.


Language, sorry.


There is a point to being more than just an evil GM who tries to screw over the party every chance he gets, though. I mean, unless the players like that. And that’s the point. If you like GMing and you want your players to praise you, you gotta figure out what the players want and give it to them. I think the best outcome for a gaming session is when everyone leaves it raving about something, when everyone has a sense of satisfaction. The GM can leave with a smug sense of satisfaction knowing she made things really horrible for the players and they struggled, or she can leave with the satisfaction knowing that everyone had a lot of fun due to her abilities. (And again, maybe horrible struggles is what the party likes.)

The point is, GMing requires more thought than just throwing as many terrifying monsters as possible at the party.


Yes, very happy.

And this is the skill, I think, that overlaps with being a writer. Because your ability to figure out what your players really want out of the game can help you both figure out your characters deep motivations, the ones they can’t tell you about because they don’t recognize them and or have words for them, and I would guess it could help you figure out what your readers want out of your books. I mean, there’s book reading trends and marketing whatevers to help with that, but you can’t write a book for a reading trend, unless you’re really good at writing quality stuff fast. Even then, it’s questionable. I’m talking about your personal audience once you start building one, however.

Thing is you can ask me, “Hey, Rii, what do you want out of a gaming session?” and I’ll tell you, “Oh, I like it when we all work together to tell a story!” which is true. And that can give you a lot to work with. But it might take a bit to realize that when I say “work together to make a story,” what I mean (because I don’t think to say it) is that I want a story about our player characters, not just a story with our PCs as the protagonists. I want all the characters to provide good backstories and interesting character traits and I want the GM to incorporate as many as he can into the story. Right now, I’m in a Shadowrun campaign where I gave my character an allergy to the cold. I keep reminding my GM about it and then “whining” and “crying” (not really doing much of either) when he says he’s going to either lock my elf in a freezer or else, “You know that scene in Aladdin?” But I keep bringing it up because, to be honest, I took time to figure out an allergy that was weird in nature but common in presence and I would be really disappointed if it didn’t come up in the game, even if it’d be negative. And I don’t want the story to be all about me. I want to go on quests all about another character intertwined in his or her backstory, too.

Some people really like hack and slash gaming. Some really like making it by on the skin of their teeth. Some like solving puzzles. Some like punching Cthulhu or even just punching a cyborg’s head clean off. And the GM should always have leeway to do what she likes best about GMing, too, although if it’s the rush of power you get from holding the fate of your friends in your hands, just be careful that you aren’t constantly making them feel powerless. As a writer, I hope I can make my readers want to throw my book across the room. But as a reader, hate it when all my favorite characters die. Though, if your group really sucks, maybe they deserve it.


Anyway when you take time to realize, as a GM, this isn’t your story, it’s the whole group’s story, I think the story, and the gaming and sessions, become better. And I think that when you learn that skill, of considering more than just what you want for a story, you write better too. Because when you’re writing, you do own all the characters, they are yours and it is your story. But the ability to step back and look at more than just your story lets you draw in a lot more than you might have originally. After all, that’s the reason I love it when the GM makes his own story but then weaves in character backstory to make the campaign even bigger. The story, which is what I care about most, becomes even richer.

About Rii the Wordsmith

An aspiring author, artist, avid consumer of storytelling medium, gamer, psychologist (insomuch as one with her bachelor's is a psychologist), wife, mother, DM, Christian, a friend to many, and, most importantly, an evil overlord.
This entry was posted in Making Villains (Making Villains la-la-la!) and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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