We spend a lot of time talking about different types of players and the best way to GM for them. But what about GM’s? Do GM’s have types? Most certainly we do. In my years of doing panels and playing games at conventions, and hanging out with all sort of GMs, I have seen certain types. Even my own introspection on the kind of GM I am now, and have been, has revealed different stages or types. So what are those types? And what kind of GM are you?
Not Our First Rodeo
This topic was first presented on my podcast, The Misdirected Mark (Episode 152). On that podcast I mentioned not remembering anyone who has approached this topic before, but speculating it must have been done.
That was true. It has been done, and one place it was done was right here, years ago by Walt in his article What Type of GM Are You?. Sorry for not remembering, Walt.
Today I am going to take a different run at the same topic. Feel free to read Walt’s categories, there is no doubt that there will be some overlap, as great minds think alike.
One of the inspirations for me becoming a writer of GMing advice was Robin’s Laws of Good Game Mastering, by Robin D. Laws. This book was eye opening for me in many ways, but one way that helped me was to understand the different types of players, and learn how to adjust my prep and my GMing to give them the things that would make the game most enjoyable for them.
If it worked for players it must work for GMs, so I decided to take the same approach, to come up with different categories that encompass a GM. An individual GM may be just one type, but more likely than not, they are going to be some combination of types. In addition to being a type of GM, they may be proficient or not in the given type, adding another layer of depth.
Turns out we GMs can be quite complex.
Ok, you made it through those preamble parts so lets get to what you came here for, the categories. Each category is briefly described, as well as how the good and bad versions of this type play out at the table.
Quick word on No Wrong Bad Fun: With the exception of one or two of these types of GM’s, there is nothing better or worse about any of these categories. If your group is having fun, then you are doing it right. If you group is not having fun, then this may help uncover part of the problem.
This is the GM who is playing against the players, making the game deliberately hard, and hopefully not cheating. These GM’s look to win combat encounters, and relish in beating the players. While some of these must exist now, they were far more prominent in the start of the hobby.
- The Good – combats are going to be tense and exciting.
- The Bad – there is a PVP feeling that can sour the game.
This GM has a story to tell starring the players. They take care in crafting an elaborate story with multiple plot lines, and twists.
- The Good – the story that the GM creates can be pretty amazing, and make for a memorable campaign.
- The Bad – the GM cannot let player’s actions ruin the story, and it can turn into a railroad.
This GM is about creating amazing and detailed worlds complete with: cultures, holidays, greeting customs, etc. They spend hours outside of the game crafting all manner of details of the world. They often have elaborate homebrew games.
- The Good – this GM creates rich settings that draw you into the world of the game. You feel like you are there.
- The Bad – this GM is too focused on showing you the world and you are on a sightseeing trip, with too much exposition about the world before getting to the action.
This GM is about no prep…ever. They hit the table with an idea they wrote on the palm of their hand while driving over to the game.
- The Good – this GM delivers a spontaneous game. No one knows where the game is going; it is a surprise to everyone where it ends up.
- The Bad – the lack of prep produces shallow or simple plots. Because so many things are made up on the fly, and possibly not remembered, there is a danger of conflicting information and confusion over longer play.
This GM is about detailed and complex prep. They arrive at the table with a large binder of notes containing: possible side quests, supplemental material, etc.
- The Good – this GM has something in that binder, no matter what the players come up with; they have it covered.
- The Bad– this GM runs the risk of not being prepared because of the level of work involved in getting that prep done, or burns out from over-work.
This GM is about working with the players to build a shared experience at the table. They make sure that everyone at the table contributes to the game.
- The Good – a game run by this GM makes everyone feel included, and there is a feeling of ownership of the end result for everyone.
- The Bad – this GM is going to get everyone to contribute, if they’re willing or not. They can make people who are shy or introverted uncomfortable, as they try to draw them out.
This GM is doing it because no one else in the group will. They have been pressed into service. The act of GMing does not have an inherent joy or calling, but their time behind the screen is one of necessity.
- The Good – having any GM is better than none, and the group is getting to play.
- The Bad – this GM does not have their heart in it, and it is showing during the game.
This person sees GMing as performance art, and each session is an elaborate production. There are minis, maps, lights, props, music, etc.
- The Good – the sessions GMed by this person are incredible experiences.
- The Bad – the session is all smoke and mirrors, and there is little substance in the way of story.
This GM is lord and master of the table. Behold and praise them for sitting at their table. Don’t make any noise or that’s -100 XP. Be quiet and lets game.
- The Good – there is nothing good about this GM.
- The Bad – don’t play with this GM.
This GM loves combat and runs every combat to the fullest. They enjoy the tactical part of games, the feints, the flanks, the ambushes. Not to be confused with the Adversary, this GM likes combat and not necessarily beating the players.
- The Good – the combat scenes are tense, exciting, and action-packed.
- The Bad – there is a heavy emphasis on combat in these games, making sessions a series of rolling combats separated with some talkie parts.
The Michael Bay
This GM runs their games like high octane action movies. Explosions, buildings falling over, bridges collapsing, etc. This game is on 11.
- The Good – it’s like being in a Michael bay movie.
- The Bad – it’s like being in a Michael bay movie.
This GM likes to experiment with the characters and by proxy the players. They create social experiments in the game and play them out to see what will happen.
- The Good – these games will be challenging and can lead to interesting situations and discoveries during play.
- The Bad – it’s like being in a bad psychology experiment and can be uncomfortable or break safety.
This GM commits to the genre and game being played. They enjoy learning a new system and being immersed in the setting. They want to run the most genuine experience of that game.
- The Good – every game this GM runs is authentic to the setting and genre.
- The Bad – this GM never wants to deviate from the canon of the game. They sometimes obsess about making sure that the game experience is “true”.
The Oh Shiny
This GM loves running new games. See a new game, run the new game. They are in the cult of the new, and every new Kickstarter and new release catches their eye.
- The Good – being in a group with this GM means you will have the opportunity to learn and play a variety of games.
- The Bad – this GM has a hard time running long campaigns, as something new catches their eye, and they want to switch to that game.
The One Track
This GM has a favorite game they learned years ago, and that is what they run; that’s all they run. They see no need to play any new games when their trusty favorite has never let them down.
- The Good – this GM knows everything about their game and runs it well, creating a great experience when you play.
- The Bad – unless you like only playing one game, playing under this GM can be tiresome after you have started making characters for your 9th 2nd edition D&D campaign.
This GM is there to adjudicate the rules. It’s about running the game as written with the rules given…all of them. They have a strong belief that you play with rules as written.
- The Good – these GM’s know how the game works and run it well, and fair.
- The Bad – the game bogs down in rules discussion and about ‘getting it right’.
For this GM, the rules are a good suggestion, but they can be dumped any time they ‘get in the way’. It’s all about having fun.
- The Good – when this GM runs a game, it flows, and everyone has fun
- The Bad – rules are not consistent, so session to session things seem arbitrary. Also, these groups do not really engage the rules of game and can miss out on parts of the game’s experience.
This GM likes to tinker with the rules of the game. They fix things that are ‘broken’, or extend the game by adding on new rules, creating mini-games, etc.
- The Good – this GM does a good job of expanding the game and making it more exciting through their rules extensions and changes.
- The Bad – this GM creates havoc with their changes, when the new rules break the game, and lead to TPK’s and other hijinx.
GM Know Thy Self
By understanding the different GMs that are part of our style, and how proficient we are in those areas, we can better understand what genres, settings, rules, and groups work best with our style. Through introspection, we can identify things we want to improve and facets we want to eliminate from our style.
What categories apply to you? Which ones are you good at? Which ones would you like to be better at? What kind of GM would you like to become?