My friend Don is really passionate about making characters — he pours a ton of detail into their backgrounds, and spends hours getting the mechanical details just right (or at least, that’s how he’s done it as long as I’ve known him).

When you run a game, your players’ characters are their primary investment in the game world — their single largest contribution to the shared setting, and to the overall story.

Conversely, as the GM you make a host of contributions to the game world and to the game itself, from small stuff like descriptive details all the way up to the real macro-level stuff, like writing adventures.

Thinking about Don’s passion for character creation, what hit me was that this disparity bears a striking similarity to the difference between expansive and focused campaign settings.

Like a focused campaign, a PC will often be created to fully explore one or two things in the game — aspects of that character’s personality or background, specific elements of the world, themes or other emotional stuff or even specialized mechanical abilities. And like a focused setting, PCs become richer as their players mine the depths of whatever interests them most about their characters and about the game.

On the flipside, your contributions to the game as a GM look a lot like an expansive setting: they’re broad, cover lots of ground, run the gamut from small to large in terms of their importance and, of necessity, come out wide and shallow. That’s not to say that you can’t explore things in depth, too, but it’s a lot less likely simply by virtue of the fact that you have your fingers in so many parts of the pie at once.

Much like my comparison between focused and expansive settings, I’m not sure what to do with this analogy — but I thought the idea might be useful in some way, so I figured I’d share it with you. What do you make of it?