Treasure Tables is in reruns from November 1st through December 9th. I’m writing a novel as part of National Novel Writing Month, and there’s no way I can write posts here while retaining my (questionable) sanity. In the meantime, enjoy this post from our archives.
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Here on TT, I use “Game Master” (or more often, GM) to apply to everyone who runs RPGs, even if I’m talking about a specific game that uses a different term (like Referee or Storyteller). It’s the most common, most widely understood term, which makes it a good fit for this site.
But many RPGs change that up, and call their GMs something else entirely — is there any significance to what the GM is called in different RPGs?
Let’s kick off with a list of terms for game master, as seen in a wide range of RPGs.
I pulled most of these terms directly from the 91 excerpts that were posted in How Different RPGs Define the GM’s Role — and in some ways, this post is an expansion on that one, too.
(If you know of a term for GM that isn’t on this list, please mention it in the comments.)
Terms for “Game Master”
Update: Several terms came up in the comments, and I’ve added them to this list (thanks, everyone!).
- AI – Red Dwarf
- Animator – Toon
- Bartender – Tales from the Floating Vagabond
- Chronicler – Witchcraft
- Computer – Paranoia
- Control Man – Hunter Planet
- The Creator – SenZar
- Director – Buffy, the Vampire Slayer
- Dungeon Master – D&D in its many forms
- Excursion Master – Excursion into the Bizarre
- Fate – The World of Synnibar
- Game Ref – Orbit
- Guide – Epic RPG
- Ghostmaster – Ghostbusters
- Gore Master – Dead Meat
- Hollyhock God – Nobilis
- HoLmeister – HoL
- Journey Master – Encounter Critical
- Judge – Many older games
- Keeper of Arcane Lore – Call of Cthulhu
- Lejend Master – Lejendary Adventures
- Moderator – Many games (mainly older ones)
- Narrator – Star Trek, among others
- Ninja Master – Night of the Ninja
- Producer – Primetime Adventures
- Referee – Traveller, among others (many older games)
- Rune Master – RuneQuest
- Sheriff – Deadlands
- Story Guide – The Shadow of Yesterday
- Storyteller – World of Darkness games
- Zombie Master – All Flesh Must be Eaten
Observations (based on my original list)
Here’s what jumps out at me based on this list:
A common variation on GM is one adapts the term to the setting or theme of the game — like Zombie Master for All Flesh Must be Eaten, or the Keeper of Arcane Lore in Call of Cthulhu. I see these mainly as differences in flavor, not in what the GM is supposed to do in those games.
Related to that are games that use a term that not only blends into their theme, but also defines the GM’s role a bit differently — for example, Producer in Primetime Adventures (a game in which you play out TV shows) and Animator in Toon (an RPG about cartoons).
The Producer is in charge of a game of PTA in slightly different ways than a GM is in charge of most other games — for example, the Producer has a fixed budget that’s used to provide opposition for the PCs.
Lastly, and most significantly, some RPGs use their term for GM as a statement of purpose that defines the GM’s role differently in very broad ways — more broadly than, say, Producer or Animator does. Let’s look at a 3 of these individually:
- Storyteller: In keeping with White Wolf’s approach to RPGs, this term places the emphasis on story and distances itself from rules and mechanics (both of which are more strongly implied by Game Master). (Narrator has similar connotations, although it removes some of the control suggested by Storyteller.)
- Referee: This term denotes impartiality, casting the GM (unfortunately) as little more than an arbitrator — there’s not much creativity suggested by this one. (I’d say the same thing goes for Judge and Moderator, too.)
- Fate: Calling the GM “Fate” implies superiority over the players in a way that the term “Master” in “Game Master” doesn’t. This fits pretty well with the overall tone of The World of Synnibar (the only game I know of that uses the term), but it’s a poor choice.
Does the Term Matter?
Personally, I don’t find that a particular game’s term of choice for GM has much impact on how I run that game. If I decided to run an older game that called the GM “Judge” or “Moderator,” for example, I wouldn’t think of my role as different in any way from being a GM in any other games.
I can think of two exceptions, though, based on reading — but never actually running — World of Darkness games (Storyteller) and Primetime Adventures (Producer). In both of those cases, I think of the game differently primarily because of the way its written, the structure of the book(s), the rules and so forth — but also because of the term that’s used in place of Game Master.
What conclusions do you draw from the different terms — and do they really matter to your perception of the game, or how you run it? (And if you know of any terms for GM that aren’t covered on this list, please mention them in the comments.)
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Normally there’d be a discussion going on in the comments below, but due to time constraints I’ve turned off all comments during reruns — sorry about that! You can read the comments on the first-run version of this post, and if you need a GMing discussion fix, why not head on over to our GMing forums?