Have you ever run a game because no one else will?

I know I’ve done this in the past, and probably will again — and I’d be willing to bet you’ve done the same thing at least once. Why does this happen?

You probably know the feeling: everyone wants to game, but no one wants to GM — and even though “everyone” includes you, and maybe the work that goes into GMing sounds more like work and less like fun, you wind up running a game anyway.

For me, the reason why seems to boil down to one thing: because everyone knows that if no one else will run a game, you will. You’re the GM by default.

That’s not always made explicit (though it sometimes is), and in fact I think it often happens without anyone noticing that it’s taking place. It’s also not the only reason — there are others, like the fact that there are more players out there than GMs, or that no one else has enough time to run a game, or “because you have all the books” — but this it is the reason that stands out the most to me.

Back in high school, I did a lot of gaming with the same group of five or six people, and four of us had experience GMing. And yet, for years Stephan (who I mentioned in my last post, “How Did You Learn to GM?“) GMed much more often than any of the rest of us.

This was partly because he was very good at it, and we all consistently had a good time in his games. But there were times when it came down to the the fact that unless Stephan was really insistent about it, we all knew he’d eventually wear down and run something. (It’s happened since then, too, with other groups, which is why I don’t view this as an isolated case — it’s just a good example.)

I think that a lot of GMs started out as GMs, rather than as players — and once you’re in those shoes, it can be hard to get out of them. Not that they’re bad shoes: if they were, no one would want to run games at all! But I know that for me, at least, when I’ve joined a group as a player and the person who was GMing at that time “steps down” after a while, it’s hard for me not to think of them as still being the GM — the authority of that role carries on, in some way. And by the same token, because I GM much more often than I play, when I do play it can be hard for me to adjust to not running the show.

That’s my take on how one becomes the default GM, but I’m sure there’s more to it than that. What kind of experiences have you had with this, either as a GM or as a player?