Don, one of the other GMs in my regular gaming group, is onto something in his latest post, Right Games, Wrong GM:
In taking stock of the games that I am currently (or will be) playing and/or running, a fairly obvious disconnect that I hadn’t realized before struck me: we tend to play the right games but they’re run by the wrong people. That is to say, we run games as a surrogate for playing them.
Wow — I’ve never thought about this, but it’s true. I’ve done this plenty of times, most recently in 2005, when I ran an Eberron campaign in part because I knew I wouldn’t get a chance to play in the setting — GMing a campaign that was set there was the next best thing.
As a GM, I know I find it difficult to run an RPG that I’m not jazzed about. There are times when my players have asked me to run something that I have no interest in, and I think it’s for the best when I say “No” in those cases. I’d rather disappoint them once up front than several times later on down the line, when the game doesn’t live up to their expectations due to my lack of interest.
But what about the middle ground, the games I’m not jazzed about but am also not opposed to GMing? I can see a lot of value in saying, “Sure, let’s give it a shot” in those cases. Food for thought, and something to consider when my group picks our next game.
What do you think of the “Right Game, Wrong GM” phenomenon? Have you experienced it? Has your group ever addressed it explicitly when you’re deciding what to play next?
When I first read the linked post, there was something about the idea which I didn’t like. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but it has just come to me: If a GM is running a game for his players which he himself isn’t excited about, can he still run it so that the players still like it?
If a given GM – who only calls himself a storyteller – likes to only run Vampire but takes it upon himself to run D&D, will he be able to create a high-fantasy epic adventure? Or will the PCs be angst-ridden enemies bound together by mutual terror of the ancient and inscrutable elves who conduct their old game of Machiavellian politics from the tree tops?
You may end up with a good game, but there’s also the chance that the GM’s preferred game ends up pushing through into the selected game. Worse, if the GM has a beef against the selected game, it might end up altered to accommodate him so much that players can no longer enjoy it.
It’s a good idea, but it seems that, as you’ve said Martin, that the group would have to be very careful about getting a game to which the GM has no fundamental objections.
I think this is a really interesting topic, particularly from a kind-of social contract idea. I felt a bit uncomfortable at first reading the article, but then thought about my situation.
I’m running D&D at the moment. I like running D&D. I don’t much like playing in it; I’m not very good at playing in it, and my players seem to enjoy playing it a lot. That makes sense to me; the GMing experience and the playing experience are very different, and I think D&D has a pretty cool GMing (DMing?) experience; it’s well supported, easy to bluff, easy to give the players their kicks.
Come to think of it, there’s probably only about four or five games I wouldn’t volunteer to run (and they’re only there because of my personal experiences or gripes with the system). And if someone in our group brought a new game one week, and really wanted to play it, chances are I’d have a crack at running it.
Part of what shines through on the forums of this site is people taking a real joy out of running games, and the GMing experience. For a lot of games, I’d much rather GM than play. And if I was playing, I’d be thinking about GMing them.
“Itâ€™s a good idea, but it seems that, as youâ€™ve said Martin, that the group would have to be very careful about getting a game to which the GM has no fundamental objections.”
Well, I put some pretty obvious qualifiers on the situation and I in no way advocate running a game that you, the GM, dislike to an extreme even though everyone is hot-and-bothered over it. That’s the first litmus test, I feel.
But I’d wager the vast majority of games (80/20 rule) fall within that grey area of “sure, I’ll play/run it” of being decidedly neutral. This was certainly the case with Martin’s Eberron game; he didn’t want to run the game, it was a surrogate for his playing it. Knowing that ahead of time wouldn’t it have been a better idea for me to run the Eberron game in his stead? I’m pretty sure I’d have the same level of enjoyment running D&D as playing it, perhaps even more with some very engaged players. As it was we had one frustrated player (me) and a frustrated DM (Martin) who didn’t particularly want to run the game.
Looking back at what frustrates me and gaming, it’s not getting to play the games I want to play within the finite amount of playing time available. Instead I end up running them and trying to derive my enjoyment from doing so. It’s not that I dislike playing SOME EXAMPLE GAME it’s just that I’d rather be playing something else…so I run a surrogate in its stead.
No, it’s not a foolproof “theory” (ick!) but I think it’s correct more often than not.
Oh, and Martin’s quote is pretty much my thesis statement; my post does addresses these issues, I feel.
(Abulia) As it was we had one frustrated player (me) and a frustrated DM (Martin) who didnâ€™t particularly want to run the game.
I wouldn’t say that I didn’t particularly want to run the game. I’d rather have been playing, yes, but just running it was still an attractive option, despite being my second choice.
I don’t think I’ve come across this problem. Every game I own I’ve had a keen interest as a player and as a GM to run. I know that some games I would prefer to play as a player, but GMing is just as fun for me for the system.
My current problem though is that I have a lot of games that my players absolutely have no interest in playing. We play D&D and we play only one kind of D&D (traditional swords and sorcery) so even campaigns like Iron Kingdoms and Eberron are out the door much less other RPGs like GURPS, HARP, Warhammer FRP, or Hero System that I’d like to run as well.
In the past, I was the only person in my group who GM’ed regularly. So all the games I ran, were more about me wanting to play them than run them. The only way we got to play some of those games was because I offered to run them. In several cases, that worked out very well. Other times the campaign died in several sessions due to lack of player interest.
Only once did I run something that was asked of me by the players. It was the late 90’s and the game was Vampire. One of my players asked me one night about starting a Vampire game up, and after thinking about it, I thought I could do it. The game ran for 2 years.
Over time several of the members of my group have branched out into GMing. I would say that all of us have been guilty of running the game that we want to play, more than run. I was a much bigger fan of Iron Heroes than my players, who I recruited for the game. Lucky for me, they became more interested in the game as we got to playing, but I had to do a lot of leg work for the player’s interest to reach the same level as me.
I have a stack of games that I would love to play in. At the same time, there are games that I look at and find the setting or rules to be interesting to run. I would say that something like Burning Empires, I would like to run more than play.
After reading this article, I will have to consider carefully the difference between what I want to play in vs. what I want to run.
I won’t run a game that I myself don’t want to play. It just seems silly to me to take on the work of being a GM only to run a game that I wouldn’t bother playing.
I think this does touch upon the tendency of many groups to forget that the GM likes to play RPGs too. Right now I have a good group with more than one capable GM. Rotating that job is a great way to keep your GMs happy and to avoid GM burnout.
But now I am thinking I will talk with the other GMs and ask that we each take a turn running the games that we usually play, so that each of us can have a chance to play in the games we usually GM. Maybe that will make our sessions more fun for everyone involved.
One obstacle I’ve come up against in GMing a game I’d love to be playing is that I can have problems creating stories for my players. By that, I mean I can have trouble giving the players what they want when it conflicts with what I would want as a player. This is a general problem in GMing, but I think it can get squared when also dealing with a game you’d love to be playing.
I think I’m going to hit this problem very, very soon. I’m in the process of creating a game for some family members interested in a certain AnimÃ© set in the world of an irritating yet lovable ninja (all I’ll say), and I would very much love to play in this game. The problem, unfortunately, is that the system best suited to running the game is a system that only I know intimately enough to run, and my parents simply don’t have the time to pick it up. I think that on the positive side, however, I’m rather familiar with the world and it lends itself to anything and everything being possible, so the possible outcomes are practically limitless, as long as I stay within in the genre.
Interesting idea. Hollywood makes movies that the producers and directors (and to a lesser extent, the actors) would like to see. These are not necessarily the movies we wish to see (see: “Sum of All Fears” book vs. movie).
Applying this on a much smaller scale to gaming is a novel approach, and I’m not sure what to do with it. I do know that I’m a much better GM when I’m really into the game I’m running. And I do know that I have a better player experience when the GM is really into the game.
So perhaps it’s not that bad a situation, after all… (Hollywood, on the other hand, had better fix it’s cranial-anal inversion.)
The OP doesn’t seem to apply to me personally. It might to some of the other people in our group, though.
Me, I’ve got very definite ideas about what I enjoy running. It’s those kind of games or nothing. (I’ve analyzed the 80/20 of my personal tastes, and enthusiastically limited myself to the 20% of games/campaigns that contains the vast majority of the fun that I derive from running a game.)
When I’m playing, however, I’m easy. I don’t even really have a particular thing that I’m keen to play. Perhaps it’s because I’ve had so little playing time compared to running that any play is still novel and fresh to me.