I was reading Phil’s article when it occurred to me that there was one “leader” missing in his analysis: the Host. The Host wields a lot of power at the gaming table and she isn’t necessarily the Game Master; heck, she may not even be a player. The Host is simply the person providing the gaming space for the session.
Game Masters often like to think that they’re the ones with the ultimate control, but the Host, if they aren’t one and the same, can often trump GMs. The Host is in control of the following things:
The session time. The Host ultimately determines when and how long a gaming session can last. The GM only has as much control as the Host allows. For example, if the Host wants the session to end at 10pm so she can close the gaming store, then the GM will need to ask permission to keep the game running a few minutes longer.
Cancellations. The Host has her own life as well and when she can’t play the space isn’t available. In some cases this means the session needs to be cancelled; in some groups the game may simply be moved to a different venue.
What game is played. The Host has her preferences and these can trump a GM’s wishes. As noted in Scott’s article and comments, if the Host is a game store then the owner may only want current (and therefore purchasable) games being played. If a Host just isn’t into superhero games then the GM isn’t going to be able to run a superhero campaign no matter how many other people are interested.
The Host needs to be happy. Sometimes playing a game the Host likes isn’t enough. If the Host isn’t having fun, the group may find itself with more session cancellations than usual or even receive an ultimatum from the Host to wrap the current campaign up so they can move onto something more fun.
Who can play. Yes, I’ve been in situations where one person, for whatever reason, can’t be part of a group if it’s held at the Host’s place. It could be an ex-SO, an ex-con, or even someone who was caught with sticky fingers one too many times at the game store. It’s also possible for a formerly welcome player to be banned if she does something that upsets the Host.
Food and atmosphere. I’ve played in kosher homes where “outside food” was tightly regulated. I’ve also played in houses with “no cursing and swearing” rules due to the Host’s children being around. In some cases, the Host may wish to provide food and drinks or order from particular places. Whether alcoholic beverages may be consumed during a game is also the purview of the Host.
Point of Contact. Whilst our technologically savvy society has mitigated this somewhat, there are still times when players inform the Host if they can’t make it for a session and the GM isn’t informed until she walks into the Host’s home.
Given that many gaming groups are composed of old friends that have gamed together for years, it’s often easy to forget about the Host’s influence (if she isn’t also the GM). That said it’s important to remember the Host’s role and influence in shaping a campaign – some of the issues that may crop up may be over something that the GM has no control.
Have you ever had a GM-Host conflict that caused issues for your group? Is a Host (that’s not the GM) a boon for your group? Have you ever left a game over the Host that you would have otherwise continued to play in?
Really Walt?! An article about keeping the host happy?! It’s about as important as an article detailing washing your hands after going to the bathroom and before touching the dice.
Like you, Walt, I’ve noticed that the host has a lot of influence on the shape of a game session. Their influence is often felt well beyond the boundaries of the game–at the gaming charter or social contract level.
It can be a little quirky when you have a GM who is not the host. As your examples show, players might look to two different people for what’s acceptable. It’s interesting, because so many behaviors are set when we’re teens–so even when the game is at our house, our parents might be the “real host”.
Who washes their hands after hitting the head, really?
It is fairly common for our game to be hosted by the various folks due to work schedules of significant others, or in one case the cleanliness of place was a bit questionable. Because one of the players doesn’t drive, that plays into where we game.
I believe the joke goes like this:
Tom notices Bob has left the restroom without washing his hands and decides to publicly shame him. Once they’re out in public, Tom raises his voice:
Tom: Hey Bob! My mom taught me to always wash my hands before I leave the bathroom. Guess your mom didn’t do the same.
Bob: Nah. My mom taught me to not piss all over my hands.
You must also keep the host’s spouse happy, if they have one.