With D&D‘s rise in popularity and becoming more mainstream, the need for good game masters rises as well. Are we at the dawn of the professional game masters? What should we expect from such a professional?
Roleplaying games have never been as popular as they are today and D&D 5E is a monster that dominates the field. There are many mainstream TV shows where kids and teenagers are shown playing roleplaying games, which have in turn sparked interest among thousands of people, eager to learn more about this great hobby. Young roleplayers growing up today have access to myriads of podcasts, websites, blogs and online shows where experienced and applauded game masters show off their storytelling skills.
Growing up, I had only access to a few magazines, Dragon, Dungeon and White Dwarf to name a few, where roleplaying games were discussed and promoted. But even here in Iceland, we had celebrity game masters. People who were legends among the roleplaying community and who’s table tended to get full at every tournament soon as the registration opened.
Still, back then, people laughed at the idea of game mastering being a profession and even made fun of those few who mentioned it. Few years ago, a friend of mine offered to run games for groups in an open Facebook group and got called names and ridiculed for bringing it up. However, things have changed.
More players per game master
There are more roleplayers today than have ever been before. The player’s rise in numbers have, at least here in Iceland, not been backed by a similar rise in numbers of game masters. I see more and more people post in the Icelandic roleplaying community groups on Facebook and other social media, looking for a group. It’s getting harder and harder each day to find a group with a good game master.
Many of these new player also enter the game with high expectations, having seen star game masters like Matthew Mercer, Chris Perkins and Satine Phoenix, and it can be quite hard for a new game master to meet these expectations.
The need for professional game masters
In an environment like this, where the number of players increases far faster than the number of game masters, the need for each game master to host more game rises. Last winter I hosted 2 games a week, and it took a great deal of my spare time. All the preparations; drawing maps, creating monsters and villains, not to mention creating an epic story for the players; is usually way much more than meets the players’ eyes, and that’s despite more than two-decade experience as a game master.
Still, I get posts every now and then where I’m asked to host a game and that the players or those who are planning the game are even willing to pay me game mastering, even handsomely. Still, I have declined these offers, since I grew up thinking the idea of someone hosting a game strange and alien, to say the least.
However, reflecting on how much time I spent just last winter preparing games and all the effort I put in them, why shouldn’t I ask for some monetary payment? This is, at time, hard work, although it is fun and something I gladly do.
What to expect from a professional game master?
So, this has got me thinking. What would I expect from a professional game master? I think, in relations with the high expectations all the Critical Roles and Acquisition Incorporated shows have created, it is necessary for a professional game master to ensure what her players can expect from her.
Perhaps the single most important thing from the perspective of the professional game master is housing. Is the game masters supposed to host the game at her own house or make arrangements for the game? Hosting a game is always problematic, you need to make sure there’s amble room for every participant, not to mention clean up before and after the game.
Props and miniatures
Many players feel more immersed in games if there are props and miniatures. Props could be something as simple as a game master‘s hat and as complex handcrafted puzzles and handouts. Miniatures are almost a necessity in games like D&D. If the game master is bringing all of these, even from her personal stock, this should be noted.
Is the game master bringing pre-made characters? It takes time to create these and, if requested, to tailor them to suit the needs of every individual player. Even though you can find a stock of pre-made characters online, you still need to find them and make sure they fit the story.
Is the module that the game master is going to run home-made or pre-made? In cases of pre-made modules, the game master needs to read through the module and make sure that she has it all figured out. This can take some time, though it is probably for most game masters not as time consuming as writing your own module.
Many game masters enter games with an outline of a story in their head and go with the flow of the player characters. Other game masters show up with everything noted down, almost to every detail, and run their stories. Most game masters are, however, somewhere in between. They are ready to go with the flow and make sure their story comes across.
However, each game has a certain style. You have those are focused on roleplaying where the game master voice acts almost every npc, the games where the focus is more on combat and strategy side of things and, of course, everything in between. A professional game master needs to consider what kind of gaming style the group is looking for and prepare for this.
Game Master – a Profession
Back in the ages we had people gather around a fire and listen to a master storyteller. Often, great story tellers were sought out, some even earned fame and gained elevated status. The bards and sages of bygone times have turned into musicians and authors of today. But perhaps, we can see the game masters as a new kind of a modern storyteller, as someone who has learned a certain set of skills and mastered it. Many musicians and authors have turned their hobby into a profession. And why shouldn’t great game masters as well?
I think that this is inevitable.