GM as Writer
…and then the elephant said, Not with my trunk, you dont!
A good GM also acts as writer, whether he has written the stories himself or not. The situation is similar to a playwright who has created a script, yet has to endure the directors differing interpretation, the casting director’s questionable role assignments, and the actor’ mediocre performances. The end result of all this is often quite different from what the writer had in mind originally, but given good people, the resulting play can be greater than its original manuscript.
As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. (Proverbs 27:17)
Writing a game scenario is different than writing a book or a play. The characters involved get to change the script as they go. It’s similar to improvisational theatre, in which the actors are (sometimes) given a topic, and they develop their own characters and plot as they go.
A GM can start with a great story, but what happens when the players don’t do what the GM expects? The GM has the choice of giving the players complete freedom to do what they want and go where they want, or of railroading the players onto a predetermined path. Or, of course, something in between.
A good GM finds the compromise that best suits his players and himself. This is not always easy to do.
Some GMs are great at improvising as they go. I’ve played with some GMs who can craft a wonderful story, and always seem to have the answer to what happens next, with only ten minutes to prepare (“We need to you GM tonight.” “Oh, okay.”)
But not all GMs have the gift of quick thinking. Some rely on fluid scripting. For example, a GM might set up a crossroads for the characters, and want them to take the left fork so that they will gain the ally they need before they take the right fork to battle the enemy. But then the players insist on taking the right fork, so the GM ensures that the ally just happens to be traveling the right fork on the way to battle the enemy anyway, and the party is fortified even though they did not do what the GM expected.
Example: In my Star Hero game, the heroes got caught in a hyperspace whirlpool, and got transported to a universe where magic works. There was a planet right in front of them when they emerged into the new dimension. As I had planned it, the planet was the inadvertent cause of the vortex, because it was drawing magical energy from hyperspace.
My players found it odd that a planet was right there, and debated whether or not to explore it so they could possibly find a way back to their own universe. Eventually, they decided that even if they decided to go somewhere else to explore, whichever planet they landed on would end up being this Planet X which was in front of them, so they decided to land after all.
I was relieved that they decided to land on it, since logically, no other planet would have been causing the whirlpool. I was a little insulted being thought of as a railroader, and if they had gone elsewhere, I would’ve had to probably postpone the session, since I had nothing else planned. But it all worked out in the end.
As a writer, a good GM needs to tailor the game to the players interests. By plotting a script that everyone wants to be a part of, it becomes much easier to keep the players following “their part of the script.”
Dave barely touched on the many writerly jobs the GM performs. Creating the plot is the cornerstone, of course, but there are characters to be developed and a world to build as well. In what other ways do the skills of a writer transfer to the craft of Game Mastery?
This article was originally published in The Way, the Truth, & the Dice. Due to the original article’s length, it is being serialized for this format.