Wednesday, September 27, 2006

On the proper dispostion of the Gamesmaster

I offer this as a draft for consideration. The first part is taken from my post to the LRPGSW tonight. I repost it here along with a subsequent chat I had on IRC about the topic with Sidhain on MagicStar.

I had a minor epiphany during dinner at the cobblestone tonight (this will serve in lue of meeting notes as no one showed tonight, and thus, it was not a "meeting"), if epiphany can be considered the right word in this context. Perhaps insight would be better, actually. In any case I was trying to visualize what makes a Great Gamesmaster. What qualities are involved. And I had a vision of the wise and benevolent king, he who cares about all his creation, regardless of whether or not it is the Player Characters or the Monsters or the River of Destiny, or the township of Saptar. All things in his World are beloved by the Gamesmaster because they are, in some sense, his children, or the children of his mind. The proper attitude is to have some sense of concern for all things in the World, and possibly, in not impossible, equally.

What made me think of this was the rendition of "The Iliad" that I happen to be listening to on my way around in my car lately. I'm on in Chapter IV and listening to the debates and the behavior of Zeus and the other Immortals of Olympus. How fascinating it is! There is Zeus, most powerful of them all by far, on his Throne as King and Lord of the Gods, and he is negotiating with them over the fates of the Trojans and Achaeans. Hera, Zeus' wife, has her own mind about things, and her emotions are as vibrant and her determination as strong as the archetypal Wife. In fact this is what she is. The Archetype of Queen. With her is Athena, the Warlike Princess of the Royal Family. And so on. All arguing over who gets their way, and what they are willing to bargain. And at stake is one thing only: The Honor of the Gods. They each vie for honor amongst one another, and one must also presume, among all the celestial beings of whom they are but a mere part. Beneath them are the Titans, safely (or perhaps not so safely) imprisoned in Tarturus. The Norse Universe is even a better illustration of the point, so I will switch viewpoints to them (thinking as I do that the various cultural Deities are analogs of one another at certain levels, and so many things that apply to one may apply to the others). There the Gods have similar impulses, and similar, what we might be tempted to call, human feelings. Pride, desire for honor, courage, and worthiness are all their concerns. And to whom does their reputation apply but to their peers? Not to man, surely, who is far beneath them. Not to the fallen who are below them. But rather to those who, like all tribes of the ancient world must have felt, to their peers - those who are strong enough to overthrow them. We do not hear much of their peers, but we see examples of what they too must have feared - the conquering of the more ancient Gods (in the case of the Greek Olympians, the conquest of their parents generation, the Titans), or the Giants, or the Monsters of the Deep (the Midgard Serpent), or the Monsters of the Earth (Fenris), and so on. The majesty and the aura of Honor and Power are important to the Gods. From our point of view they may seem well situated on their High Thrones, but we are mere mortals and no threat to the Mighty Ones. However, the Giants are a threat. In the Norse Mythological conception the Gods await the fulfillment of Ragnarok, when the Giants, and the demon of Fire, and Fenris, and the Serpent of Midgard will all unite in one final cataclysmic battle and destroy the Gods, one and all. All of which is of interest from the Gamesmaster's point of view I think.

We are the creators of our worlds, and as Tolkien and the other Inklings believed, we are a kind of Sub-Creators to the Creation in which we live day-to-day. While the world around is Real, we in our minds create, as best we are able, Worlds which are of the mind. And in these Worlds we cast our imagination and weave histories and races and engrave the best ideas we can. Into these Worlds we thrust our hapless Players, hoping against hope that they will grip the World with two hands, realize their chance for greatness, and play well, snatching victory from the jaws of defeat and exploring the domains which we've placed before them with interest and, if we are fortunate and gifted, with awe.

So what is the proper disposition of the Gamesmaster? He or she who runs the World? I go back to this idea of the wise and benevolent King or Queen. Why wise? Because it is the World Weaver / Gamesmaster who really knows what is going on in their World. No one else knows so well. And so the Gamesmaster is by virtue of this, wise. Or I should say to the degree they do *know* their World, are they wise. Benevolent? Well, not all Gamesmasters behave benevolently, it must be said, but I am contemplating the Proper disposition, and not the exceptions. So benevolence is an attitude of caring about the World. Perhaps it is also caring about the Story. Does the rescue of the Princess from the Dragon really lead to the Hero marrying and begetting a new generation of heroes who will wage war against the enemies of the Kingdom? That flow of the game is important, the depth is important, and the concern of the Gamesmaster to produce these things is equally, and fundamentally important. And why is it I see the Gamesmaster as King? Because in the same way that Zeus is King, the Gamesmaster should be taking the side of the Gods in his World (or God, if he is playing a World based on Judeo-Christian belief), and contemplate things from that perspective. In fact, what we see in the Iliad is that the Gods, unannounced to the Heroes, play a fervently active role in their affairs. The heroes we can imagine have scarcely much clue as to the true extent of the involvement of the Gods, for all they see is a darkness cover one hero here, and a spear missing its mark there, and a streak in the sky from a comet there. These are all portents of the Gods, but in the Iliad we see just how these Gods think and act, and just how direct is their involvement, and what their motivations are. And the Gamesmaster should, in the best of Worlds, be able to take this view as well, and place himself in the Halls of the Gods and hear the debates and swiftly act on them, as the Gods do.

This is something few Gamesmasters train themselves to do, I think, though we all must to some (varying) degree. And many Worlds have demonstrated the will of the Deities through innumerable deeds and effects within the Worlds. So it is not to say it is not done, but rather it is to say that the depth to which we can do this can serve as a benchmark for how well crafted our Worlds really are. A measure by which we can judge our Worlds and a vision by which we can aspire to greater World Weaving and Gamesmastering.

This is from a Chat tonight on IRC Magicstar network:

Session Start: Wed Sep 27 22:18:51 2006
Session Ident: #rpgchat

... [snip] ...

[22:29:47] [AspXor] Message 633 -- my latest LRPGSW post

[22:30:13] [Sidhain] Yeah..the list is members read only ;/

[22:30:22] [AspXor] oh darn

[22:30:24] [Sidhain] Isn't it?

[22:30:25] [AspXor] hold on
[22:30:26] [AspXor] no
[22:30:29] [AspXor] I don't think os

[22:30:31] [Sidhain] No it comes up NM.

[22:30:34] [AspXor] I think you can read it
[22:30:36] [AspXor] :)
[22:30:37] [AspXor] ok

[22:33:37] [Sidhain] Yeah.
[22:33:45] [Sidhain] I'm not sure if I by the supposition.

[22:33:58] [AspXor] yeah, well its a thought

[22:33:58] [Sidhain] I think the players are as much a part of the world in its creation as the GM.

[22:34:15] [Sidhain] I think my gaming is more like a democracy with a focused elected prime minister.

[22:35:28] [AspXor] This is another option, indeed. My vision of the Wise Benevolent King is something that I find interesting. I'm not sure if it really makes the grade. But somehow it appeals to me.

[22:36:49] [AspXor] I see the GM as smiling benignly when the Characters do this and that. Concern crosses his brow when things go ill for them, but equally so when they go ill for the monsters. His viewpoint is magnanimous toward all.

[22:37:10] [AspXor] Its kind of a vision I had of that sort of GM.
[22:37:20] [AspXor] I thought "cool - that's got dignity"
[22:37:23] [AspXor] and so I liked it.

[22:37:32] [Sidhain] Hrms.

[22:37:40] [AspXor] no good huh?

[22:37:43] [Sidhain] I just don't fit that the way I run things.

[22:37:55] [AspXor] Yehah
[22:38:04] [AspXor] I don't think it fits much
[22:38:08] [AspXor] with how I do either

[22:38:09] [Sidhain] I root for the pc's. I don't root for the monsters. I delight in them confounding the heroes but its more--aha they'll get him

[22:38:14] [Sidhain] and when they do it will be sweeter.

[22:38:23] [AspXor] I'm trying to fight that tendency in myself
[22:38:40] [AspXor] Its a very strong impulse with me too

[22:39:24] [AspXor] but the best GMs Ive played with to date have taken a less pro-PC attitude and I wound up, after the frustation, realising they have more exciting worlds - you FEEL the danger with them in a way that makes a difference I felt.
[22:39:38] [AspXor] But then I struck on this alternate model of the Benign Wise GM

[22:39:47] [AspXor] and somehow I almost like that even better
[22:39:51] [AspXor] though I've never seen it done
[22:39:56] [AspXor] right now it's just a theory

[22:40:00] [Sidhain] Well I know my players tend to be hapy.
[22:40:02] [Sidhain] So..

[22:40:07] [AspXor] yeah
[22:40:10] [AspXor] mine too

[22:40:38] [AspXor] I'm looking to improve the game - not that they are clamering for changes but I like to think outside of my own box

[22:40:52] [AspXor] advance advance advance
[22:41:02] [AspXor] ... rest ...
[22:41:03] [AspXor] :)

[22:41:34] [AspXor] I'm not saying this idea will work, though. I'm going to see about trying it and see how it feels.

[22:41:37] [Sidhain] Good idea.
[22:41:44] [Sidhain] I'm heading off to sleep.

[22:41:51] [AspXor] ok Sidhain, have a good rest

[22:41:54] [Sidhain] Peace.

[22:41:57] [AspXor] you too

[22:43:40] [AspXor] ok well, I guess I'll head out too then. Good night all.

[22:43:48] * Disconnected
Session Close: Wed Sep 27 22:43:52 2006
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