Sunday, November 28, 2010

On Gamesmastering and World Weaving

There is a distinction I would like to make between Gamesmastering and World Weaving. How one would Gamesmaster a scene happens to be based on a set of skills that are completely different than what it takes to World Weave one. I am thinking that this distinction I have not discussed here yet and so I’d like to take a moment to bring the topic to light. I will start with World Weaving.

First, a clear definition of World Weaving would be the right place to start, so here it goes. World Weaving is the act of creating the background material for an RPG World, and it is very much like authoring a fictional story. It can, and usually does, incorporate historical backdrop, sociology, economics, politics and principal characters of the story and how they relate to one another and what their position in the World is. What skills go into World Weaving? Well, principally the same ones that go into story writing. An understanding of the above topics is a good place to start. It also requires creativity and probably good writing skills. I also include artwork and photography as part of my own World Weaving. And I read a great deal of classical literature and mythology to inspire my back-stories and non-player characters.  I’m not sure what else, but that’s a fair enough summary of the basics.

Gamesmastering, on the other hand, is a different thing all together and has to do with all of the activities that go toward running an RPG. A Gamesmaster need not be a World Weaver as he can use someone else’s World, such as the modules put out by TSR which comprised someone else’s World Weaving. But Gamesmastering is certainly an art unto itself. What skills are required? Well again, creativity is required, but of a different sort. In this case improvisational acting and a sense of plot development are good and necessary skills. A thorough understanding of the rules, and the ability to handle whatever mathematics are required is a must.  And the ability to manage a group of people with potentially conflicting interests, objectives, desires and personalities through the game experience is a great asset to Gamesmasters. That can be more challenging than it sounds. Keeping a RPG going over a period of time is in and of itself a major achievement.

In other words, Gamesmastering and World Weaving are two separate things, requiring different sets of skills, and it is possible, and not uncommon, that a person can be quite good at one, but not so good at the other.  Those Gamesmasters who can do both well are not very common in my experience, though I have met a few.

It takes quite a bit of creativity to be a good Gamesmaster, and quite a bit more to be a good World Weaver.   And despite the fact that both require unique skills, when the two abilities are found in one Gamesmaster, that person has the potential to run a truly Literary Quality World... if they also happen to focus on that aspect as well.  Which of course is yet another tier of mastery to be achieved.

When I started Gamemastering in 1978 no one said it was going to be an easy skill to master.  Indeed, it is not. However, for those who do master the various skills necessary for Great Gamesmastering, it is a tremendously rewarding experience.   I encourage Gamemasters to work hard at the art, and develop their skills.  One day those skills will come in very handy, I think, in the new art form that is bound to take a central place in the world of entertainment.   It will take time, and there are a number of tools that are still required to make the art form flourish, but they are being worked on, and in due time things will piece together it we will one day find that the greatest art form of all is that of a truly great Gamesmaster.

I'll try to follow up on exactly what I mean by that over time.

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