What are the Roles of the Master?

A short while ago Larp Musing linked to Mailed Fist’s post on ‘What is Roleplaying?‘, and is there something, that many a roleplayer has a strong opinion of or can debate endlessly about, then it is the question “what is roleplaying?”. Usually I prefer the simple explanation, that roleplaying is a medium akin to theater, literature, movies etc., and that we can tell stories with it, and that roleplaying can be art, just as books, movies, and comics can be art.

Now Donjon Master at Mailed Fist wants to give a description of what roleplaying at the table is, and he focuses on the process of the interaction between GM and player, a perspective which is addressed by Larp Musing, as the many of the assignments handled by the GM at the table are absent in larps – at least in the particular role described by Donjon Master at Mailed Fist.

Right now I am prepping the games I will be playing at upcoming roleplaying convention, Fastaval, during Easter, and the different scenarios requires different approaches to how I will be game mastering. Each scenario assigns specific jobs for the GM, ans these do not quite match those Donjon Master describes. Before dealing with the roles of the GM in the four scenarios, I will briefly present the scenarios.

The Four Things I Will Be Game Mastering This Easter

Ikea

A low key comedy about everyday life, where we follow four pairs of people (chosen from some 11 different pairs) shopping in Ikea. Ikea in this sense acts as a frame for each pair’s problems. Each pair consist of one A-role and one B-role, and each player will be playing an A-role in one pair and a B-role in one another pair, and the action shifts between the four pairs, and during the intermezzos the players through their characters acts as extras commenting of the story of the other players. As a part of the scene-setting the players use an actual Ikea-catalogue.

Leaves of Fate

This story takes place in 1901 just after the death of a noble woman, and we follow her four heirs – the husband, the lover, the son and the sister – and they are a unpleasent bunch, but from beyond her grave she gives them a chance to redeem themselves, thus winning the inheritance, but this require them to admit their crime against her and to strive to better themselves. The communication is handled through an actual ouija-board used as a mechanic in the game, and the players through their characters ask questions and constructs answers to shape the story.

A Heart of Metal

A metal-version of the opera Tannhäuser, where we follow the metal-pot Granhøj, his muse, his girlfriend and his rival. He is struggling to succeed as an artist. The curious thing in this one is,t hat the roles rotate among the players at the command of the GM, and that the scenes can be done over again and again from different perspectives.

The scenario is accompanied by a metal soundtrack.

Scrapbook

A woman is lost in her fantasy of the ideal life. The story begins and ends with her kidnapping of a small child and her hiding at a motel. In between the events that drove her to insanity are played out with the players using a scrapbook. Scenes switch between rosy red and dull grey, as they are either her dream life, where things are good, or her real life, where things are not as good. The game moves in a non-linear fashion through the events switching between her fantasy-version, that can constantly be retold, as it is only something she imagines, and reality, that can only be played once, since harsh reality is not malleable.

Game Mastering

Common for all four scenarios, that I will be running:

  • Begin with instructing the players as to how the game is played
  • Demonstrate the rules
  • Establish the genre.

Ikea

  • Pacing and cutting the scenes between the four pairs
  • Leave the scene-setting to the players
  • if a scene is loosing momentum, then introduce the other players playing minor characters

Leaves of Fate

  • Have the players describe location and mood. Do this by asking leading questions to the players during the scenes
  • Set the scenes, once the players have briefly established the situation
  • Play the extras (the priest, the lawyer, the staff) – they are only present briefly at the start
  • Explain the players the general events in each act and scene
  • Assist at the Ouija-board, especially if the players are out of ideas

Scrapbook

  • Frame the Monologue
  • Set the first scene
  • Have the players set the next scenes
  • Frame the Epilogue
  • Play extras if needed

A Heart of Metal

  • Set the scenes, describe the setting
  • Reframe and re-set the scenes
  • Rotate the characters between the players
  • Change the music from scene to scene

Now comparing this to Donjon Masters presentation of the game master’s functions, there are some interesting differences. Only in A Heart of Metal will I be describing the characters’ perception of the situation. Mostly the players will not be describing to me as the GM, what they are doing. Instead they will act out or describe to each other, what their characters are doing, and finally I will in general just nod and say yes to the players’ choices. The scenarios are all structured freeform, and thus there will be no mechanic to determine the outcome, and at most I will be final arbitrator, if there is any doubt as to what is going to happen.

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About Morten Greis

Historiker, etnolog, brygger, fægter, rollespiller, science fiction entusiast History and Ethnology, brewer and fencer, roleplayer and science fiction enthusiast View all posts by Morten Greis

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