Wednesday, April 20, 2016

How Much Power Does the GM Have?

As the GM you have a lot of power. As a player, a GM can seem to have almost absolute power over a game. However, you might be surprised to realize that the GM's position is actually fairly fragile and their power quite limited. So how much power does a GM have? Today, I want to talk about just that.

Woodchucks Chucking Wood
First, to not dick around, the answer to the question about how much power a GM has is simple: the GM has as much power as you give them. You in this case is a collective term for the whole group, but that doesn't make it any less true. RPG groups, the game at the table, runs on a social contract. From that contract the GM has only as much power as the group is willing to give them.

Don't believe me? Let me ask you this. How many games have you seen ruined because the PCs decided they wanted a different game than what the GM was running?

I've seen gritty war stories become slapstick comedies. I've seen epic fantasy become little more than a murder hobo loot fest. My personal favorite is the group who, after the GM more or less forced the group into Dark Heresy, decided to make the Scooby Doo gang. In that last one the GM didn't realize what happened until the PCs tried to unmask the Slaaneshi demon they had caught. The game ended shortly after.

If The GM Gets Power From The Players...
then how does it work? Well, it boils down to trust. Simply put, your group either trusts the GM to run the game 'right' or they don't. If they don't trust the GM the game may continue on, but it won't be as good. When trust is broken, games get a lot worse. People don't invest into their characters. They still play, but they're just going through the motions.

In The End
Everyone is equal at the table. Yes, people have different responsibilities, and those responsibilities are not evenly distributed. The GM gets the lion's share of the power to go along with the lion's share of the responsibilities. However, the power comes after the trust which can't start until some of the responsibility has been fulfilled - assuming there is no prior relationships to build on.

The power doesn't stay with the GM though. At any time a player can 'take' their power back. This usually ends up in a disruptive fashion. The player takes actions that seem to dare the GM to do something. They try to inject themselves in places they're not. They start distracting actions when not the focus. Most of the signs of dissatisfaction in a player are, in a sense, them taking their power back for that moment.

What Does That Mean?
Simply put, as a player you need to trust your GM. If they're lording power over you, take it back. But if you find one you can trust, give it to them and let the game be great. Be prepared to let that trust ride out too. Even if a part of the game isn't going great for you, trust the GM to either get to you, or make it right when told. Work to maintain the trust.

As a GM do not violate the trust of your players. This doesn't mean you have to be a saint. Accidents happen. However, don't take actions that break the trust of your group. Don't fight your players on key points. Don't let out of character crap get in the way.of a good game. If a player brings a concern to you take it seriously, and try to find the core issue not just the one they identified.

RPGs work best with the GM having not just power, but the trust that should go with it. Use the power responsibly, or you risk losing it.

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