Similar but not the same…

I may be running vaguely parallel to the other bloke here, in still discussing GMing games. Given that I’m writing about RPGs, there’s a limited field here. So, GMing, the art of running a role-playing game for the enjoyment and satisfaction of your group. Ok, there are a hell of a lot of RPGs, lots of different genres, approaches etc (another article there, methinks), but surely how GMs work is basically the same. If you think of one as a football referee, for an analogy, he keeps the game running, and tries to make sure everything works out. It’s not a brilliant analogy, and where it falls down is that there are several different types of GM.
My usual method is basically a whole world one – I put the group in a situation, detail their world, and let them go. You have to be adaptable to do this, because if the group are awkward, they can end up nowhere near where you thought they’d be. It can be a lot of fun, but it can also go badly wrong. The group may push off in the wrong direction, and get mired down in all sorts of situations they cannot and were not meant to handle.
The polar opposite to this is the linear GM. His game is a series of bits, encounters, that the group progress in the correct order. They go to location A, where they find clue B, which leads them to person C.I’m sounding like I’m not a fan of this, but it can be a lot of fun. The problem is, what do you do with awkward gamers? I was once at a session, where the GM set the adventure up. A friend of mine refused to do the job for the fee, saying their character was worth more. The GM refused to pay more, and my friend said, sorry,bye.
There are other variations – there’s the GM who has a group running around, but they are only the foot soldiers, they can’t really influence anything. This approach follows a trend in fantasy literature picked up by Mary Gentle’s Grunts, and Terry Pratchett’s Guards Guards. It’s an interesting approach, and it can be quite humbling to discover nothing you do will really affect anything. You can, if successful, perhaps make it possible for the heroes to win, but that’s as far as you go.
A variation on the whole world one, which I try on occasion, is a small world one. Here the group are still free to do what they like, but they are limited by situation. Perhaps they are in a small town under siege, with nowhere to go. Perhaps they’re on an island. Or they could be limited by circumstances – they are a military unit, with set parameters. Clearly in this case, the group are not as free as in the ‘whole world’, and will need to use their imagination. But if they don’t, they can still muddle through.
This is only a taster, really. I imagine there are loads of different GM styles. The interesting thing is, when your GM looks at the group, says hmm, lots of beginners, let’s do a simple linear. Horses for courses…

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