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fang_langford [userpic]

She's Outta Control!

March 18th, 2007 (11:58 pm)

current location: Taking a Long Deserved Rest
current mood: Sated
current song: 4'33" 'cuz I fergot

Here's something that's been bugging me for a long time.

Back in the old days, one of the jobs of the gamemaster was being referee. Now I understand that was a legacy from Chainmail and other wargames, but it has persisted.

Now I have to ask, how is that possible?

Even in the old AD&D modules, the gamemaster was instructed to 'adjust' the number of monsters based on how powerful or weakened the party was. Which means the gamemaster is adjudicating battles between the players and a number of monsters wholly dependant on him. Further, most rule sets suggesting fudging dice to make sure the monsters didn't wipe the floor with the player characters.

Now how exactly is that fair?

If, and only if, the gamemaster can remain completely objective can this in any way approach fair. I rate the likelihood of that approaching impossible by way of irrelevant.

The gamemaster is irrelevant.

Under any description of gamemaster you are willing to show me, I can point out that it's pretty much up to them whether the players succeed or not. I'd go farther along this line, but it doesn't bear on the irrelevance.

See, many people think that the gamemaster is the one who 'makes stuff up.' I can see it in their eyes. They try and write gamemasterless, right - sorry - gamemasterful, games, where no one person is overtly given such a role. Now I could argue that the social dynamics of any group always set up a 'leader' who's words / ideas / rulings are 'more right' than anyone else's, but that I'm leaving to you as an exercise.

Let's try out a thought experiment:

1Player:My character lifts his arm.Gamemaster:The NPC lifts his arm.
2Player:My character is in the back of the bar.Gamemaster:The NPC is behind the bar.
3Player:My character is a ranger.Gamemaster:The NPC is a bartender.
4Player:My character is from a nearby, allied countryGamemaster:The NPC was born in the capitol.
5Player:My character is the bastard son of a royal family.Gamemaster:The NPC is an undercover agent for the Duke.
6Player:My player suffers from a family curse placed on them by demons.Gamemaster:The NPC once beheld the face of the goddess of beauty.

This just looks like a face-off over two characters, but clearly neither is lying. Not so clearly is if either of them not 'making stuff up.'

Now, you might imagine that the player is reading off of a character sheet, which was prepared before play and the gamemaster is making things up as they go, but does it have to do that way? Perhaps the player is using some kind of resource mechanic to shape this character on-the-fly and the gamemaster is reading out of a pre-generated bar; what then?

Both have equal amounts of 'creation power' in role-playing games. Only because we limit the player to creation during the time of character generation does not minimize this power. In this example, you might not have noticed but the player creates a bar; the occupation of ranger; a different, but allied, country; not only the royal family, but a fair amount of intrigue within and demons with curse-magic (as well as the cosmology which houses them). The gamemaster; on the other hand; creates a bartender (subsequent of the player's creation of the bar); a capitol city (and the fact that this country works with capitols as opposed to say...city states); nobility (subsequent to the player's creation of the royal family) with political machinations (subsequent to the player's creation of the intrigues) and finally goddesses (and gods! - an entire pantheon - subsequent to the player's creation of supernatural creatures).

Who has more power here?

It would seem the player because most of what the NPC has follows logically from what was put in before. This unalterably leads to the conclusion that these two participants are in fact equal in the scope of their ability to 'make stuff up.' (I could argue that a 'gamemaster' would have automatic social capital to spend over the players by nature of the title, but I believe typical social conventions can easily override this.)

Now we pour on the logic! Ergo, both parties being equal, the title of 'gamemaster' and therefore the occupation of same are irrelevant to the creation dynamics of role-playing games.


p.s. It becomes fair when you consider the 'two arrow rule.' GM: "You've been shooting a lot; how many arrows do you have left?" Always say two!

Frankly, bad gamemasters abuse their power during the game, bad character generation abuses it before the fact (and during with the surprise revelation) and rules-lawyers abuse the power that most players DO realize (but not the limit of what they can do).