I’ve thought of myself as a Dungeon Master or Game Master since I first encountered AD&Ds Monster Manual as a child. Somehow, when me and my friends played an RPG growing up, it was me that ran the game. I still don’t know exactly why that happens, but it just seems to be. I no longer question it and enjoy my lot.
Recently, I heard that Adobe changed the name of it’s Master Pages to Parent Pages to avoid the negative historical connotations of American slavery. When I heard this, it naturally got me thinking about the term Game Master. It is a term I have just accepted until now since I grew up with it. But was it still appropriate today? And was the term even representative of what I was doing when running an adventure?
Let’s think. The coolest use of the word Master is for someone who has Mastered a skill or art. Like a sword master or something. Someone who has devoted their life to a skill and honed it to a razors edge.
If I’m the game master in this sense, it’s like I live on a mountain poring through tomes of knowledge. Periodically someone comes to my cave and is like, “please master, show us your wisdom at running table top adventures.” I might sigh cryptically, and make them cook breakfast for me for 10 years until they are ready. Then I would run the best adventure. It would be really cool.
But really, even though there have been some fun moments when I am running adventures, I don’t consider myself a master at the art. In fact, “The more I know, the more I realize I know nothing.” (Socrates, probably)
The other meaning is very authoritarian. The Master is top of the hierarchy. If he is on top, there has to be someone at the bottom. Answer: It’s the players. Many RPG horror stories I have read and experienced occur when a Game Master becomes drunk on this perceived power and abuses that hierarchy. I’m not saying that the terminology itself is causing these player problems, but the implications of the term master can cause people who feel deprived of power in most of their lives to act out in unpleasant ways.
When I think about my aim when running an adventure, I want everyone to have fun. It’s not fun for people to be excluded because I’m unthinkingly using outdated terminology. And further, I think the term master implies that it is my adventure and the players are just existing in my world, which leads to poor investment in the story. I want the adventure to be our story that we are creating together. Our world. Then I think players will naturally care more and want to participate.
So, I think I’m done being a Game Master. Time to cut ties with associations to horrifying chapters of both American and world history, and move on to a new stage. I’m changing my title and my mindset to Adventure Guide. I’ll show you some crazy places and interesting creatures. I’ll take care of the rules, I read the rulebook, but we are all responsible for this game. It’s everybody’s game. Let’s nurture it cooperatively and aim to have fun.
So, Deathclam Games is moving on from Game Mastering and on to Adventure Guiding. Let me know what you think. Also, if you are in to solo, GMless or on-the-fly tabletop role playing, check out our supplements on DriveThruRpg. We have an endless dungeon generator, a name generator, a personality generator and more. They are for Mork Borg, but run well with most osr rulesets. Thanks for reading!
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