What's My Motivation?

Why do we GM?

Why do we spend hours of unpaid time to create worlds? Why do we make the decisions we do during game sessions? Why do we submit to the scrutiny of our friends and peers in attempting to make a seamless, enjoyable experience out of a set of rules, some abstract numbers, a handful of dice, and hours of talking and armwaving?

I can think of a few general style buckets for GMs to fit into, based on where the most enjoyment or satisfaction comes out of the game. It's a work in progress based on what I enjoy about GMing, so hold on to your hats...

1) Historian
Gets enjoyment from creating the world or society. This GM can tell you the entire history of the royal bloodline and show you the map of every city known. Characters who start asking questions and doing research make this GM's day, because he can finally showcase all of his hard prep work.

2) Plotter
Gets enjoyment from creating situations or scenes. Where the Historian creates the world in excruciating detail, the Plotter creates situations for the characters to deal with. The Plotter's creed reads, "It ain't where you are, it's what you do that counts."

3) Actor
Gets enjoyment from playing the part of all the NPCs. Actors may have started out as frustrated stage actors, or they may be slightly schizophrenic. Actors typically portray characters with different voices, mannerisms, and body language. They typically know their NPCs inside and out and are entertaining to watch as they switch between characters.

4) Puppeteer
Gets enjoyment from manipulating or outthinking the players. Puppeteers analyze the players (and how they will probably portray their characters) and design scenarios that push hot buttons. Interpersonal and social conflict holds a special place in the Puppeteer's heart. It's a dangerous road to walk, but an accomplished Puppeteer really gets the players immersed in the game.

5) Improvisationalist
Gets enjoyment from actually running the game and creating things on the fly. Improvisationalists may come to a game with a few vague ideas about plots, then flesh everything out as they go along. They love playing gedankengames where everything exists only in people's thoughts and not anywhere on paper. My favorite extreme example of this is the world's simplest LARP: the players create the entire world/game/story, but they don't know they have that power at the start of the game. GMs continually ask, "Well, what do =you= think this widget does?" And the player always answers correctly.

6) Mechanic
Gets enjoyment from mastering the mechanics of the game. There's a certain amount of pride in being a walking rulebook. Mechanics typically run the fastest combats, and some can calculate all needed modifiers in their heads such that the players simply need to roll the dice and let the Mechanic figure it out. Mechanics also love homebrew rules and "systemless" games.

7) Socialite
Gets enjoyment from entertaining the players. It doesn't matter what else happens in the game as long as the players have fun. Socialites tend to focus on factors outside of the game itself, such as buying munchies, providing comfy chairs, or giving character-coordinated dice as game rewards.

This list is far from exhaustive or even accurate. Please feel free to dispute these categories or add new ones based on your own experiences.

What gives you the most satisfaction when running a game?


  1. Woot gamey goodness!

    From these selections I'd dub myself a #2 & #7. more towards the #2, though.

    The difficulty with trying to create these sorts of buckets is that we, as GMs, are geerally more complicated than any one of these. THose that are just one tend to be good at somethings, horrible at others and find it difficult to please their players. Because without the players we might as well just be writing.
    My latest style (in a long and evolving road) has been to try much harder to make my story's truly interactive, bringing in a character's background no matter how looney they tried to make it.
    For instance I had a player a few years ago (ach can't believe the game ended over a year ago!) who wanted her elf character to have her maternal grandfather to have been a faerie dragon and her maternal great grandmother to be a nymph. OK, no problem. But I detest Faerie Dragons. I didn't tell HER that. I decided that Faerie Dragons were an Elven myth. The grandmother was an adventurer and made her way to the land of Faerie, winning a grand treasure from the Unseelie Court. The guardian of the treasure was a great black dragon with the Fey template. He follwed her to the twilight land to extract revenge, but eventually fell in love with her. To gain her love he polymorphed himself into a Faerie Dragon who (according to his tale) could transform into an Elf Lord. They married and were happy, giving birth to a daughter. That daughter having a daughter. This grand daughter being the light of his life.

    Then on a lark the couple visited a seer to look into their futures. Grandma saw nothing, but grandpa saw that the women of his line would be his doom, leading to his death. To an immortal unseelie dragon this was too much to bear. He made unholy pacts with demons to preserve his life and began imprisoning the women of his family. The PC went off loking for her family and a missing artifact. The campaign culminated with a confrontation with Grandpa and the PC almost being corrupted by the Unseelie.
    All because love had made grandpa mortal by bidding him to leave the land of the Faerie.
    Heroic tragedy. Follwed by joy as the rest of the family was restored.
    enough rambling. Good to see this blog, TWW!

  2. Martin:
    Take your time. I'm fishing for other motivations in case I've missed any. If I'm going to be helping GMs, I want to know where my blind spots are...

    Thanks! I don't think any of us can say, "I enjoy =this= and that's it." If we could, we wouldn't GM - we'd be specialized players, or full-time writers, or whatever would satisfy that one craving.

    Heh. Interesting what you did there. I always enjoy screwing with the characters' perceptions. Sure, let 'em think it's a spectre even though it's an ethereal elf...