meaning and definition

Jump to section

    What is a GM?

    GM stands for “Game Master.” It’s a term used in roleplaying games (RPGs) to describe an individual who acts as the administrator, storyteller, and referee.

    The GM is responsible for creating the game world, guiding the narrative, and interpreting the rules. They facilitate the game for the players, making decisions that shape the story and the world within which the players interact.

    In many ways, the Game Master is the architect of the gaming experience, designing challenges and scenarios for the players to navigate.

    A brief history of the term

    The term originated in the early 1970s with the creation of tabletop roleplaying games. It first appeared in Dungeons & Dragons, where it was used to refer to the referee or arbitrator of the game.

    Over time, the use of the term has expanded beyond tabletop games. It is now common in various types of roleplaying games, including online and live-action formats. The term has become a standard way to refer to the person who oversees and directs a game session or scene.

    Modern usage

    The term GM is still widely used in many gaming communities. It is essential in tabletop roleplaying games and has a significant presence in online and live-action roleplaying games.

    Types of games that feature GM include but are not limited to:

    Tabletop RPGs, LARPs, MMORPGs, PbP games, online chat RPGs, and their respective communities.

    GMing examples

    Examples of things game masters do in a variety of RPGs:

    • In a fantasy RPG, the Game Master creates a world filled with magic and monsters, guiding heroes through quests and adventures.
    • In a science fiction RPG, the Game Master might control the narrative of space exploration, alien encounters, and interstellar conflicts.
    • In a mystery-themed game, the Game Master designs a plot full of clues and red herrings, leading players to solve a crime or uncover a secret.
    • In a historical RPG, the Game Master provides historical context and challenges that are true to the era, while players navigate the political and social landscapes of the time.

    Myths about GMs

    One common myth is that the Game Master is the players’ adversary, aiming to defeat them. In reality, their role is to facilitate a fun and engaging experience, not to win against the players.

    Another misconception is that GMing requires perfect knowledge of all game rules. While familiarity is important, creativity and adaptability are just as important for ensuring a fun game.

    Lastly, some believe that being a Game Master is inherently more difficult than being a player. While the roles involve different responsibilities and skills, both are integral to the game’s success and can be equally rewarding.

    Tabletop game in session with GM, dice, and figurines.

    Game Master FAQs

    What does a GM do in a game?

    A Game Master plans and describes the game’s setting and events while facilitating the flow of the game. They interpret and apply rules, create challenges, and respond to players’ actions with narrative consequences. They are also responsible for ensuring the game remains balanced and fun for all participants.

    How does one become a GM?

    Becoming a Game Master typically involves a good understanding of the game’s rules, storytelling ability, and a willingness to take on the responsibility of guiding the game. Many game runners start as players and transition into the role as they gain experience and interest in storytelling and game design.

    Is a GM the same as a DM?

    While the terms GM and DM are often used interchangeably, “DM” specifically refers to a game master of Dungeons & Dragons. “GM” is a more general term used across various roleplaying games, including those with and without dungeons.

    What is another name for a Game Master?

    Aside from DM (defined above), some other terms include Storyteller, Referee, and Narrator. These terms may vary depending on the specific role-playing game system or the preferred terminology of the gaming group.

    Can a game have more than one GM?

    While traditional tabletop games are usually designed to have one referee or narrator, other types of games and formats allow for multiple Game Masters. These arrangements can divide the storytelling and administrative duties among several individuals to manage larger groups or to enrich the game’s narrative.

    For example, it’s not uncommon for text-based roleplaying games, such as MUDs and chatroom games, to have multiple game masters.

    What skills does a Game Master need?

    A Game Master needs strong storytelling and improvisational skills to create engaging and dynamic narratives. Additionally, they should have a good understanding of the game rules, be able to manage group dynamics, and possess organizational skills to prepare and plan game sessions effectively.

    How does a Game Master prepare for a game session?

    To prepare for a game session, they typically outline the main plot points, create detailed maps and character descriptions, and anticipate possible actions the players might take. They also familiarize themselves with the game rules and may prepare handouts or visual aids to enhance the gaming experience.

    Can a Game Master also play a character in the game?

    While the primary role of a Game Master is to facilitate the game, they can also play a character known as a GMPC (Game Master’s Player Character). However, this character usually has a limited role to avoid overshadowing the players’ characters and ensure impartiality in the game.

    What are some common challenges faced by Game Masters?

    Common challenges include managing player conflicts, keeping the story on track, and adapting to unexpected player actions. Additionally, balancing game mechanics and maintaining player engagement can be difficult, requiring flexibility and creativity from the game’s referee.

    Related terms

    Related content

    Smiling blonde woman wearing glasses.
    About the author

    Andruid is a writer, roleplayer, storyteller, and nerd who tries to live by Bill and Ted wisdom, i.e. "Be excellent to each other."