silly accents


Being a game master is often a competitive experience. While role-playing games are a cooperative storytelling exercise, the GM has to create opposition and challenges for the players. Everyone is playing to have fun, but a surface level protagonist/antagonist relationship persists. This is great. It drives scenes forward. However, it can isolate the GM. Despite pulling punches or rewarding the group, they will always be the bad guy on some level. That one game master will be the target of scorn for several players. But they do not have to be the only bad guy. With a second director, the game master team can orchestrate an amazing experience that is less stressful on the world-building side and more fun for everyone.

Traditional role-playing revolves around a game master and several players. Most frameworks explicitly define this game master role as a prodigious individual with full knowledge of the mechanics, and the world being fleshed out through narrative. They know the motivations of non-player characters; they understand the consequences of shooting a gun in this quiet town; they know the monster is invincible and are slyly ignoring the players’ dice rolls. But none of this actually requires one-and-only-one game master. Catalyst, Dungeons and Dragons, and Monsterhearts all function perfectly with a cohesive group combining to form the game master hivemind. The reason these systems use singular pronouns for the game master is because that role needs to act as a Hobbesian sovereign. They must be consistent.

Intuitively, you may think having another brain plan the campaign would lead to discrepancies. If two people were working in isolation, of course it would. If the GM team plans the campaign together, they can align their goals and stories. Moreover, working with someone else forces a game master to actually design encounters and plot lines instead of making everything up on the fly at the table. Improvisation is still necessary; players are generally unpredictable and no amount of preparation can cover every possibility in this genre. As the story covers new ground, be sure to “yes, and” each other so the story progresses smoothly. You could also use your partner to record decisions, character names, times, or other small details that often get lost during narration. This makes consistency easier than a solo venture while maintaining the game’s pace and flow.

In combat-focused scenes, having a pair of GMs speeds up what is often the genre’s slowest part. Battles are methodical, often with the players paying greater attention to details than the GM. They can do this while maintaining a brisk pace because they only need to manage one character, while the GM usually handles several (to make the fight interesting). An assistant GM can do the small tasks that slow down play: looking up rules, updating the battle map, or even providing flavorful narrative context to dice rolls. That other GM can also take control of some enemies, letting the battle play out organically. Characters acting independently are more fun than perfectly orchestrated teamwork.

The benefits of the game master pair become strikingly obvious during dialog scenes. Consider a vignette between the players and a handful of non-player characters. One GM playing these several roles leads to confusion from players about which character they are addressing. It forces the GM to either adopt distinct, often silly, accents or make out-of-character statements defining exactly what is happening. All of this masks subtle character traits, making the payers less empathetic towards those people. Having two game masters acting out separate characters cleans up these problems. Moreover, it removes the awkwardness of having non-player characters speak with each other (one person having a conversation is silly, which likely ruins the tone you’re actually going for). Without the necessity of providing most of the dialog, players can focus on the scene and become more immersed in your world.

Get a partner next time you’re leading a role-playing game. Form your conspiratorial team and embrace the antagonistic game master role. Feed off of each other’s ideas and create an amazing world for the players to travel through. You and your players will be glad you teamed up with another omnipotent ally.