Monday, June 28, 2010

So what about game mastering experience?

This is something that kinda came up in the comments to Wednesday's post, but I thought was interesting enough to go after on it's own: Would you rather have a new game master/dungeon master/referee, or someone who's been playing for ages? Are there any advantages to having a new-ish game master, or does experience and expertise always equal better play?

Does it matter to you how long your game master has been running their current system of choice, or is overall refereeing experience really what counts, and pretty much transfer over between games? Is someone who has experience with a lot of different styles better or worse than someone who's pretty much one run one system, or a handful of closely related systems, for their entire gaming career?

And it occurs to me that some of the difference, if there is any, could have as much to do with age as with actual experience. Are there any relatively new game masters out there who aren't in their teens? How do they stack up?

How much experience has your current game master had? How much had the best game master (assuming you keep score that way) had?

How much have you? How much better of a game master do you think you are now than when you first started? Are there any areas where your first game(s) were better than the ones you're running now?


  1. Personally, it's not so much a question of their DM'ing experience as it is just role-playing experience. I have a friend who is running probably the second game (that I know of) in his life, and I LOVE his DM'ing style. But that's because he's been playing for the better part of a decade.

    It's hard though, when you want to game but you're the one who has to instruct it. Growing up, I had to rely on hearing my older brother's stories of his RP groups and lots of trial and error teaching friends myself.

    Thankfully, during High School I became really active in many groups of varying degrees of experience, and began to pick up what works for my style, and what doesn't.

  2. Would you rather have a new game master/dungeon master/referee, or someone who's been playing for ages?

    Ages. But, it would be intriguing to see a Gen-Yer try and DM me without the pride and prejudice of ancient editions.

    The question regarding system exposure: I think it really matters. The concept of "Spirit of the Game emerges, where you understand what is good for the game, campaign, players, your sanity above and byond rules. Single-systemers tend to be rules lawyers who do not see outside the box and have dynamic play.

    I am primarily a game master and I have been a GM for 22 years, from tender age of 13. The best GM I have ever had, at that time, was over a decade of experience. New people GM-ing now not in their teens is fascinating concept. I wonder how many folks fit that mold?

    I am a far superior game master now across any metric besides perhaps plain old wonderment. Wonderment for new supplements, fun ideas, adventures - sharing that wide-eyed excitement to game. Most of that stuff now, I am jaded.

    Still, there are wonderous exceptions!

  3. From my personal experiences, "the newer the DM is to DM'ing, the worse the game is." I've played in a half dozen games where the DM is brand new to not only the game, but RPG's in general. And I never attended any of those games much past the first few sessions. I've also played in a couple of games where the DM had years of experience as a PC, and finally decided to run their own campaign or adventure. Those were also very uninteresting games with little or no long term ties to the game world they were set in.

    I don't think age has much to do with it as long as the imagination of said DM has hit that point where they can be comfortable and creative. I'd probably be a little apprehensive about jumping into a game with a really young DM, but then again, it could be a lot of fun.

    I'm the current DM for our group. I'll admit I've lost a couple of players over the past six months due to me not being a hack-n-slash DM. I don't have megadungeons, I rarely plan monster encounters, and magical items are insanely rare in my game world. Players that are used to the above features generally dislike my style as a DM. But the core players I have are all really into roleplaying. We can sit around for eight hours talking in character, never roll a single die, and have just as much fun as anyone else playing the game can.

    But everyone's different.

  4. i also think a veteran dm is much better.

    i guess the most important reason for this being that when dm'ing you are often put into situations where you have to improvise quickly.

    a vet has been there/done that and is not fazed at all by such a situation, while the rookie more often than not fucks up. sometimes badly enough to ruin a complete session.

    experience is king when dm'ing.

    also a veteran dm is usually better at getting a feeling for his group and can change his style accordingly.

    rules knowledge is not that big a concern as far as i have experienced.

    i don't think i ever had a "favorite dm" or anything. everyone has some strenghts/weaknesses.

    dm's are like rpg-systems...

    there's some good (and bad) in every one. :)

  5. My group and I always prefer a GM who has a good grasp of the rules, but a new GM sometimes has more energy than the burnout that an older GM will get. Also, an older GM has some really cool ideas that go in a completely new direction because he's already seen all of the other basic stuff.

  6. It really depends, I think.

    The thing about GMing is that it isn't a natural inborn talent. It takes practice. So if you have a new GM then sure, the game is likely to be a bit rough around the edges, but if you don't encourage people to at least give it a go and try and support them through the first few ropey sessions, then we'll never have any new GMs again!

    I'd still prefer to play with an experienced GM - they have the knack of making sessions that much more memorable - but I remember my first few sessions as a GM with painful clarity; they were dreadful!

  7. I've had a handful of really awful DMs, half with years and years of experience, half brand new. My favorite DM has had only three years of experience.

    For me, the common theme in determining whether I like a DM's game or not is how much importance they place on player choice. My worst DMs wanted a captive audience to admire their dungeon or listen to their story. My favorite DMs want the players to be movers and shakers in the world, even if (especially if) they accidentally make things harder on themselves.

  8. Since I'm the guy usually looking for the odd or specific game (whether it's Mutant City Blues or un-modified AD&D1), I'm usually the guy that ends up DM/GMing. In the "old days" (pre-college graduation) the GM/DM was usually the guy with the most experience running games...which meant I was usually the nominated guy also.

    However, I have played in others' games and I have to agree that I prefer GMs with more experience for two reasons:

    a) I agree with the other comments that there is a certain art to running games, and that art only gets refined in practice. Even though I'm an "old hand" at running some games (D&D, Vampire) others I am a complete novice (Dying Earth, Castle Falkenstein) and I generally make a mess of things the first couple (or ten!) times through. Different games require a whole different pacing/set of can't run Amber and Boot Hill the same way, for example!...and those skills are learned over time with practice.

    Themes, nuances, and plots also tend to be better with experienced GMs.

    b) I have a personal pet peeve for most folks, but ESPECIALLY GMs that don't know the rules. I hate my personal "rules lawyer" tendencies and try to curb my habit of being a "backseat GM" but when rookie DM/GMs make insufferable mistakes in how the game works...from sheer makes me want to claw out my eyes. When an experienced GM tells you up front "this game has been modified in ways 1, 2, and 3" I've got no problem. But as I said in your earlier post, I tend to be an elitist about gaming (i.e. I like to play the game as designed) and it irritates me when things get fussed-up.

    That being said, there are some games that are so overly complex that even the most experienced GM is bound to stumble...which is why I tend to avoid those games in general.
    : )

  9. Prefer? No, I don’t think I’d prefer one or the other.

    I do, however, think that experience makes everybody better at it. Working on my third decade of playing these games, I learn something new and adjust my approach everytime I sit behind the screen.

  10. I think an experienced GM is preferable, but what it really comes down to is a willingness to create a fun experience. To be crazy-interactive, massively descriptive, do the voices, entertain the odd requests and character development while spinning a good tale.

    An experienced GM might be better at those skills simply by virtue of time in grade, but it's no guarantee. Inspiration can strike anyone regardless of age, and so I have to say each GM has to be assessed by their own performance rather than experience.

  11. Experienced all the way.
    I can see no advantage that an inexperienced GM might have over an experienced one. I will give an inexperienced DM a chance, though, since everybody has to start somewhere.

    Inexperienced players, on the other hand, can be an absolute joy. They tend to metagame less and they have that "wonder" factor going on.

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