[RPG] How to enjoy being a DM when I have an explorer personality


I live in a small Finnish town with my wife and we want to play. But we cannot find any GMs there. So I decided to try to be GM myself. The problem is – I love to explore the worlds, story, monsters, personalities of NPCs, and so on. But as a game master, I must invent them beforehand, and there would be nothing to explore even through players.

Are there any techniques I can try to use to enjoy GMing? Or am I doomed, and my personality will completely prevent me from being a GM and enjoying the game at the same time?

I think I can manage to have only some parts unknown for me, but even this I don't know how to do – except for random encounters and random loot, but that is not enough.

Or maybe I can use some tool to get what I want, at least to some degree?

Best Answer

A Style or Category More Than a Tool

There is a style of games in which the GM gets to be surprised and explore unknowns. These are games where the players also have the right to add story details, places and NPCs to the game world, and otherwise take over parts of the usual GM's repertoire of powers.

In some games, such power is highly restricted and/or regulated. In others, the line between the GM's and the players' ability to directly shape the world by fiat is much blurrier.

These games are known by a plethora of names such as 'collaborative', 'narrative', 'storygames' and perhaps some others. There is surprisingly much flame-warring about what exactly 'narrative' means what are minimum requirements for a game to use such adjectives. But that's not as important to this question as understanding what games should help with your problem: games where the GM gets to explore parts of the world created by players in a manner similar to how players explore the parts made by the GM.

Examples of such games:

  • Microscope. A 'high-end' example, to the point of being disputed as an RPG, where participants get to define huge parts of the world, and are encouraged to just add a world-feature on top of whatever's been added by the previous participants. E.g. one may say that the galaxy includes aliens, but another adds the twist that meaningful communication with them isn't normally possible. Keep in mind that Microscope has very weak attachment to characters - probably even less than assumed in 'dynastic' playstyles!
  • Various FATE games. A 'mid-range' example: players do have ability to shape the world, but the ability to do so depends on expending limited resources and/or successful rolls, and there is some veto power wielded by the GM.
  • There are many normally 'traditional' games (i.e. non-storygames) that add 'low-end' elements of such player abilities. In them, such powers are highly limited in scope, magnitude or both, and may also be very resource-limited. Such as GURPS (a game with an overwhelmingly 'physics-oriented' reputation!) allowing players to give their PCs lucky coincidences if they have the (expensive and limited in use per session) Serendipity advantage, or Impulse Points (likewise moderately expensive and slowly-regenerating). Or Exalted allowing players to add small details to the world if they make a sufficiently glorious description of a character's action that already builds upon world details that have been described by the GM.
  • Apocalypse World, Dungeon World, and their derivatives instruct and require the GM to play to find out what happens, and to not plan ahead too far (the system fights you if you try). They support improvisation and exploration in the moment without having to define things thoroughly ahead of time. That probably puts it on the a 'mid-to-high' part of the spectrum.
  • Fiasco. The GMless, story-focused nature of the game puts it on the 'high end' of the spectrum, though not as high as Microscope because it is more attached to actual characters by comparison.

The Cost of Discovery

Of course, such a style is not necessarily for everyone, and not just in terms of being not to everyone's taste. GMing in such a style requires being more ready and willing to improvise, to tolerate carefully set up plans being invalidated by a seemingly-inconsequential detail that turns out to significantly change the context and the like. It can result in the game world ending up less coherent under the weight of all the additions - more Star Wars Expanded Universe than Historical WWII. If you and your players are fine with that - great!