I had a weird realization this morning. I have this pet hypothesis, the “one good player” hypothesis — that all a roleplaying game needs is one good player to be successful. One player who “gets” it, one player who can drive the game forward and “make things happen.” I realized that while I might be a good player…

…I’m not actually a very good game master.

I might be permissive, I might be cooperative, I might be creative, I might be a fair judge, and I might be a good leader — I might be good at improvisation and tale-spinning — but I have all of these qualities exist independently of each other, they don’t come together in some kind of “good alchemy” for me.

I don’t inspire my players to roleplay, I don’t engage them with a story, I don’t keep them in the game — these are all things that a good game master does, and they are not things that I do. I enforce rules but I don’t use them to create a setting.

I create evocative places and people but I don’t encourage the players to interact with them. What I make is a walking tour — I have all those negative qualities of the “failed novelist” game master — and while all those things I have might make me a good player — they only make me an “okay” game master.

I’m not moping or anything. I don’t feel bad about myself. It’s just that I realized I’m “only okay” at this gig, I only do it because I tend to do a better job than others and I’m easily frustrated when I see someone else doing a poor job of it.

I think I would serve my fellow players in a much better capacity as a good role model than as a game master. Designer? Sure. Player? Definitely. I just don’t inspire the right kind of behavior to be a “great” game master.