When it comes to Tabletop Roleplaying Games or TTRPGs, the community loves nothing more than to gather together with their dear friends and embark on adventures of might and magic. However, in order to play many game systems, one of these players must step up to become the Game Master.
The Game Master is in charge of creating a world of places, people, and items that the players will inevitably interact with for better or worse. Such a role can be intimidating to many new Game Masters since there are so many talented performers from beloved series. It is easy to compare yourself to others and develop imposter syndrome.
I am here to tell you from one Game Master to another that you will never find happiness in trying to become exactly like another performer. No matter how hard you try, you just can not be them.
What you can do is be yourself.
Authenticity will always be your strongest ally as a creative because when you write what you know, the details come easier. For example, I personally am Mexican-American and that part of my heritage is so important to me. In a lot of my work, I bring out what I love about my culture.
The ancient elven kingdoms are now influenced by Mesoamerican culture with pyramids, the amazon, and rituals focusing on the undead. Even their relationship with death is not one of evil or abuse but of love like Day of the Dead. A holiday where the living and the dead get to reunite for a brief time to appreciate one another. Bards are Mariachis who dress in the regalia we know in real life and sing with passion about love, loss, and more.
When you write what you love, you are communicating to your table that this is a safe space. In turn, this invites your players to lean into their own creativity and be drawn into the story. There is no better experience than to get caught up in the magic of roleplaying.
Although the concept of authenticity may seem like common sense, I have found in the 14 years of being a Game Master that it was both the hardest lesson to learn and the most beneficial. When I started, I listened to Penny Arcade’s D&D podcast which features renowned Dungeon Master and Game Designer Chris Perkins. I would listen in awe at how he masterfully commanded the table, knew every rule, and could bring so many characters to life. It was a huge blow to my confidence when I would try and fail to replicate his talent.
It took my own players advising me to stop trying to be Chris Perkins and instead be myself because their favorite moments in their campaigns were my original content. Once I heeded their feedback, everything flowed.
To be honest, there will be times when some players will sit down at your table and find that your storytelling or setting is just not for them, and that is completely fine. It is better to fill your table with players who actively want to be there than to cater to every single person and sacrifice your own enjoyment in the process. That is the quickest way to burn out!
Instead, tell the story you’d like to tell and those who enjoy themselves will inevitably spread the word about your game. I can not begin to tell you just how many times fellow Latino players have thanked me for bringing representation to my settings since they never get to see themselves in many fantasy or sci-fi settings.
Even beyond cultural inclusion, you can focus on your own performance. I personally can’t do voices so I simply don’t. I instead lean more on the content of the character and provide detailed descriptions of their mannerisms to convey the setting. Find what you enjoy doing and focus on honing those skill sets.
There is value in watching the renowned Game Masters to understand how they handle certain situations or aspects of the hobby, but be sure to dedicate time and effort to what you want to learn rather than trying to copy someone else. Then you’ll be able to adapt those techniques to your own style and build upon it.
When it comes to the topic of trends, keep in mind that it is true that tapping into them can help to entertain a more general audience and in turn gain more clients. Around October it is fun to pull out the horror themed sessions, if a new product releases a lot of interest will be surrounding it, and so on. Just know that missing a trend won’t diminish the enjoyment of your campaign or stop new sign ups. Only run content that you are genuinely interested in, otherwise players will quickly find out that your heart isn’t in it.
In conclusion, leaning into yourself is always a solid strategy. Trust your own ideas, abilities, and create the art you want to see in the world. While there are many beloved Game Masters in the mainstream, there is only one you. I hope this inspires you to create your next great campaign!