It’s time for another edition of Berin’s oddball opinions. Today I want to talk about the concept of gamemaster as guide, why I don’t like the former term, and how I eventually landed on the latter. I know that some people don’t think it matters. There are people who take issue with trying to change terms that have become standardized over decades. All I can do is shrug, make my case, and continue to say “guide” even when it confuses and enrages certain people.
Obviously the original term was “dungeon master” when the role originated in Dungeons & Dragons. Somewhere along the way the more generic “game master” cropped up for non-D&D and non-dungeon crawling fantasy games. Individual games have used other terms that suit the setting and tome of the game — keeper, judge, administrator — and that’s all well and good. By all means, keep using unique names that add to the distinct flavor of a game. What I’m after is a better generic term.
Gamemaster as Guide
Gamemaster doesn’t work for me, for two reasons: “game” and “master”. If you’ve read my ramblings for a while, you know that I work hard to avoid using the words “game” and “gamer”. The only time I succumb is for marketing purposes; people understand “roleplaying game”, but they think you’re a pretentious git if you go too deeply into describing it as a “roleplaying experience”. I tend to stick to “roleplaying”, “roleplaying system”, or “roleplaying setting”. Not all story games qualify as games, and I especially don’t think that why I create meet the bare minimum criteria of a game.
I hope that I don’t have to go into all possible permutations of why the term “master” can be problematic. Yes, best case, they’re the person who supposedly knows the rules best, is in charge of things, blah blah blah. Sure. I see your point. I don’t agree with it. Let’s move on.
That person is a player with a different role. “Facilitator” is a better term, in my opinion, but that’s too clinical. It’s not fun, too formal, and doesn’t take the association of unchecked power off the position. They’re there to help the players and the story. They lead, but they’re not the boss. That’s why I like the term guide. You have to do the walking, but they’ll get you where you need to go.
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Dancing Lights Press publishes story games that embrace a minimalist aesthetic in design and presentation. Our print books are affordable, at $10 or less. The 6×9 digest format makes them convenient to carry around. The spotlight belongs on the creativity of the players as they converse and collaborate on plot, worldbuilding, and character development. Roleplaying is an activity, not a book. Our titles are merely part of the delivery system.