A lady by the name of Emilie Wapnick once introduced me to the idea of a unifying theme: that people who have a broad set of skills have an umbrella that they can group them all under, a core interest that unites all of them. Something much broader than a job title, but still more specific than, “Well, the one thing these things all have in common is me.”
The idea sounds great, but I’ve always struggled with it. I mean, I’ve written process documents and newspaper articles, done voice work for commercials and private projects, hosted two panels in front of a live crowd and made a life-change podcast. When I tried to focus on just one of those things as a job or freelance income stream, I felt like I was closing myself down, playing too small, aiming too low. But I had no idea what the opposite looked like. If I aimed big, what would I be aiming for? I kept looking for a unifying theme and coming up empty.
Then one afternoon a month ago, in the way home from work, the answer hit me like a ton of bricks. There was one thing that all of my skills had in common, something I’d been since I found out about it – except when I’d tried to run away or deny it. And both the realisation and the thing itself were scary.
I’m a fucking game master.
A game whatter?
Look, I could try lots of explanation – God knows plenty in the tabletop roleplaying game hobby have tried, with varying degrees of success. If you want, here’s the Wikipedia entry.
Instead, let me see if I can give you an example of one of the best game masters around in action. The game master here is the guy in the top left. (Also, Trinket is a (semi-)tame bear.)
Performer, improviser, entertainer for a small group of friends – yeah. That’s what I am, or want to be more often.
Right, then. How do you know “game master” is your theme?
Well, let’s set aside for a moment the fact that I’ve been coming and going out of the hobby of tabletop RPGs since I discovered it (not to mention my return trajectory toward it over the past few months) and have a look at how game mastering has crept into the rest of my life.
Stuff I’ve done for other people
Over the past few years, how, outside my day job, have I offered others value through my skills (paid or volunteer)?
- I am a voice talent.
- I’ve done paid work for commercials and friends’ fiction projects. I also host my own podcast, Paid to Play, where I not only chat with people but I also record solo introductions to the show.
- While a game master doesn’t need to be a voice talent, being able to separate the myriad of characters he or she presents by accents, speech patterns and vocal tics is certainly a bonus.
- I am an event host.
- One of the biggest blasts I had recently was at Tropicon, Cairns’ first pop culture convention, last year, where I volunteered as the convention’s master of ceremonies and host of two panels.
- Hosting an event is pretty much the definition of a game master, who is the prime person responsible for organising the regular small parties that roleplaying game sessions are, not to mention holding the attention of a group of people with the power of one’s voice.
- I am a writer.
- If you’re reading this, you’ve probably a fair idea of my skills here. I’ve put them to work not just for personal blogging but for columns for The Cairns Post and the web site, Career Attraction (sadly, the latter appear to be no longer available on that site).
- A game master needs to be a writer not just in the sense of a gazetteer or journalist; the game master must also prepare plots (both in the creative and conniving senses) that will entertain and intrigue the game’s players
- I am a systems analyst and documenter.
- Between putting the processes of my full time jobs down on paper for reference purposes and freelance work preparing a policy and procedure document for an Aboriginal community corporation, I’ve been working on processes and documents for over a decade. I’m also ensuring that I store and organise the things I do for the Paid to Play Podcast so that I can refer back to them when creating future episodes.
- Have you ever seen a roleplaying game rulebook? More than anything else, most are whopping-great procedures manuals. (The Deathwatch core rulebook is 398 pages; the Pathfinder core rulebook is 576!) And that’s before we get into the supplements! It’s the game master’s job to not only ensure the game’s players are up to speed on the rules they need to know most often, but to be aware of the more focused ones and under which exceptional circumstances they apply. Heck, I’ve spent a good bit of time creating a summary of the scattered rules and options for character creation in the Deathwatch book.
- I am a serial content producer.
- While blogging has come and gone, I’ve been producing and publishing episodes of The Paid to Play Podcast for the last four-plus years and gained an audience of folks who enjoy my chats with the show’s guests. For 2016, I set myself a fortnightly schedule which I then pushed to weekly halfway through the year (I just published the hundred-and-second episode this week).
- As above, a game master needs to be creating content that will captivate and entertain a group of three to six other people anywhere from monthly to weekly.
Stuff I do because I want to
Well, I’ve spent a ton of money on RPG stuff over the years, but I’ve also on-sold most of said stuff in moves and bouts of “getting-the-fuck-out-of-the-hobby.” So leaving that aside:
- Like I write in my bio, I am a fan of science fiction and fantasy. It’s fairly heavily weighted in favour of science fiction (sleek futures and cool machines), but after watching a lot of Critical Role, I’ve warmed to the idea of a fantasy tale of a group of adventures off to see what’s over the horizon for fun and profit.
- I watch a lot of Critical Role, the weekly web show where a bunch of Hollywood voice actors get together to play Dungeons & Dragons. I’m still catching up (I think I’m about fifteen episodes behind) but am still loving it.
- I have bouts of control freakiness, a talent often found in game masters. (Is control freakiness a thing I want to do? Maybe not, but I do it without anyone asking me to, so it’ll count here.)
So why the whole “well, shit” and “fucking” business, Rob?
Fair question. Very fair. I mean, if I’ve found my calling, isn’t that cause for celebration?
Maybe. And maybe it’s like leaving a very controlled and limited environment and going into a wide open world of possibility – and realising the only one who can do anything for you with all this possibility is yourself.
But I think that delving into that further deserves a blog post of its own. So tune back in next week!
Critical Role: Dungeon master Matthew Mercer’s portrayals of:
Featured image: “my other hobby” by Carsten Tolkmit