I’ve found that when you want to go somewhere, being able to see where you’re going helps you get there, even if you’re not pointed in the right direction, you can adjust your course so that you reach your objective. It’s like driving a car; if you check where you’re going as well as what’s right in front of you, you can make sure you adjust your steering so that your car isn’t just following an immediate bend; it’ll be in the right place when you come out of the curve.
Things get a bit more tricky when you want to get somewhere you can’t necessarily see, like if you’re aiming to create something that doesn’t exist yet, at least not quite in the form that fits you. Sometimes you need to find something that looks like where you think you want to get to and then adjust your course to somewhere similar that actually works out better.
Which is a long-winded way of getting to my point: If I want my main thing to be being a game master, maybe I need to look at other people who have made game mastery their thing and see what I can do similarly.
Game Masters for Review
The good bit is, I’ve already spoken to most of these folks for my podcast, Paid to Play.
Game designer and writer Monte Cook has worked on hundreds of roleplaying and board game products. He co-designed the Third Edition of Dungeons & Dragons, served as design consultant on the Pathfinder roleplaying game and, in 2012, co-founded Monte Cook Games, LLC. As Creative Director and Lead Designer, Monte co-created the Cypher System roleplaying game rules that are the heart of The Strange and the award-winning Numenera.
Monte also bends his writerly talents to novels and fiction, comic books and nonfiction works. In his spare time, he makes the odd YouTube series with fellow geeks, like the a tongue-in-cheek take on ghost hunting reality shows, Geek Seekers, co-starring Jen Page.
He game masters four campaigns for the Twitch live-streaming channel itmeJP: RollPlay: Swan Song, RollPlay: Nebula Jazz, RollPlay: The Sprawl and RollPlay: Court of Swords, and has GMed other campaigns and one-shots for the RollPlay brand previously. As of this writing, RollPlay’s Patreon backing is currently approaching US$16,000 per month.
On top of those, he also hosts a live-streaming RPG Q&A show, Office Hours, on Twitch, and if that wasn’t enough, he co-designed the award-winning Dungeon World tabletop roleplaying game. Just to round things out, he streams the odd bit of video game play.
Perhaps needless to say, Adam’s love of video games and brand ambassadorship of the RPG hobby is now his full-time job.
Steven Lumpkin has a day job as in the video game industry as a game designer, but he’s also a lover of tabletop roleplaying games. He’s been a game master for the RollPlay team on the Twitch channel ItMeJP, where he ran the Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition campaign, The West Marches, which featured a huge rotating roster of streaming and YouTube celebrity players.
Steven took a brief public hiatus after parting ways with itmeJP, then returned to RPG live streaming with a new campaign on his own Twitch and YouTube channels, not to mention the Missclicks and other channels!
If the roleplaying game hobby has a household name, it ought to be Matthew Mercer. His day job is as an actor on screen and in voice; you may have seen him in the Mythica movies with Kevin Sorbo, but you’ve probably heard him in your favourite video games, like Titanfall 2, Overwatch and Resident Evil, and if you’re an anime fan, you’ve heard him in the English dubs of Attack on Titan (as Levi), One Piece (as Trafalgar Law) and Fairy Tail (as Silver Fullbuster).
But Matthew Mercer is held amongst RPG hobbyists as the gold standard of game mastery, thanks to a home campaign suddenly becoming a live streaming sensation after Felicia Day, owner and operator of the online nerd media site Geek & Sundry a spotted copy of the Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Handbook in the bag of one of his players (Ashley Johnson of TV’s Blindspot). Every Thursday evening U.S. time, Matthew and a cohort of fellow voice actors (including Ashley, when her Blindspot shooting schedule permits) get together and play Dungeons & Dragons for an audience of hundreds of thousands on Geek & Sundry’s Twitch channel, on a show called Critical Role.
Matthew’s acting training makes him great at improvising when his players throw him curve balls (on a regular basis), and his voice acting skills allow him to make every major character he plays distinct and memorable. His hard work behind the scenes in developing the campaign and setting for Critical Role, the world of Exandria, are also about to go public with game company Green Ronin announcing a series of books of Exandria source material being developed in conjunction with Matt.
I haven’t chatted with Matthew for an episode of The Paid to Play Podcast, but he’s certainly on my wish list of guests for the show!
James L. Sutter
Creative Director for Paizo, inc., James L. Sutter, co-developed the rules for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, which lets players adventure through dungeons and slay dragons, and was recently appointed as the Creative Director of the upcoming Starfinder Roleplaying Game which will shift the high fantasy world of Pathfinder a few thousand years into the future and add starships, laser guns and cyborgs to Pathfinder’s elves, dwarves and magic swords.
Not only does James write for RPGs, but James is also a keen fiction author. He manages the the Pathfinder Tales novel line for Paizo and has written two novels for it; Death’s Heretic and The Redemption Engine, as well as a multitude of short stories for other publications.
What Can I Run With?
So what inspiration and example can I take from these five fine gents in my own quest to make game mastering my thing?
Process of Eliminaton and Creative Limitations
Well, let’s knock some factors out of the running. I’m in my late 30s with a wife, dog, home and bills, so dropping everything and moving interstate (or internationally) to be an intern like Monte did back in the day is out of the question.
Also, the kind of geek concentration required to sustain a small business/industry often requires a large city, like L.A. (Mercer), Seattle (Sutter) or Vancouver (Koebel). The closest major city to myself, Brisbane, is a couple of thousand kilometres away from me in Cairns.
Filtering to Value
Notwithstanding those factors, though, Cairns is starting to get a geek scene of its own; as well as the ubiquitous EB Games and Zing stores, there’s a Games Workshop outlet and two locally owned and operated geek shops: a comic books and collectable store and a Friendly Local Game Store. Maybe the unique challenges of being a geek in an out of the way tropical city would form the basis for a web log or video series.
On that note, Adam Koebel, Steven Lumpkin and Matthew Mercer have demonstrated that the Internet enables many opportunities to connect to folks around the looking for geek-related entertainment or advice on getting better at their hobby. While Critical Role features people getting together in person, Adam and Steven’s campaigns feature live streaming personalities across the US (and sometimes internationally) getting together to game via web cams. I have a web cam and a decent microphone; maybe I can join a game or even kick one off on my own. (Deathwatch is looking to be a promising option there.)
Then there’s my personal angles on gaming. I love making complex systems make sense so that players of RPGs can remember where all the cool stuff they’ve allocated to their characters during creation and experience spending is when they need it. I’ve already created some resources in that vein for the Deathwatch roleplaying game and am working on another for Star Wars: Force and Destiny.
I’ve also been playing with narration, character performance and voice talent for a while, and while getting together with friends to game master them gives me a great opportunity to let those skills loose, maybe I can develop a voice talent sideline a’la Matt Mercer – there’s more than one recording studio in Cairns for high quality sound.
Can I take the hobby further? Can I create a sourcebook? Can I make a new set of RPG rules?
Who knows? I think I need to do a lot more playing and game mastering first. But I’m definitely not going o rule them out!