Game Masters as Leaders

There has been an idea simmering in my head for a while now, so I decided to write down the basics and share it with you.

Last August, I received my Bachelor of Arts degree in Management and Organizational Leadership. Through my degree program, I learned a lot about communication, facilitation, organizational theory, and various leadership styles.

As I read and studied my textbooks, I kept coming back to this theory that being a great Game Master is like being a great leader. There is a lot of overlap between the two titles, and building your skills in one helps build your skills with the other. A lot of my time spent GMing has helped me improve on some of the skills I depend on as a leader, and learning about leadership has taught me to be a better GM.

Around the time I finished my degree, I thought I’d write a book about this theory. That’s still in the early planning stages, but it’s one of those ideas I keep coming back to so I know it’s one that is going to stick. Even if it takes me a long time to get to it, it’s going to happen.

The first time I had the idea to write this book, I thought it was a really novel idea. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t thought of it sooner.

Then, as I started to look back at some of my old writing (for various unrelated reasons), I noticed a couple of interesting things.

In the Off the Cuff GMing series, I mentioned no fewer than three times that “Game Masters are facilitators.” This series was written starting in September 2013, long before I even imagined getting a degree in leadership.

Going back even earlier to 2012, the GM advice chapter of Psi-punk says “GMs are leaders, but their mission should be to lead alongside the players—more like a guide—than to rule overthe action with an iron fist” (pg. 152).

Finally, I once had this idea to design a “GM Character Sheet.” The idea was to allow GMs to rank themselves in terms of certain skills and give them a place to track their progress as they “levelled up” as Game Masters. Every skill on the original list is one which any leader should have.

Here’s an image of the original protype GM character sheet:

Image of a GM Character Sheet.

Click to enlarge image.

I designed this in 2013. Notice some of the skills such as Accepting Criticism, Public Speaking, Time Management, Player Wrangling, Rules Lookup, etc. These are all just as applicable to GMing as they are to leadership.

Clearly, I’ve spent a lot more time thinking about this concept over the years than I realized. Long before I knew what a leader looked like, and certainly a long time before I felt like I could ever be a leader, I was already defining what that role looked like for me. As it turns out, it might look like that for a lot of other people too.

What do you think? Do you feel like a leader when you’re in the GM’s chair? Do you feel like you could improve your skills? Would it be helpful to read a book that really spelled out the similarities between these two roles?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.