There was a time not too long ago where I maintained a large network of Game Masters that I’d played with over the years, both as a teen and then later in the military. We would shoot the breeze, talk about how the gaming was at our hometown or current assignment. Then, I began to notice some folks drifting away from the conversation—some of the best GMs I’ve ever know, no longer chatting up it with our little fellowship. Many did not frequent the ENWorlds and RPGnets and RPGSites of our hobby, but still kept those lines of communication open.
So, I decided to conduct a poll: was my list of GMs—some of the most dedicated and excellent gamers I’ve ever known—really shrinking? Over the past month, I worked at tracking down 34 Game Masters of my acquaintance—many in the military or now retired from service, many others online acquaintances hearkening back to my first forays into gaming discussion online circa 2000. The results were perhaps not unexpected, but were also not heartening. (I will note each GM here has at least 5 years of GMing experience, or has been GMing intermittently at various points over the past 10+).
In Relation To Five Years Ago, Do You Now GM More, Less, About The Same, Or Do You No Longer GM?
More 14.7 % (5)
Less 35.3% (12)
About The Same 26.5% (9)
I No Longer GM 23.5% (8)
Of Those Who GM Less Or No Longer GM, Do You Still Play Tabletop RPGs?
Yes, Frequently 20% (4)
Yes, Sometimes 20% (4)
Yes, Rarely 20% (4)
No 40% (8)
Choose Two Reasons That Are The Largest Pressure On Your GMing or Reasons You GM Less/No Longer GM:
Unable To Find Audience For Games I Enjoy 20.6% (14)
General Unhappiness With The State of Gaming 14.7% (10)
Unable To Find Any/Enough Gamers, Period 14.7% (10)
Family Considerations 14.7% (10)
No Longer Interested/Changed Hobbies 11.8% (8)
Increased Work Responsibility 11.8% (8)
Other Time Constraints 5.9% (4)
Ease/Fun of Electronic Gaming 5.9% (4)
What Is Your Favorite System?
D&D 3.5 20.6% (7)
AD&D 1e or Variants 11.8% (4)
Palladium/Megaversal (Rifts/Palladium Fantasy) 11.8% (4)
D&D 4e 11.8% (4)
Basic D&D or Variants 8.8% (3)
Storyteller 5.9% (2)
D6 5.9% (2)
Star Wars Saga 5.9% (2)
Rolemaster 2e 2.9% (1)
Rolemaster Standard 2.9% (1)
Classic Traveller 2.9% (1)
Warhammer Fantasy 2e 2.9% (1)
AD&D 2e 2.9% (1)
Amber 2.9% (1)
This is not meant to be a doom-and-gloom article, nor do I claim my poll is in any way scientific or definitive. But I will ask: how many of us are the lone or at least primary GM for our gaming group? How often do you get a break? Is your group (as sales would likely suggest) one of those not turned on by a shared-power or GM-less game?
What really shocked me is how many of them still wanted to GM or play—but time constraints, unhappiness with something in the hobby or an experience, or a dearth of face-to-face players was either severely reducing their GMing or eliminating it all together. I imagine a player survey would be much the same. Still, old news, right? Hasn’t this sort of stuff been making the rounds for years?
I’ve always held that being a GM is not for everyone—some players don’t want that level of participation, while others don’t like or can’t handle the involvement that position brings. But in a hobby where it has often become more difficult to find face-to-face players in our towns and cities, we should ask ourselves why we shouldn’t expect a similar decline in competent Game Masters.
We have more resources online for Game Masters than ever before! And the internet is doubtless a fantastic tool for this, but how much of it is getting that majority of “lost tribe” tabletop gamers? (I also contend that in my experience [and as the poll shows in this instance], the majority of gamers out there not hot n’ heavy online definitely tend to skew more towards grognardism, and it is not uncommon to find them still rocking out the same games they were 25 years ago. If there is an upside to this, it might be that there's a lot of folks out there who could contribute much to the Old School Gaming "Revival"--were they aware of it).
In the end, with the explosion of GM resources online, I have more Game Masters than ever before, from all over the world who I can bounce ideas off. But that doesn’t mean I don’t miss those who’ve fallen by the wayside.