GM does a tap dance

edited February 2010 in Actual Play
This is actually going back a long time; I think to about 1985. At that time I was running a game of RuneQuest , set in Glorantha, which had already been running a couple of years.

I had heaps of RQ material, and lately the group had been messing around with various missions and stuff in the Troll lands. Gloranthan cultures are marvellously detailed and none more so than the Trolls, or Uz. One little cultural detail is the game of trollball, in which the ball is a live trollkin and the referees are giants. Otherwise more or less like American football.

(I see you can now actually purchase the game as a boardgame from Chaosium.)

The session divided into several parts. The first part was straight in-character interaction with the troll NPCs. They had previously met these NPCs out in the wild and established friendly relations. There was a big trollball match coming up and this village/town was hosting it.

The second part was a scratch match of trollball that some trolls invited the PCs to play in. For this we busted out the hex grid map from Trollpak and did tactical movement (also combat, because weapons are allowed in trollball). The best part was when one of the giants refereeing literally booted one of our PCs out of the game (there were rules for this, e.g. how far a character of given size would be punted with a kick).

The third part of the game was the most illuminating part for me. The whole game had been building up to the big match, and I had been worrying about how to present it all game. We'd even picked up a couple of spectators, friends of the host who'd dropped by for something and ended up getting drawn into the game.

I didn't know whether to set the board up again or what. Should I get the group to play NPCs? BUt the scratch match had been fun and I felt that setting up the hex grid again was just going to be anticlimactic.

In the moment, I just winged it. I started describing the game, and rolling the dice. I had done some theatre; I looked at my audience and I had them. For several minutes I simply rolled dice and talked – leaving the PCs out of it entirely. I built the tension with an almost tied game; I released it with a spectacular goal with seconds to go. "YAY!!!" all round the table, even from the visitors. Buzzy feeling all round.

I was a bit stunned. I had entertained the table by myself. This wasn't roleplaying, it was theatre. I sat there basking in the effect and feeling like something had gone vaguely wrong.


  • Yes, totally. I think we often forget the theatrical aspect of games. Especially in indie gaming, we like to see games as everyone-sitting-around-a-table-being-equal. So we lose that sense of the GM performing, which is a lot of fun.

  • But if the GM did that, would you notice and what would you think?
  • Well, noticing and disapproving aren't nearly the same thing.

    A similar sort of thing I half remember are the cut scenes that an old GM of mine used to do during a WEG Star Wars game. They were never that long, but they were moments when all the players would be sitting back, basically watching the GM talk to himself. Even the cut scenes that were weren't automatically invested in because the scene had something to do directly with our characters we tended to pay attention to, because there was the fun of trying to figure out exactly how the hell it had to do with anything. Other times, it was stuff that involved what were essentially GMPCs (he had quite a few) but no one really minded, because we'd all invested into his GMPCs, and made them co-owned story elements.. Sure, he played them all, but we had relationships with them, sometimes complicated ones, and we cared about them.
  • My guess is that the narrated game worked for the same reasons: we'd spent time building up the relationships between the PCs and the NPCs, some of whom were the match players.
  • There's certainly another side to this.
    I think that other side has been brought to light by better people than myself.
  • Posted By: droogBut if the GM did that, would you notice and what would you think?
    These days, I think I'd like it for a while, but then want a turn myself.

    I do like GM performance, but there's a limit to it. Giving me cool things to react to is good; giving me stuff to watch is good for a while.

  • The trick is knowing if you are entertaining or if the players are just politely watching but getting frustrated that they can't do anything.
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