WizardThiefFighter’s Thoughts on GMing vs? Playing

ETA: there’s a third, related post that I didn’t catch my first pass…just throwing that in here.

I was reading some posts from Luka Rejec at WizardThiefFighter and thought they were a really great breakdown and initial interrogation of the GM/Referee/etc. and player/hero/etc. dichotomy present/inherited at the table.

I think we’re all having this conversations and especially here in Gauntlet spaces, but I like Luka’s framing and approach.

What do y’all think?


The first one made me cranky with stance of the GM “being the adult in the playroom” and “They might have their dice taken away” and the like; I feel like these sorts of comments undermine my ability to take the writer’s points seriously.

But mostly, I don’t feel like the writer has anything to say. “We’re all players here! we should all be having fun! It’s no big deal if you forget a rule! You could even switch up the GM sometimes!” – none of this is new or clever or insightful. The list of “roles” is sortof interesting, though again, not super innovative – I’ve seen multiple games address lots of these same sorts of things.

So I guess… I don’t like Luka’s framing and approach. =/


The emphasis on GMs not needing their own book seems very focused on D&D. If there’s an indie game that divides player and GM rules into their own texts, I’m not aware of it.

Sometimes the “master” is advised to be a fan of the “players”. They might even have their dice taken away, because, you know … they’re fans, not players…

And I hate this . I think it is deeply, deeply stupid. Every one of us meeting for some roleplaytime is a player.

This seems like a dig at PbtA, and a fairly disingenuous strawman argument. Apocalypse World is not asserting that the MC is an impartial ref who is not allowed to have fun.


I agree with the overall conclusion of the first article; the GM is a player too, and that falling into a mindset that the referee is a meat automaton which pushes the bits around for the " real" players is not fun. But I think they are approaching the task from an ignorant point of view (ignorant in the most literal sense; lack of knowledge).

There are tons of RPGs with distributed “GM” responsibilities or complete lack of a GM; because RPGs are asymmetrical games and as long as all the actions required to play the game are being performed, the game will function regardless of how those actions are distributed among players

why is the whole rpg industry constantly producing books for just one of the players?

The self-serious answer is because an asynchronous game should have complete rules for every role, and it’s easier to everyone playing role A to have their own reference book not clogged up with rules for role B (and vice versa)

The pragmatic answer is RPGs are not super proftiable, and selling twice the books for the same game is twice the income.

I like the direction being followed in the second article, although I wish they kept going. Breaking down “GMing” into discrete tasks means it is now possible to distribute those tasks among all the players or identify tasks which can be performed collaboratively.

My huff shows up here

the basic form of the interaction between the players is the dialogue

This strikes me as a very Forge-esque sentence, and my soul lets out a big sigh when I see it.

Rant about my personal interpretation of RPGs

RPGs are, by and large, abstract. Unlike a typical board game, almost all of the interactions and rules are enacted without any physical anchor. In Monopoly; the shoe landing on Park Place with two hotels on it has very mechanical results because of what’s printed on the board. In Burning Wheel; when I say “my character sneaks behind the guard and attempts to knock them out with a swift strike to the head”, dice are invoked to determine the outcome, but my sneaking behind the guard and striking their head is not mechanically defined. Maybe the GM envisioned the guard with their back firmly against a stone wall. Maybe the other players assumed the guard had a perfect view of the scenery such that they couldn’t be approached stealthily. In my declaration and rolling of the dice I am proposing a pre and post state of the collaborative game world and collapsing the theoretical into an actual.

And it’s not the dialogue doing that, it’s the rules.

I’m irked by the statement that “dialogue” is the main mechanical interaction in an RPG. Dialogue is the medium and rules are the interaction. Me and another player having an in character conversation to roleplay does not invoke any rules. Me and another player having a psuedo in character conversation where we plan a heist does not invoke any rules. Me and another player sharing a joke out of character during downtime does not invoke any rules. We use dialogue at the table because that is mainly how humans communicate. We decide on which rules, when, and how those rules are invoked, but the dialogue itself is not an “interaction” within the game itself. My character can’t stab your character for 3 damage through dialogue, only by stating I want to do it and then invoking rules that determine if I stab your character and if so by how much.

to me, RPGs are collaborative storytelling. The game exists as a way to mediate the storytelling so that it does not devolve into “yeah huhs” and “nuh uhs”. The game is not some mimic that eats language and then wears its skin.

TLDR; we invoke rules through dialogue, but the rule are independent entities from the dialogue. To conflate the two leads to the navel gazing where we’re drawing arcane diagrams and philosophizing about the power dynamics of arguing over if you had your sword drawn or not when the goblins ambushed you.


@Airk: I don’t think the point here is that Luka has somehow invented something new. To me it seems that @darren is suggesting that this is as good a starting point for discussion as any other. And I tend to agree. So, I guess, the question is: what framing and approach would be the right one in your mind?

@Michael: I’m not sure it’s a dig at PbtA. Classic ttrpgs often disagree in the ideal stance GM should take with respect to players. Some paint him as a friend, some as an outright adversary. I think this is the reference point. Given my spotty familiarity with Luka’s twitter I think he’s more interested in exploring the gamist niche of the hobby. But my reading of his interests can be very wrong, obviously.

As for the indie game with separate books - Trudvang Chronicles has Players Guide and Game Master Guide as separate, hardcover books. Whether it’s indie enough, I don’t know. :wink:

@Radmad I’m certain Luka is not ignorant about distributed or GM-less games. It’s what first PS in " No Masters, Only Dungeons" mentions explicitly. :slight_smile:

The self-serious answer is because an asynchronous game should have complete rules for every role

Sure but I think Luka’s point (at least that’s what I found interesting in his posts) is that just like you can have warriors and mages who are essentially players with slightly different sets of rules, players and referees are just another dimension in the “what role am I playing?” matrix. If you approach GM/player dichotomy like this, you could easily argue that there should be no separate books for players and GMs. I mean, it’s not the only way to approach a ttrpg design, but it’s one worth exploring. GM-less games and games with a distributed GM are approaching this from another angle, “everyone is a warrior” kind of angle.

This strikes me as a very Forge-esque sentence, and my soul lets out a big sigh when I see it.

Really? It don’t see this implying that as a GNS stance, rather that we do exchange info through dialogue by the table. Whatever this dialogue means is up to the game/table culture.


I don’t know. I think the “dig at Apocalypse World” was quite clear, and undermined my ability to take his “this is a starting point for discussion” seriously. Partly because at no point did I notice him saying something along the lines of “This is a starting point for discussion” and partly because his stance felt quite dismissive of the approaches people have already taken to this “issue”. (Seriously – I’m sure some people still view the GM as a “meat robot” to do only mechanical tasks, but that sounds like a minority view at best.)

Do we think there is some sort of widespread stance in games that the GM is just there for the entertainment of the players? Because that feels like a very 90s position to me, and it’s not a stance I’ve seen advocated for in any of the games I’ve read recently. Is it in D&D5? I don’t have that, so maybe that’s where this comes from? But it seems counter to the “rulings not rules” stance of the OSR movement, and it’s certainly contrary to the philosophy of the indie games I see.

I don’t think Luka wrote these framed as a starting point; that was probably just my presentation. I don’t really think this is the starting point because, like I said, I think this conversation has been and is being had, like, everywhere — but it might be a useful one. What I appreciate in the series is the breakdown of everything, despite his jokey tone (which I fully understand can be a turnoff), and putting the roleplay speech acts and social functions under a microscope — especially disentangling the play responsibilities from the playtime responsibilities (e.g. adjudicate dice rolls vs. deciding on a time to meet). Again, nothing strikingly new here, but I appreciated seeing it all in one place.

As for Luka’s discussion and representation of GMs and the GM role, that can only come from his experience, which I don’t know the full extent of. Earlier in WTF there’s a very long post that’s rather against the Forge as a theoretical foundation, which does give some insight into where he’s coming from (that is, 3rd-ish edition of D&D). But I think in reading and discussing these posts from his personal blog, we can only assume he’s representing his own thoughts and experiences.


First and second article can be summarized with:

I suggest we drop the common dichotomy of dungeon master and role player, and look at what kind of things actually-existing humans do at actually-existing tables. At what kind of roles they play, if you will.

Once we have those roles in mind, we can try to figure out the needs of the different humans enjoying their roleplaytime together, and work to create toys that work for them.

From second article

In a classic tabletop roleplaying game, /…/, each session has two kinds of player. There is the player running the playtime (aka. the Referee) and there are the players running the protagonists (aka. the Runners).
Players perform multiple tasks during a roleplaytime session. Traditionally many systems bundle them together with the roles of referee …
[long list of tasks]

From third article. Needs to be read in full to follow the discussion.

… and I agree with the statement, that the game master is a player with slightly different role. In my game This is Pulp, all participants have a character sheet consisting of two moves. This is how they can influence the session. One person have a sheet where they can create conflict (the traditional game master), and the others how they can overcome these conflicts. I don’t separate the roles, other than giving the one who read the rulebook a slightly different agenda.

Kagematsu works in a similar way, where the game master plays a ronin that all the other players need to interact with. The players can suggest scenes, but the person who controls the ronin gets a final say.

I really like the third article - about thinking in tasks instead of roles.


In the latest episode of Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff they discuss the various personas a player (GM or not) speaks as during a game session. It’s not the same kind of division as looking at tasks, but it’s a similar type of breakdown of how the players act around the table.

Link for those interested:

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Just as a side note, for the last few years I really become disliking terms like “GM less”. Shouldn’t we address that game master is something that is on top of the game, not removed. Just like dice (dice less), it shouldn’t be assumed to be a part of a roleplaying game.

Why I dislike terms like these is that they tend to block roleplaying game designers’ mindset. This dichotomy suggested by the article(s) addresses this as well indirectly.

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It’s an excellent thought shift for designers (that a GM is a tool and not a requirement). But in terms of marketing and pitching games wouldn’t a grand majority be described as “GMfull” compared to indicating those which are “GMless”?

I don’t disagree with the sentiment but it might be a bit late to try and change the common jargon.


I thought “GMfull” was “Everyone is doing GM things” as opposed to “GMless” which is “No one does GM things.”
To be fair, I’m not sure what games are really considered “GMless” by that metric, but that’s my only understanding of the term “GMfull” (As opposed to, I guess just “GM’d” games, which have a single GM?)


I usually say “GMed” or “traditional GM role” or “collaborative, GMless, game”. I don’t think there’s a standard usage. (I can see the distinction between GMless and GMful in theory, but I’m not sure it’s very practical in actual use.)

I agree with you here; In theory, the distinction is clear, in practice, I’m not sure it’s actually possible to have a game with NO ONE doing any kind of “GM stuff” so I’m not sure how useful the distinction actually is.


Just to help stay on topic, maybe it would be useful to distinguish “GMed,” “GM-full” and “GM-less” in terms of task and task distribution.

If we assume “GMed” is the classic model, then there’s a (perhaps) disproportionate distribution of tasks at a table (even if that’s preferable for everyone): the GM is responsible for the setting, NPCs, rules/rolls adjudication and, possibly, organization, location, etc.
A “GM-full” table might have a more equitable distribution of tasks, yet the GM still retains authorial control — e.g., setting, NPC and adjudication are the GM’s responsibility, but perhaps other players are responsible for so-called playtime tasks.
And a “GM-less” group might almost invert the distribution. Authorial control isn’t necessarily centralized, but, even when it is, the GM looks to the other players for narrative decisions rather than being the sole arbiter (e.g. Devil’s Bargains in BitD or PbtA moves that ask the player to choose the consequence). In addition, playtime responsibilities continue to be distributed among the players, possibly looping the GM (if there is one — Belonging Outside Belonging is a great “GM-less” example, maybe) back into these responsibilities since they are not primarily responsible for authorship of the narrative.

How could using a task-based model help us clarify or define terms? Do we need to? How does this sort of work improve or hinder accessibility?

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Sorry, I don’t understand your definition of GMful.

It’s not a limited definition, that was meant to be an example how we could use tasks as a way to explore roles at the table, particularly granular definitions of/for facilitators. Feel free to expand, interrogate or reject it!

Reviewing the below post might help it make more sense:

As I’ve continued reading, I found more articles that made me think about this thread again. In addition, I want to call in another topic from these forums, because, in my opinion, there’s an intersectionality to these discussions that, I think, can enrich the conversation.

Putting roleplaytime and roles versus tasks in conversation with these discussions of presumed setting/play style and accessibiility/inclusivity/the common ground, especially with Kyle’s exploration of what OSR and Quest are doing, gives another approach for why we might want to interrogate roles and tasks at the table. Considering the setting tasks along with mechanical tasks can help us interrogate a text, much like Kyle did with Quest and Friends at the Table’s Partizan.

So I guess I wonder if there is a distributive or equitable — perhaps more accessible — way to distribute tasks even across setting and narrative elements. The Belonging Outside Belonging system’s approach to this, by eliminating the GM entirely and assigning setting elements as if they were characters, is one answer, but, considering that there isn’t even a resource to link to what, exactly, Belonging Outside Belonging is, I don’t think that’s helpful. This is primarily problematized by what Kyle identified in the presumed settings of the OSR genre: players can come to a D&D table and know what to expect from the setting elements that the DM will reveal — that is, unless they just don’t have that presumed setting knowledge, which is what the other topic discusses (albeit from a more actionable standpoint).


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