December 30, 2019

Are DMs/GMs Storytellers?

In the tabletop role playing game community, there is some significant debate over whether GMs/DMs should be considered storytellers.

For a debate over semantics, there sure are a lot of heated opinions so I will steer clear of poking the hornets. Instead, I invite the participants to focus on what telling a story really is in 2019.

Certainly telling a story in the Homeric sense still applies – and likely always will – and same goes for movies, books, and plays.

But aren’t there some amazing stories in video games, which, by their nature are interactive? The Last of Us, Ocarina of Time, Chrono Trigger, Baldur’s Gate II come to mind as games with superlative stories. So aren’t the makers of the game storytellers in their own right? And aren’t we, the audience, enriched by the experience?

40, even 30 years ago, no one could have reasonably claimed that video games were an excellent storytelling medium. Even today, outside the video game community, people wrongly believe that video games cannot make for great stories.

I raise video games as an example for the following analogy: in many ways, tabletop role playing games are in a similar boat today in 2019 that video games were in 1999. Not yet taken seriously as a storytelling medium, the most extraordinary of which absolutely and unequivocally are/were amazing stories.

So like those teams of people creating video games, is the GM a storyteller? Instead of answering the question directly, ask yourself: could the GM run a tabletop role playing game story without the players? Of course not, the same way those video game developers could not produce games without artists, coders, writers, level designers etc.

The better answer than Yes or No to “Is the TTRPG GM as storyteller?” is “Yes, in conjunction with everyone at that table.”

We all have a role to play and in isolation, those roles paint an incomplete picture. But together? Together they can be something special when they come together in just the right way…