Game Mastery as Hospitality
So I recall something I once heard about hospitality as folk art. Essentially, the story goes like this. During a point in time in American history, there were precious few women artists in the records. Scholar's scratched their heads at the lack of women being represented in the arts until one scholar found something really interesting: women's artistic expression was very abundant, just not in the ways which we usually think have a place in the museum, but rather in the home.
Women had been actively and vigorously engaged in the folk art of hospitality. Home decor, food, quilts, blankets, hand-knit clothing, all things that only might show up for a moment or be kept as treasured artifacts for generations. There are two ways that we might see this: that art and art scholarship is sexist, or we might think of it another way: that this subtle art of women was too valuable to be put in old museums where it could not be used and loved.
So we might call this post Game Mastery as Hospitality as Folk Art.
So often, our focus when we talk about Game Mastery is how do we run specific games. People want to run 5e or Pathfinder or OSR games or what have you. But I think we need to widen our scope a little. Almost everyone in the OSR sphere has their own personal system, and if it not their whole-cloth system then they almost certainly have house-rules. In my last theory post, I talked about how each instance of Play cannot be replicated. I would also say that each Game Master is completely distinct and the way they run games is very distinct even when they are running the same ruleset. We live in kind of a tiered world at the moment. Game Designers are our highest on the totem pole, below them the Game Masters, and below them the Players. I say that Design is in anyone's hands and that anyone can GM.
But, let's be honest, Game Mastery is something only a certain amount of people will do. Most people want to play or don't have the temperament to Game Master. That, to me, is just a recognition of reality. Even fewer people will actually go so far as to design and publish their own game. This reality, I think makes some people think that Design is this unreachable thing, and thus the gap between the Designers and the Game Masters persists. However, I'd say that this is mostly an artificial gap.
Game Masters who are consistently building their own worlds will inevitably be Designing in one way or another, but they call their stuff homebrew while the Wizard of the Coast's stuff is "official." When I first saw someone say that they were running a "homebrew campaign" I did a double-take. I thought: "Do they mean they are running the game with their own system?" Nope. They just meant they were writing their own campaign material.
I can accept the utility of a term like "homebrew" for saying that someone has made something themselves and added it into a game system, but I see absolutely no reason to use "homebrew" to describe someone's own campaign. I don't even really see how you truly run your campaign entirely using "official" stuff. Once again, surely everything is a little bit "homebrew," then, right?
And that is where the truth comes in: Game Masters are not homebrewers, they are Designers, and they are more. The Game Master is engaged in the Folk Art of Hospitality.
I think Hospitality is a good way to describe Game Mastery for many reasons:
- The GM's job is to make sure everyone is enjoying themselves.
- The GM's product is the labor of their own individual artistic expression.
- The GM's art is really only seen in products that are mainly useful in the moment.
- GMing is usually passed down from generation to generation. One mentoring another.
- GM over system
- GM's art is their own artistic expression
- GMing should be about "hosting" the players: helping them enjoy themselves