RPG Talk: The GameMaster as Detective

The GameMaster is many things: Referee, setting expert, storyteller, day player... but one thing I never hear mention is that he's also a detective.

Think about it.

One of the key aspects of detective work is noticing details. Be they clues or inconsistencies, details are the bread and butter of the good detective. I dare say it's also an important arrow in the GM's quiver. And not just remembering setting/adventure details that he himself (or the game designers) put into the game, but "clues" dropped by the PLAYERS.

When a player does something, mentions something, throws away a bit of back story, the perceptive GM will either note it, remember it, or otherwise pick up on it, and could use it at some later point. Therein lies the difference between being railroaded through a set scenario and an adventure that grows organically and becomes personal to the party.

The GM is often playing catch-up, juggling entirely too many things in any given game while the players happily mind their one character sheet and throw curve balls. Unavoidably, mistakes are made, inconsistencies crop up, someone will call the GM out on it. Again, puzzling these problems out like a detective would, our struggling GM has to make the pieces fit, find a reasonable explanation why what just happened COULD happen. It can take the game into a new and surprising direction. The players might be intrigued by something you never thought important. How is the mistake not a mistake? Is it a sinister glitch? Does it mean more than anyone thought?

Because players will totally do that. Obsess over the importance of something you only accidentally gave meaning to. If you sweep it under the carpet, they'll think you're hiding something. They're crazy. But if it's turned them into detectives, so should it do you. If they expect a mystery and a resolution, you'll need to provide one. If they're to solve it, you'll have to drop more clues, clues that make sense. So even if you're the mystery's author, it takes a detective's mind to craft it, to see links between the elements already on the table. Just like in the game, you are omniscient and yet not.

And it all comes down to the ability to notice and remember details, to connect them in a greater story, to ferret out the hidden meaning behind innocuous words and actions. For the GM, there's a lot of joy to be had BETWEEN games coming up with Eureka moments that will hopefully lead the players to their own in-game.

Break out your magnifying glasses, it's gonna be a long night...



Blog Archive


5 Things to Like Activities Advice Alien Nation Aliens Say the Darndest Things Alpha Flight Amalgam Ambush Bug Animal Man anime Aquaman Archetypes Archie Heroes Arrowed Asterix Atom Avengers Awards Babylon 5 Batman Battle Shovel Battlestar Galactica Black Canary BnB 2-in1 Books Booster Gold Buffy Canada Captain America Captain Marvel Cat CCGs Charlton Circles of Hell Class Comics Comics Code Approved Conan Contest Cooking Crisis Daredevil Dating Kara Zor-El Dating Lois Lane Dating Lucy Lane Dating Princess Diana DCAU Deadman Dial H Dice Dinosaur Island Dinosaurs Director Profiles Doctor Who Doom Patrol Down the Rabbit Hole Dr. Strange Encyclopedia Fantastic Four Fashion Nightmares Fiasco Films Within Films Flash Flushpoint Foldees French Friday Night Fights Fun with Covers FW Team-Up Galleries Game design Gaming Geekly roundup Geeks Anonymous Geekwear Gimme That Star Trek Godzilla Golden Age Grant Morrison Great Match-Ups of Science Fiction Green Arrow Green Lantern Hawkman Hero Points Podcast Holidays House of Mystery Hulk Human Target Improv Inspiration Intersect Invasion Invasion Podcast Iron Man Jack Kirby Jimmy Olsen JLA JSA Judge Dredd K9 the Series Kirby Motivationals Krypto Kung Fu Learning to Fly Legion Letters pages Liveblog Lonely Hearts Podcast Lord of the Rings Machine Man Motivationals Man-Thing Marquee Masters of the Universe Memes Memorable Moments Metal Men Metamorpho Micronauts Millennium Mini-Comics Monday Morning Macking Movies Mr. Terrific Music Nelvana of the Northern Lights Nightmare Fuel Number Ones Obituaries oHOTmu OR NOT? Old52 One Panel Outsiders Panels from Sheena Paper Dolls Play Podcast Polls Questionable Fridays Radio Rants Reaganocomics Recollected Red Bee Red Tornado Reign Retro-Comics Reviews Rom RPGs Sandman Sapphire & Steel Sarah Jane Adventures Saturday Morning Cartoons SBG for Girls Seasons of DWAITAS Secret Origins Podcast Secret Wars SF Shut Up Star Boy Silver Age Siskoid as Editor Siskoid's Mailbox Space 1999 Spectre Spider-Man Spring Cleaning ST non-fiction ST novels: DS9 ST novels: S.C.E. ST novels: The Shat ST novels: TNG ST novels: TOS Star Trek Streaky Suicide Squad Supergirl Superman Supershill Swamp Thing Tales from Earth-Prime Team Horrible Teen Titans That Franchise I Never Talk About The Prisoner The Thing Then and Now Theory Thor Thursdays of Two Worlds Time Capsule Timeslip Tintin Torchwood Tourist Traps of the Forgotten Realms Toys Turnarounds TV V Waking Life Warehouse 13 Websites What If? Who's This? Whoniverse-B Wikileaked Wonder Woman X-Files X-Men Zine