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...



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