RPGaDay day 2 – First RPG GAMEMASTER

Today’s prompt for RPGaDay is First RPG GAMEMASTER. Maybe I’ll answer this in two ways.

My first dungeon master, as I said a few years back, was a friend who had the classic B2 Keep on the Borderlands. This was the mid 1980s and it was one of my first sleepovers on my own (without my family). We spent a chilly weekend, most of it playing D&D. I don’t remember bothering with the keep part of it, though I must have done some character creation/equipping, and nor do I remember going through the wilderness to the ravine.

In my memory we started at the entrance to the ravine. There were just the two of us, and again I don’t remember anything about the character or characters I played, how big the party was, and hence how many (if any) NPCs Adrian played. I do remember working our way through the different caverns, trying to clear them all out. We were just two teenage boys spending the weekend together, so no attempt at strategy or forming alliances or trying to negotiate – just bash our way through and try not to get killed.

I hadn’t much clue, and I’m not sure Adrian had much more. I don’t even know if he’d played any before himself, or if this was his introduction as well. That was the last time he DMed for me – after that I acquired the Mentzer Red Box set myself and took over with him as player, and me as both DM and player. But I was hooked, and we continued to play (mostly just the two of us, though occasionally with others) until he joined the army and I headed off to university.


That’s the answer to the full prompt. Now just “GAMEMASTER”.

When I started, it was always Dungeon Master – as I used above. And initially, it was just dungeons. The Basic set ran from levels 1-3, and there wasn’t much suggestion of going outside, it was all about underground features on squared paper.

The Expert set introduced the concept of above-ground travel and hexes, along with appropriate monsters, the Companion set brought in dominions, mass warfare (and more monsters), and the Master set brought in Weapon Mastery, other planes, artifacts and the path to immortality (and more monsters, including the lich). Then the Immortals set broke away from the prime plane completely into almost a new game. But throughout, we still spoke of the Dungeon Master.

I didn’t find a suitable set of D&D companions once at university. I tried introducing my girlfriend (now wife) to it but she was not impressed, and we were too busy Scottish dancing and running the university dancing society (and occasionally studying as well…) to have time for D&D. So it fell by the wayside until we were married, had children, and said children started asking me about it. I dusted off the old books and started a campaign for my family. My son enjoyed it, but my wife and daughter humoured me for a bit then gave up. But I’d got the taste back, and I bought up the rest of the Mystara gazetteers that I hadn’t been able to afford as a teenager and read them avidly.

During the process of starting my family up, I looked about for the current state of play and discovered we were now at 5th edition, so started transitioning. I had a fallow period with no-one to play with me, then thought of looking about in Edinburgh for dedicated players, found ORC Edinburgh (the local role-playing community), recruited some players and started a campaign. One of them is still with me, 6 years, 3 characters and two campaigns later…

Oh yes – and I also discovered Dungeon Master was now more generally referred to as the Games Master. It still feels a bit forced when I say it, but I can see the point. Interestingly the D&D rulebooks still refer to the Dungeon Master – BECMI had the Dungeon Masters XXX, AD&D had the Dungeon Master’s Guide, 3e again had the Dungeon Master’s Guide, and of course, so does 5e still. But Pathfinder, Pathfinder II and Tales of the Valiant use the term Game Master. Of course, the role has yet other names in other systems – Narrator in Level Up A5E, Castle Keeper in Castles and Crusades.

It feels like the internet consensus (as much as the internet can ever come to a consensus) has settled on Game Master…but I still think of myself as the Dungeon master…

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