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Hero's Journey Developer Journal #1: "What is this GameMaster you speak of?"

As told by Stephanie Shaver, Designer, Webmaster, formerly GameMaster Rowan of DragonRealms

Those of you who have played tabletop RPGs like Vampire: the Masquerade, D&D, or GURPS know what a GameMaster (or DungeonMaster) is. For you newcomers who've never experienced the thrill of sitting around for eight hours while your character sat in a "charmed" state and ran around the map slaughtering the rest of your party members, allow me to explain.

A GameMaster, in the purest sense, is the person who builds the scenarios, monsters, non-player characters, world, and mechanics that their players must grapple with. Now, for those who have the money or friends with money, there are shortcuts. Nearly every GameMaster uses an already-established gaming system (though they may mod it to their own tastes). Some GameMasters build their own world using popsicle sticks and bits of twine, and some use a well-known world like Faerun or the Rifts universe to set their campaign in.

HeroBlade, the GM editing tool

Though other MMORPGs have GameMasters, their use of the term can be a bit misleading for those of us who come from the land of natural 20s and tiny pewter dudes. When was the last time a GameMaster in your favorite MMORPG walked you through a dungeon and popped a secret door full of angry black dragons open on the heads of your party?

Yeaaaah. I didn't think so.

GameMasters in Simutronics products are divided into two categories: the kind you meet most often in MMORPGs, and the kind you don't. Yes, our stellar army of customer service GameMasters handles customer issues and deal with bugs and exploits and all that gosh-golly-darn fun stuff. They do it with a wink and a smile, and I hear every time a bell rings one of them gets their wings. They're the bestest people on the planet, especially at a SimuCon, at 2 AM, when you really really really need a diet coke and the bar is closed.

I digress.

But there is another side to the GameMaster title. The elite corps of secret ninja coders who do other things that more closely approximate the GameMaster title, as it pertains to tabletop RPGs. These are the ones who build our unique areas, quests, and items. These are the development GameMasters.

I started as a development GameMaster before there was such a thing. Way back in the '90s when the Interwebs was new and no one had yet to put the phrase "WTF?" on a t-shirt and the concept of dancing "hampsters" had yet to take the world by storm, I was coding professions, areas, abilities, and quests for our bouncing baby fantasy game, DragonRealms. The language of choice was GSL, a proprietary language with lots of dots and pre-established variables and if/thens. It was the first time I'd ever coded anything other than LINE 10 PRINT "Hi!", and I took to it like a college student desperately trying to avoid doing her homework. Take that, California system of education!

Before that, I usually avoided doing homework by being a DM for my local gaming group. I found the change of venue at once refreshing and challenging. No, I couldn't quite run scenarios like I was used to. But I also discovered more (not less) roleplaying in my online community than I'd seen even in my tiny group of hardcore tabletop gamers, and that rocked harder than a roomful of granite rocking chairs.

The asset library

So that was a text-based game, where making an ice cream cone is as simple as typing a command and "a tasty,ice cream,cone". What about a full-blown 3D experience, where the same ice cream cone would require at least two artists and a compulsory trip to 31 Flavors? The development (or dev) GameMasters in Hero's Journey can best be imagined as a tabletop GM who has a world to work with (gratis the world dev team), mechanics established (gratis the game design team), and a palette of creatures and areas to dip their creative paintbrush in. Their only limitation is their imagination. And bandwidth. And rendering speed.

Unlike other Simutronics products, Hero's Journey intends to traumatize your lovingly rendered adventurer with more than just the common area waltz. Our quest systems have us excited because it's drawing ever nearer to that magical spark that makes tabletop games so much fun. And we intend to harness that spark to the fullest effect of our capability.

The progress of creating a quest starts with an outline. A storyboard, if you will. Though we encourage our dev GameMasters to be crazygonuts in their own personal sandboxes, an actual in-game quest requires a plan to be executed. And any plan needs a team. One person could technically build a quest all on their lonesome, but that would require more freetime and caffeine than most of us have, and so quests are executed by teams instead of individuals. One person constructs the area using specialized terrain pieces or our terrain editor.

Several others "dress" it with buildings, plants, NPCs, and so on. All this is done with the HeroBlade interface, our GameMaster GUI where you can do fun stuff like turn a coworker's otherwise sensible avatar into a pirate with hot pink pajamas and a pegleg foot! Not that I ever would, mind you.

A group of GMs holding a meeting

This type of dev work (dressing, area design, outfitting NPCs) is usually picked up by those with good aesthetics, but not necessarily a handle on coding. The individuals who do like their loops and statements dig into HSL (HeroScript Language) to script unique and unusual items, creatures, and environmental events. There they frolic in variables and objects like dolphins in the waves, preparing for the day when they, too, can unleash unholy monsters upon our customer base for all to enjoy and run in terror from. Tee hee!

So that's what a GameMaster is at Simutronics. Still not a tabletop GM, but then, who wants to watch their character run around for eight hours as the slave of a lich king or get disintegrated in the first five minutes of play due to a failed saving throw? Simutronics GameMasters have lots of different roles to choose from. There are the smiling seraphim who handle assists and fix items and characters, there are the set-builders who turn a drab inn into a lively building full of character and warmth, and then there are the malevolent plague-ridden scalawags who write GUI and unique scripts to spring on unwary adventurers. We love them all!

And if, say, this has piqued your interest in becoming a GameMaster, might I recommend talking to any of our sixty GameMasters? Just ask on the forums here at MMORPG. Operators are standing by.

- Stephanie Shaver, Designer, Webmaster - Simutronics

Thank you to Simutronics. We look forward to as many developer journals as we've had Q&As!

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