As a game master you craft worlds from vapor of nothingness, conjure larger than life villains, develop casts of unique and wonderful NPCs, and pen plots filled with mystery, intrigue, and heroic struggles. You are also responsible for everything else, especially keeping those ridiculous players from ruining everything. Sloped brows and knuckles covered in a fine patina of Cheetos dust dragging the ground its a masterwork in itself keeping your masterworks from being destroyed at their grubby, feces-flinging paws.
As anyone who has spent a session behind the screen can attest a game master is extraordinarily busy, keeping tabs on a multitude of different areas at one time. Along with all the power of being a game master comes the greatest power we know, the power of delegation. After the action has died down and the group is in the middle of changing scenes there is a certain amount of down time for the players. Normally this is spent with some sort of table talk or off-topic cross talk and refreshment/bathroom breaks. All the while the studious game master is erasing and drawing new maps, totaling XP, looking through session notes, and setting up for the next scene. Drop some of this responsibility on your players.
I have put together a short list of different duties to assign players at the table. Some I have experience doling out, others have a tendency to develop naturally at the table. I believe it beneficial to legitimize the roles and assign them as a campaign starts.
Scribe/Scrivener/Chronicler: The Scribe, Scrivener, or Chronicler is responsible for taking the session notes. When I DM/GM I have enough on my hands, making secret notes of plot ideas to also keep track of what the general actions of the adventuring group and their take on the proceedings. I have seen this work out really detailed (narrative form in paragraphs) and very simply (bullet points like meeting minutes).
- Pros: Perfect fit for those players who love to take notes and/or write fiction. This is also a great way to reinforce players learning the names of people and places in the campaign world. If the players can’t remember Duke Veros’s name and can’t find it in the game notes that PC just drew a blank on the guy’s name, which may turn out poorly. Have the player send you a copy of the notes (email) or post them (Obsidian Portal). This is a great way to get a real fix on what the players think is happening in the campaign (Encourage the Scribe to provide commentary from table talk).
- Cons: It can be devastating if this player is unable to make it, something happens to the notes (assuming they’re not already posted online somewhere… Google Docs, Obsidian Portal, DropBox hint hint). You may not have the sort of person in your group who likes this sort of thing, making this duty the biggest chore and headache.
Quartermaster/Gear Box/Exchequer: Assign one person to handle the party’s gear, treasure, and money (barring weapons). Every session it seems like people have to go through equipment, divide up loot, try to remember who is carrying what and how many healing potions. Give this job to one person to save you a lot of headaches. Eventually you will come to a point when you need to know who has the healing potion. Out of combat it doesn’t really matter but in a tense situation just roll for it. Have four players, roll a d4 starting on your left to determine who’s carrying it. Have five players, roll a d6 and on a six deem it ‘DM’s Choice’ and place it where most dramatically appropriate.
- Pros: Simplifies the who carries what and you will always be able to quickly reference the total wealth, rations, and sundry items the party has at any time. Circumvents any discrepancies about who’s carrying the last heal potion or clip of pistol ammo. Great job for whoever is the party loot freak or enjoys simple math.
- Cons: If you’re one of those weird people who is really into encumbrance rules or have a lot of situations where people lose gear (falls off a mountain, pack gets ripped open, plain unabashed thievery) it probably won’t work for you. Also if your players are cheats and liars this doesn’t work, but why would you play with those people anyways?
Combat Monkey: This role takes care of numerous duties during combat, can be broken down to numerous players if it is too much for one person. The Combat Monkey takes care of tracking initiative, tracking conditions and statuses, tracking marks/challenges/quarries/curse etc.
- Pros: This is probably the most difficult array of items for a game master to keep straight at the table. It is the perfect job for a player who is also a game master, or a power gamer. Assign to a veteran player, someone who already has a firm grasp on the combat rules and how different conditions, effects, statuses, etc. work. As a game master this person should act as a double check on what PCs and baddies can do on their turns. Choose someone you know will be fair so you don’t second guess them.
- Cons: Out of all the roles this one requires the most concentrated focus. It is not for those players who completely zone out when it’s not their turn and have no idea what’s going on most of the time. This is not the duty for a player new to the system or someone whose least favorite aspect of RPGs is combat.
Map Monkey/Cartographer: Assign this to your group’s creative person. Unless you just love drawing maps or mark spoiler/meta info on your maps hand over the graph paper and let someone with a flair for the arts bring your dungeon to life. If you do happen to love drawing maps I suggest investing in a Paizo Flip-Mat or two. When I want to make special maps I bust out the flip-mats the night before and draw the maps in permanent marker. Fold the mats back up and they won’t wear away before you play. Slap the new maps down as needed, pre-drawn. Go over the marker with wet or dry erase marker and it cleans off easily. Seriously, I’ve left Sharpie on a flip-mat for 3+ months and it came up good as new with a little bit of tracing and elbow grease. (So… Paizo if you feel like sending me an Inn, Market, or Ship flip-mat I’m not picky ^^;)
- Pros: Save your players from trying to discern your squiggle blobs from your blob squiggles. It engages the player who constantly doodles in the margins of his character sheet. Map drawing at the table can be a serious time suck in between scenes, letting someone else do it while you ready monster stats and miniatures will seriously save some time at the table.
- Cons: Not useful if your group can’t draw a stick figure between them. If you write info all over your maps you will need to make sure the player can deal with meta information or doesn’t accidentally draw all the floor panel traps out on accident (seriously, this happens more often than you would think). Maybe you just love drawing maps more than the time you waste doing it, like previously stated look into Paizo Flip-Mats and get crazy into drawing your maps beforehand. The wow factor when you drop one down on the table ready to go is quite rewarding.
Concessionaire/Drink & Snacks B*tch: Assign a person to fetch the group’s eats and drinks. This keeps people from meandering off and getting sidetracked with something else. Perhaps the only thing more annoying than waiting on someone to finish a Star Trek conversation in a different room is someone who has to take a 10-15 minute smoke break every hour.
- Pros: Keeps people at the table and makes the transition from one scene to the next easier. Great for situations where quarters may be cramped or people are stuck on the inside (dining booth or against the back wall). Assign it to your player who frequently has to get up and use the restroom, get a drink, or just can’t sit still.
- Cons: Some people just don’t handle this sort of task very well. Either it takes too long, they get distracted, or come back with the wrong thing or nothing. In a home game this isn’t much of a downside but if you play in public, at an FLGS or elsewhere, it can be a royal pain. Besides people should get up and stretch their legs at least once in a 4+ hour game session anyhow.
Using these roles in your play sessions will ease a little of the GM burden and actually help to keep your players better engaged at the table. They should be willing to do this much if they aren’t already bribing you with pizza and soda to run games for them. You could probably arrange some sort of in-game benefit for dutifully performing their roles but I can’t think of what it might be off the top of my head. Usually running a campaign in itself is enough reason for people to take on the roles.