If you're curious about VR Roleplay and how it's run, read here.
Key Difference From Tabletop
Running a VR Roleplay is a bit like running a tabletop roleplay, but there's a key difference that changes the role significantly. In tabletop, the Game Master, or GM for short, often spends most of their time as an orator describing the world around them. Let me paint you a picture as an example"
The towering throne room is made of dark weathered stone and shows clear signs of decay. Treasure is illuminated by the flicker of fire and atop a prominent throne sits the beautiful ice queen. She's flanked by sword and shield resting on the thrones side, ready for a fight at a moment's notice. She smiles and looks at you before saying "Well, would you look at what has happened. This changes everything."
Now, let me paint that same picture in a VR Roleplay using the video below:
Well, would you look at what happened? This really does change everything.
Roleplay In Real-Time
The GM doesn't have to spend nearly as much time describing the world around a player, that's already largely been done when the map and avatars were prepared. Scenes that would take minutes of description are executed significantly faster. Because of this, time flows faster in VR Roleplay, sessions happen in near real-time outside of occasional moments where someone stops to ask an out-of-character question or resolve a contest with some kind of game mechanic. A game master tries their best not to interrupt this flow as when roleplay is so fluid, hard stops are all the more jarring.
So What does a GM do?
The GM often spends a lot more time making sure people are having fun than narrating the story. There a many moving parts flowing far faster than in a tabletop roleplay and it’s very challenging for a GM to retain the level of narrative control that they would expect in tabletop. Instead, players rapidly create their own stories while interacting with each other and the GM adjudicates contests between characters, referees disputes, and injects twists and story beats into the plotlines that begin developing.
Adjudicator And Referee
As an Adjudicator and Referee, the GM has an important role in facilitating a fair and fun roleplay. The GM might oversee a fight between two characters to ensure that it’s settled fairly within the mechanics of the roleplay. If a player is behaving poorly and spoiling the experience for others, it’s the GM's job to intervene however necessary. If a player is having a bad experience, the GM attempts to identify the problem and provide support. These are all familiar to the roles of a tabletop GM, but much more prominent in a VR Roleplay where so much is happening at once.
Creating Order From Chaos
There are so many moving parts that the GM also spends some of their time simply monitoring events and understanding as much as they can about different characters' ongoing plotlines and goals. A GM might observe, take notes, and come up with ideas on how to insert story beats into the players' experience that would interact well with their characters. The GM might also spot opportunities to assist players such as helping connect two people that are having trouble finding each other on the map.
Setting And Theme
The Game Master is also responsible for controlling the setting and maintaining its coherency. There’s often lots of background information to a setting that the GM knows but players might not, and the GM often acts as an encyclopedia of information when a player has a question regarding what exists within the world. Likewise, they might intervene when a player tries to step outside the boundaries of the setting, such as bringing a minigun to a roleplay set in a strictly medieval fantasy setting.
Narration (just less of it)
A game master does still have a role as a narrator, just a far smaller one. It would take too long to design 3d models and environments for every scenario players might get up to. The narration happens far less frequently, requires far fewer words, and can often be performed subtly without interrupting the flow of the roleplay. Game Master might even go invisible and whisper information in someone's ear or introduce a GM Character to divulge information diegetically through dialogue.
Speaking of GM Characters, a GM might spend a significant amount of time playing various ones during a session. They can switch between multiple avatars and have one step out when another needs to step in. In some VR RPs, the GM might spend most of their time as a GM Character, often one that has a measure of authority within the setting that can serve as a diegetic adjudicator and source of information. This helps avoid players having to break character to ask questions but restricts a GM to the environment around them, so it’s best done when the GM knows that lots of players are going to be staying relatively nearby for an extended period.
GMs working together
The lack of direct narrative control is part of one reason that some VR Chat Roleplays have scaled up massively in size, seeing 40 or even 80 players in a single session. When no one person is in direct control, you can have many people organize together to share that load. Those larger roleplays often include dozens of staff working to keep things running smoothly.
Point Of Contact
Be the roleplay large or small, the GM also has another role outside of sessions themselves. They serve as a point of contact before and after sessions to set expectations, explain rules, and resolve disputes. Ideally, a GM does what they can to set the roleplay session up for success before it even starts. They keep in contact with players and provide them with the information they need for the session ahead of time. They also write notes about events they want to run during the sessions and if there are multiple GMs they organize between each other to make sure they are all on the same or similar pages.
Ultimately, a VR Roleplay Game Master performs similar duties to that of a tabletop GM but spends a lot more time facilitating an experience over controlling a narrative. A tabletop GM is omnipotent and omnipresent while a VR Roleplay GM is more like an invisible and flying event host and referee. They make the rounds through the venue to make sure everything is running smoothly and spruce things up where necessary, but they can’t be everywhere at once. How much a GM leans into these aspects varies from person to person and roleplay to roleplay, but generally, most VR Roleplay GMs wear many hats, filling whatever role is needed most.
If all this has captivated you and kept you here for this long, the next step is joining the Aexia community using the discord link below. We’re a VR Roleplay community that often hosts multiple weekly one-shot VR roleplays oriented toward getting beginners into the VR RP community. We’re also designing our own platform for VR Roleplay called Aexia that’s compatible with both Steam VR and Meta Quest headsets with uncompromised crossplay.
Come chat about VR Roleplay or join a VR RP one-shot session. We love VR Roleplay, it’s our passion, and nothing makes us happier than the opportunity to share that passion with others.