I’ve been trying to think back over my first games, my first characters and my first sessions as a GM and do you know what? I think I may have mixed up a few of my firsts.
My first gaming session and my first character are well documented thanks to my drug fueled GM and his knack for memorable sessions. Where my memory has started to slip though is in my very first GM’ing session. I could have sworn it was for a Rolemaster game where I threw dragons on an hourly basis at my friends Arch Mage and Warrior Monk. In fact I was so convinced of this until I tried to remember the Spacemaster games I used to run.
One summer when I was about 14 I had picked up a copy of the Spacemaster box set from the Virgin Megastore in Glasgow. It was the first ruleset I actually owned as until then every game we played was owned by either Joe or Chris. There was nothing wrong with this but being 14 it was very much a case of getting half way through a campaign and then falling out with one of my friends who then took their books and went home. My parents were going away for the weekend and taking my brother with them so I had the house to myself on the Saturday and Sunday. I locked myself away for those days in an attempt to learn all the rules so that the following weekend I could run the game. My friends wouldn’t hear of it though as knowing I would have an empty house they all wanted to come over and stay. that wasn’t going to happen though as I was determined to get these rules into my head. I told a white lie in that I was actually going away with my parents in an attempt to stop them coming round. They still did as they knew fine well that by the time I had told them this my parents had already been away for 4 hours.
So anyway I sat in front of the TV with my years supply of Irn Bru and a bag full of snack food and went to it. I’ve no idea what time I was awake until but I remember waking up in a heap on the floor with my face in the middle of the star map that was included in the set. You can still see the drool marks if you hold it up to the light! By about 7pm on the Sunday night I had drawn up a few characters and ran through a couple of combat scenarios so that I knew the differences between Spacemaster and Rolemaster. Whilst not ready to GM I knew the rules.
Over the next few days I came up with very brief scenario to start the game off and decided to wing the rest. My limited experience was already going to mean regular stoppages for checking the rules and mistakes would happen without a doubt. I was as ready as I was ever going to be. I managed to limit the players to Frank and Joe. Anymore than that and I would have seriously struggled.
So the Friday night arrived and we were staying over at Frank’s house so we could have a good run at the opening session. Frank had decided he wanted to be a space pirate so had drawn up a mercenary of sorts and Joe was the pilot for the ship. I filled out the group with a couple of NPC’s and surprisingly the game went very well. My only regret about the game was using our original GM’s star chart instead of the one supplied. There is only so many times you can let the players visit the planet populated by Ogryns that manufactures rubber sex toys without wanting to give up.
How did your first GM’ing session go?
It’s been a slow weekend here at The Dice Bag. I’m off to Sweden for a few days this coming week so I’ve had a lot of prep for that but every time I thing about roleplaying I keep getting the same image in my head and I have a slow chuckle to myself.
I’m told everyone has moments like this during games but I swear I’m sure it’s only me that gets hit with them.
The prime example is the memory that keeps coming back to me this weekend. It was a Saturday afternoon, I was 15 and and staying over at my friend Frank’s house. We didn’t have a game planned for that weekend so I was working out a quick single-shot game based Terry Pratchett’s Discworld that had been published in a short lived RPG magazine. The plan was to get some characters drawn up and run the game once one of our other friends turned up later that night. Anyway there was a knock at the back door and who should enter but Frank’s cousin who had been our first DM all those years before. He was on leave from the army again and had heard we were about and so he’d brought his Rolemaster books and our characters along to see if we fancied a game that night. We settled down with our bottles of juice and our sweets and waited for him to start the game.
Frank’s cousin always played with the strangest music playing in the background. This night we were in for something different though as he put on his most prized possession. He carefully placed the tape into the player and when he pressed play Jim Morrison was giving us a spoken word tour of his drug addled brain. Several joints later our DM was struggling to keep the game from becoming real in his head and constantly stopping mid-sentence to let us hear his favourite bit of the tape. Usually when our illustrious DM was in these states we enjoyed the ride as we usually ended up with homosexual dungeonmasters from the cartoon that could chop their head off and heal it back up without magic or other weird and wonderful things that only drugs could produce. In this case we just sat staring at each other as he worked himself into a fever over the meaning of every second line on the tape.
We were just getting to the point in the game where you would usually start tooling up and getting ready for the final monster when the sound started to break up. Our DM sat bolt upright, spun around to the tape player and burst into tears. The machine started to eat his precious tape and he was in tears as he tried to press the eject button with little success. Frank tried to help and after a few more minutes they both just gave up and our DM collapsed onto the floor in the foetal position crying to himself. There was nothing we could do for him so we left him to it and went through to watch some TV. We were two 15 year old boys that spent our weekends playing Dungeons and Dragons. We had no social skills so I’m not surprised we left him to it. We went back through to the kitchen about 30 minutes later to find him asleep on the floor so again we left him to it.
About an hour later Joe turned up so we retired to Franks bedroom and started the one-shot game I’d been writing. It was great fun and when you have skills such as ‘hang upside down from chandilier and swing axe’ you can’t go wrong. About half way through the game our dopehead DM came and joined us. You would never have thought that a few hours previously his world had ended. He was laughing away and really enjoying the game and to this day I do not think anyone of us has actually mentioned the tape incident to him whenever we’ve came across him.
Why do I have such a downer on updates to game systems?
1. It’s expensive.
I’ve spent thousands of pounds over the years on roleplay books. At least 90% of that was on supplements and campaign settings rather than rulebooks so you can understand when I get a little miffed when the publishers bring out a new version that makes all those supplements and settings worthless in the eyes the new system.
2. Same old story just different rules.
So when WOD went through a reboot very little changed. The mechanics where mixed up and ‘refined’ and that’s about it as the same basic story kept going. To be fair to White Wolf they basically shot themselves in the foot when they first published that Gehenna was on it’s way. Or were they just very shrewd people that knew exactly how many people would buy the new rules?
With Dungeons and Dragons 4ed they’ve basically turned it into D&D lite. It’s not a refinement of the previous games or an expansion on the system. They’ve took the popular parts from online computer games and melded it together with the previous rules to create something that doesn’t feel, to me at least, like any D&D game I’ve seen before. Why not keep the old D&D line going or at least fix the bits that didn’t work and release 4ed as a new game line but one that uses the same world? Have it as an extension of the mini battles game and market it to the crowd of young gamers moving up from Pokemon and the other card games that seem to be morphing into spinnig top battles.
3. Did I say it was expensive?
Forget the cost of the books I’ve bought in the past that are now worthless. Lets look at how much it costs to get a Forgotten Realms game going now that 4ed is out. The DM/players guides come in at $60 for both of them and the setting books add another $60-70 onto that as well. Your talking over $120 just to play the basic setting and never mind any of the expansions they bring out in the future. What if you go to all that trouble and you find you really don’t like the new setting or you really don’t like the new 4ed rules?
4. Physical space
I live in a normal sized house in the UK. We have plenty of shelf space and yet I am forced to keep a sizable amount of my books in boxes in the attic. I cannot find anywhere to keep my almost complete collection of oWOD books never mind space for the new system should I ever give in and buy it.
5. Mental space
I’ve already memorised the rules and mechanics of 13 separate gaming systems over the years. Do I really need to squeeze another one in? At what point will my mind begin to fail and the AD&D equipment charts start to meld together and be mistaken for the Small Creatures Crit Table from Rolemaster?
The old games worked. Sure they had their flaws but so do the new versions. Pick one and stick with it but I just wish the old system I loved still had official work being published for them.
So this months blog carnival is about transitions and transformation and within seconds of putting my thinking cap on I realised I’d already started writing a post that would fit in perfectly with this subject.
They say our tame GM eats dice for breakfast and that he built his home from worn out copies of the 2nd Edition Dungeon Masters Guide. But how did he get there?
I don’t really know how I got here but I seem to be the groups gamemaster for most of our campaigns. In recent years both Mark and Willie have taken their turn and ran great campaigns but most of the time it’s me that will be sitting with the rulebooks in front of me telling the story.
When i first started out playing we had a couple of players and our GM was a friend’s cousin who would run games for us when he was visiting from London. It meant we could only ever play short campaigns maybe twice a year but because of this we savoured every moment of it. That was until one day my childhood friend Joe was given a copy of the Basic Dungeons and Dragons rules. He sat up all night reading over them until he knew them off by heart and then we sat up all the next night so we could get used to the rules. As players we were used to using the Rolemaster rules even if we didn’t understand them that well at that point so something this basic was actually a huge leap forward for us. We actually understood how the game worked for a start.
For the first year my friend was the GM. It was a no brainer. The rulebooks were his so it was his game. After a while though he soon grew tired of being the one to make up the story and wanted to play a character again. We all still wanted to be a player rather than the GM so we drew straws and I lucked out and so it would be another year before I ran my first campaign. It was not long after this that we purchased our own copy of Rolemaster. I say purchased but I’m sure a few of the Companions were pilfered from the local second hand book store. One of the group insisted that if you bought a boxed set they never checked inside so they filled the main boxed set with as many Companions as they could. I could never prove it though. Anyway we soon got to the stage where we were just lining up encounters and throwing the dice rather than actually roleplaying and I go bored very quickly.
I was never one for writing stories in English class. In fact I’d usually struggle to write a 500 word short story while I was at school and my written English skills haven’t really increased over the years if I’m being perfectly honest. With this in mind you can understand that running my own games didn’t come naturally to me. I could devour a rulebook in an evening and be able to quote back to you complex combat ‘what if’s’ or spell descriptions of even the less well known spell lists but if you were to ask me to write down what I planned for a game session I’d struggle. I still do to an extent but over time I manage it. I’m perfectly happy with an idea in my head but when it comes time to formalise it for a campaign I have real trouble.
From all this came my GMing style. I improvise. I push and pull stories until they match in game and I steal ideas from everywhere. I’ll have scribbled down a bullet point list of whats going to happen or how things are laid out but that’s it. Everything else stays in my head until it’s needed. It’s better for everyone that way.
The change over from player to GM was a very smooth process for me. I’m not sure if it’s like that with everyone but once the initial worries were shoved out of the way I gradually grew to enjoy it far more than just being a player. When your part of a group of characters you can easily get stuck concentrating entirely on your character and forgetting about the players and characters around you. It’s only natural that you’ll spend more time on that one ‘person’ than on anything else and its like a child or a favourite pet. You nurture and grow them from being a few scribbles on a bit of paper to a well rounded character than is far more than just the sum of its stats and skills. As a GM however you get that exact same feeling when you look out at your party as each and every single one of them grows and your world carries on it’s day to day routine as well as growing in the same manner as the characters. That feeling of success you get after running a successful game that has everyone talking about it can never be beaten by that you might get from just taking part in it as a player.
That’s why I can never go back to being just a player. No matter how hard I find it to succesfully GM.