Sunday, January 31, 2010

My Journey to the Game Master's Chair (or: How I Ended Up Behind the Screen)

[I actually posted this on a Forum of one of the podcasts that I listen to. Predictably, it ended up being ridiculously long, and no one read it—so I'm posting it here where an equal number of people won't read it. Changes or comments made for the sake of the blog format to be denoted by brackets.]

Buckle Up, this is going to be a long one! 

Again I feel compelled to comment [referring to the content of the podcast]—this does not happen often, but this episode hit close to home, and I just feel compelled to share my experience. 

To begin, I want to point out that I have only Game Mastered [Fifteen] sessions (Technically a few more than that, but we'll get to that later) and as such I still consider myself a beginner.

Let me start at the beginning. 

Growing up I was into all the same pop culture as my peers (Transformers, G.I. Joe, Thundercats, He-Man, etc. etc. etc.) At the same time I've always been a bit of an old codger since birth—I also enjoy the pop culture of my Father's and Grandfather's Generations. Even as a kid I used out dated catch phrases. 

Back to the point, I was not the kid that was into sports. I was the small kid everyone teased, I lived in my own little world inside my head, I watched educational programming of my own accord, I was a Geek in Embryo...

By all accounts I should have gotten into Role Playing back when the Red Box Dungeons and Dragons burst onto the scene in the late 70's/early 80's. I was intrigued by the advertisements for it in my Smurf and Goofy Comic books, I watched the Dungeons and Dragons Cartoon every Saturday Morning; granted I was a little on the young side, but I always had a longer attention span than my friends of the same age. My reading comprehension was above where it "should" have been. I enjoyed full length movies as a kid, I was excited when certain movies were to be broadcast on television, and I would try to get my friends to watch them with me, but they never lasted more than probably half an hour and had wandered off to play elsewhere by the time it got to the really good parts.

The reason I never got into it back then was because my mother bought into the D&D is Evil Vibe.

I come from a religious family—I won't get into religion here [they avoid religion and politics on the podcast and on the related forum], I just want to point out that that is part of the reason I never tried D&D. I honored my mother by listening to her instruction that D&D was something to be avoided. 

I only really encountered D&D once as a Kid. I went to the next door neighbors house to play one day and they were sitting on the porch of the house with paper and pencils and being kind of secretive about what they were doing. When I asked what they were doing, they said they were playing a game—but that I would probably not be interested. They said they were playing D&D—so I went home. 

Looking back on that I think they thought they were playing D&D, but were probably just trying to emulate someone that they had observed playing. I remember they had lined paper and pencils only. No Dice. I only came to that recently as I was reflecting on things and applied what I know now of D&D. At the time I was just obeying my mother's instruction to avoid that game. 

My next encounter with Role Playing Games didn't happen until Junior High School. An English teacher of mine used a d20 and some tables to give us random items to incorporate into a story, for a creative writing assignment. Understanding that D&D had a bad reputation, the teacher explained that it was a Role Playing Game, and that it was only as good or as bad as you made it. I think a book was even passed around class. [Which I found very intriguing.]

I came to be good friends with this teacher, but as interested as I was in this Role Playing Game thing, I never broached the subject. 

In High School, I was friends with quite a few people that I knew played Role Playing Games—I was interested in the concept—I wanted to play, but I was never invited (probably because I never asked). My friends played Rifts, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Heroes

Interested, but too timid to ask I researched it a little, but as the internet was just fledgling I was limited in resources. I liked the Idea of the game GURPS [Generic Universal Role Playing System] because it is "universal" and could cover any possibility. 

On a Bulletin Board System I found a free RPG called Ringwielder. (Which I managed to find Here, if you're curious)

Here is my first attempt to GM. I read the text file, I liked the concept and wanted to play. I talked my parents into taking me to the local Comic Book Store, I had seen the special dice needed when I was there. Thus my obsession with dice was born (but that's another story). [Actually, I think the obsession truly started when my Jr. High English teacher showed us a die with more than six sides—I wanted one immediately.]

Here's how I attempted to run a game. I explained the concept to a friend of mine and got him interested. Then, we sat in the back of Math class and passed notes. I wrote what was happening and he wrote what he wanted to do. We rolled dice and what not. We never got very far because I still had no real Idea what I was supposed to be doing, I was trying to do it all on the fly. I didn't understand the concept of Preparation, story, etc..

That died after just a few classes—and I didn't include it in my count of sessions run above.

After High School I went on a proselytizing mission for my church for a couple years. While on that mission I picked up GURPS in a used bookstore [on a preparation day]. It was in good condition, but it was kind of Old, and it started falling apart shortly after I brought it home. I put it aside, because it wasn't the sort of thing I needed to be focusing on while I was doing God's work.

I had one more attempt at this Role Playing thing on my own accord. 

I was attending the local community college. I had a large group of friends, and I convinced a bunch of them to try role playing. We got together and created characters, and again I was trying to do things on the fly. Our Characters were very random. The Universal in GURPS said to me that it was a game where anything could happen. 

My Girlfriend at the time (Now My Wife) Created a Fairy in the vein of Tinkerbell, one person created himself, I created a creature that I had been making comics about since High School. I remember that when we "played" the game, the guy that created himself got up in the morning and was brushing his teeth, wearing a bathrobe and suddenly found himself standing in the middle of a field between two opposing armies (medieval fantasy—cavalry) charging each other. I'm not sure what exactly I had in mind, I was winging it based on the characters that they made. Making characters had taken so long that we didn't get much play time in. 

And we never got together to play again. I didn't count this in the sessions at the top either.

So I graduated from Community College (Three associate Degrees!—LOL), got married, got a job in a field completely unrelated to what I studied in school—and was introduced to the Widening World of Board Games. We play all kinds of Board Games and this is what led me to my first Real experience with a Role Playing Game.

Our church held a night of Games for an activity; everyone was to bring their favorite games. I brought unique games no one had heard of before, while every body else brought the usual.

Talking to a member of the Bishopric he asked if I had ever played D&D. I told him no, but I wanted to. He invited me to his game. His group (mostly made up of his family) played once a month. Thus I was introduced to 3rd Edition D&D.

Shortly thereafter I met someone at work that played and I went to one of his sessions. It had fewer people and they played more often (weekly, for the most part)—so I dropped out of the original campaign that I attended. 

The new group stopped playing, understandably, when the wife of the GM delivered a premature baby. 

I still had a desire to play, but I'm not the sort of person to go down to the game store and look for a group. I still have no desire to do that, it doesn't interest me at all.

Some time later I ended up talking to an acquaintance from High School via a social networking site (not Facebook—I'm still being stubborn about joining Facebook). We knew each other and had some of the same classes, but that's about it. 

He invited me to a GURPS Supers game. Which fell apart after a few sessions. [Not his fault, but that of some of the other players.]

He also introduced me to Fear the Boot. In some of the earlier shows one of the hosts was going on and on about Savage Worlds, and I was intrigued. I picked up the book. 

After reading the Book, I was dying to play—but really had no one to play with, or any Idea what kind of game to play, if I chose to run a game. 

Then Necessary Evil Explorers Edition came out and I bought it with the intention of running the plot point campaign. Then my Wife planned to go out of town one weekend, and I saw an opportunity to invite some people over for a test run of the system. I didn't want to Run Necessary Evil because I knew that my wife would want to join in if I ran a full on campaign. I get a kick out of zombies, so I was thinking maybe a zombie game.

That very week, Zombie Run was released updated for Savage Worlds Explorers Edition. I picked it up thinking it was just a few sessions type of adventure. 

I run a game every two weeks. There are approximately fifteen players invited. I've never had more than five actually show up. I've only had two sessions where I didn't have enough show up to actually play. I have one player that is a very experienced GM. I have seven people that are familiar with playing Role Playing Games, and to the other seven this is a completely new experience.

So here I am, [eight] months later. [Just Finished] the Explosive [unfortunately Anti-climatic] Conclusion to Zombie Run. My first Real Experience as a GM.

What I think of your discussion topic. [Referring to the particular episode of podcast. Topic: pros and cons of using Adventure Modules]

I've never been really good at improvisation. I'm creative, but not really quick about it—so running an adventure has been good and bad. 

Good because there was a lot of stuff there for me that I didn't have to think up on the fly. 

Bad because the players almost derailed me a few times—which made me feel like a deer in the headlights. 

I think running Necessary Evil would have been better because of the Plot Point Campaign rather than Scripted Adventure model. 

Listening to your podcast has helped, but nothing truly prepares you for the GM chair.

I think you need to play in a Role Playing Game (any game) before trying out the GM seat, just so you have an Idea about how Role Playing Games work—no book really explains it well enough. I can sort of imagine what it was like for first timers back when D&D originally came out.

Also, when you decide to GM, make sure your story is prepared, make sure the world is fleshed out in your mind. Knowing the Rules is good, but I've found looking a rule up slows things down less than when I'm stalling and trying to figure out what to do story wise. This may just be part of my improvisation deficiency.

I didn't have a mentor GM to help me. I could have, if I had taken the initiative to talk to a few of the people that I know that GM. However that didn't occur to me. Also, as much as I enjoy the social aspect of gaming—I'm kind of an introvert and would not feel justified in making someone take time to hold my hand along the way. In this case I just wanted to branch out on my own and see what happens. 

So Having an adventure module, in my mind, became essential. In essence the module became my mentor. It does take a lot of creativity at times to railroad your players without them feeling railroaded.

When we finish this campaign, we're going to take a break from RPG. Have a couple weeks where we play Board Games or Video Games [Video Games almost always refers to the advanced version of Karaoke known as Rock Band and Guitar Hero, we have most of them and they are great party games]... and then Jump into Deadlands: Reloaded. [My wife changed her mind and we're no longer taking a break—next session is character creation for Deadlands: Reloaded]

I've read the Book Cover to cover it's taken me a while to get through it (due to time constraints)[okay, mostly because I read it on the bus and I fall asleep on the bus a lot—actually, I fall asleep every time I read lately, I don't think I'm getting enough sleep]—I'm planning to read The Flood, Murder on the Hellstromme Express, Coffin Rock, and Don't Drink the Water [all Deadlands: Reloaded Supplements and Adventure modules] before I start. Hopefully I can run a less railroaded campaign this time, but not make it so much of an open sand box that the players feel lost and directionless—I know my wife has felt that way in other games she's played.


  1. Oh my. I'd forgotten that's how I used to get you kids to develop characters. I haven't used that method in years and years. (It was a good one, though, even if it horrified a few parents.)
    And I'm amused to know that my clear and green 20-sided dice caught your interest so very much. :)
    In case you're curious, I played D&D with a group of friends from 1979-81-ish. I still have all my old stuff, but I haven't played since. I would, but it's not something one can play alone. So now I just write stories to amuse myself.

  2. I liked the read, I didn't think it was too long.

    I am just curious, was it my games you wife felt lost in?

  3. Wow, I made it through your long ramblings and learned a lot about you my dear!
    I'm looking forward to Deadlands.

    P.S. Sorry you don't get enough sleep.