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Days of Future Past

I came across an entry in someone elses's blog remarking that they'd stumbled across their first Internet posting, and that got me curious about mine.  I like to joke that I was waiting at the onramp with my bags when they first opened the Information Highway -- well, maybe not, but here's the earliest I can find from yours truly.  This does not, of course, address participation in BBS's in the pre-Internet world.  I post (repost, I guess) it here because, appropriately, the first posting I can find was to ADND-L, on the subject of gamesmastering.  Not only that, but I think it's darned good.  It's fairly long, so behind the
Date:         Tue, 4 Dec 90 17:56:16 EST
Reply-To:     Advanced Dungeons and Dragons discussion list <ADND-L@PUCC>
Sender:       Advanced Dungeons and Dragons discussion list
              <ADND-L@UTARLVM1.BITNET>
From:         "Jae.Walker" <SIS34@MSU.BITNET>
Subject:      RE: ideas for a new DM
In-Reply-To:  The letter of Tuesday, 4 December 1990 1:45pm ET
 
Daragon/Robert... seeker of wisdom (*)
 
All I can tell you is what works for me....
 
I run a monthy horror role playing game (Chill) and a bi-weekly AD&D game (soon to go monthly due to time pressures).  In both cases the emphasis is on ROLE-PLAYING, not rolling dice.  We have a little hack/n/slash once in a while to keep the blood moving, but the emphasis is on the characters, their histories and their lives.
 
Within those constraints, let me share my ... ahem ... "wisdom". I've run many games at conventions as well as my campaigns, including Gencon (for the last 2 years), so I'm not completely talking through my hat.
 
(Brief digression: DM=Dungeon Master.  Is specific to Fantasy Role Playing, and even more so to the TSR Dungeons and Dragons/Advanced D&D games.  GM = GamesMaster (or GamesMistress) and is more generic, referring to any role playing system.  I tend to use them interchangeably)
 
*  #1 and most important - it's your game and you're in charge.  Thems as don't like it can go play somewhere else.  This is not license to be arrogant, but is instead a reminder that you are the author and ultimate authority.  I have no patience with rule-book lawyers, and will invite them out of my games if they don't respond to friendly warnings. 

*  For me, storytelling is the be-all of the game.  Plot is everything - the encounters are simply means for me to peel back the layers of plot and subplot for the characters.  Each of the characters in my campaigns have families, histories and ugly little secrets. I use those things to draw them into the story, and to keep them involved long after sensible people would've barred the door and gone home.
 
* For campaign ideas, I highly recommend your favorite fantasy series (or
movie, or single work, or even commercial modules).  Pick an idea/story that appeals to you, build a world for it and then turn the characters loose in it.
 
If you know your world (the political/religious and economic structure, how the races interact, what the terrain is like) the details will work themselves out.  (Really, they will!).  If you have the time, spend it building a believable society.  I'll take a crafty ordinary villain over any "extra
planar creature" in the book.  Know their hopes, aspirations and motivations, and you won't have any trouble keeping the upper hand.
 
*  What should you allow in the games?  The easy answer is: only what you want in them.  I'll never forget my first game, when I let a player bring in a character with a sword that generated Fear every time it was drawn.  It made a shambles of the party (who had to save against it) and the monsters - until I realized that there wasn't any reason why they couldn't have protection.  It was a logical scramble, but I did manage to make it work (barely).  I should never have allowed the sword in the first place, but no one told me that I could TELL the players what they were and weren't able to bring into the campaign.
 
In my Chill game, because there is a waiting list to get in, all new players
start out running a non-player character that I've generated (and may have
even been running).  They run the character until they've shown me they can fit into the game (and they've decided they want to stay in the game) and/or the character dies.  This lets me work new players into an established story without my spending many extra hours working in someone who logically shouldn't be there.
 
In my AD&D campaign, which began as a training game for beginners, I've limited the characters to the basic classes (no multi-classes), and limited the alignments they could play (no evil alignments, no Chaotic Neutrals). This was for my comfort and to simplify the game for the novices.  They've been playing quite happily for months now.
 
What I'm trying to say here is: You're in charge.  Pleasantly, diplomatically
tell your players what you want in your game.  Only allow what you're
comfortable with.  Never excuse, never explain.  If they don't understand how your evil wizard did that, just smile mysteriously and say "spell research".
 
* Characters who set out to make your life miserable... I don't s'pose you can just invite them to leave?  I suspect if you felt you could, you would.  I
have a player in my Chill game whose whole purpose is to screw up my (and everyone else's) plans.  The problem is, when he wants to be he's a
gamesmaster's dream - excellent role player, clever thinker, always in
character. 

I try, in both my games, to figure out what kinds of things the players want
(in terms of role-playing experiences) and give it to them.  One likes odd
toys - I gave him a magical dagger that acts more like a pet than a weapon. Another was complaining about a dearth of romance - she's now being sincerely wooed by an NPC who would do Vincent (Beauty & the Beast) proud.  I try to rotate the spotlight, so that no one player is always in center stage.  The troublemakers, I give trouble.  The player I  mentioned earlier has a management job that requires him to take a lot of guff from the public - I know that his acting up in my game is a way of de-stressing.  As long as it doesn't mess up the story, I try to let him get into all kinds of trouble.  I even set him up to be a hero once in a while.
 
* How do I play the gods?  As distantly and mysteriously as possible.  "It is not for mere mortals to know the workings of divine minds" - keep 'em guessing and don't give them any more than you have to.  They'll go nuts (and love it) trying to figure out what's going on.  And every so often, when they least expect it, get really up-close and personal with a divine visitation (Greek and Roman mythology are good sources of stories of gods disguised as mortals, and even animals, to mingle with their worshipers - and stir up trouble).
 
* A PC who wants to worship M.C. Hammer?  Hmm... pretty hi-tech fantasy world, there.  If it works for you, why not?  If it doesn't work for you, you might take one of the "standard" gods who favors bards.  Heck, I have a dwarven musician cleric worshiping the Celtic god of the smithy - who prays by playing her lute.  Anything can work if you want to make it work. 

**** As I said above - these are my opinions, and they are things that have worked for me.  Once you decide what YOU want your world to express, you should be fine as long as you're consistent to your vision.
 
Good Luck, Daragon.
 (write if you get work)
 ::::: Never trust a smiling GamesMaster :::::
::::: There's nothing wrong with gamesmasters that arguing with them won't
aggravate :::::
 
Jae Walker (Mistress of Chaos)
it goes...

Comments

( 1 comment )
jaegamer
Apr. 2nd, 2004 08:04 am (UTC)
Commenting on my own post -- ADND-L is still around and may be found at: http://www.lsoft.com/scripts/wl.exe?SL1=ADND-L&H=LISTSERV.UTA.EDU
( 1 comment )

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