Monday, October 7, 2013

I Think I'm A "Good" GM...I Think...

This post about Gamemaster alignments made me critically examine my tendencies when I run games.  It also made me realize why I really disliked certain gamemasters, storytellers, and dungeonmasters I've played under and have jived with others.  The very first gamemaster I ever played under was a guy named Mike who I played collectible card games with while I was in junior high.  Mike shifted from Lawful Evil to Neutral Evil depending on how on task we were.  If we were dicking around and not paying attention, he ended up Lawful Evil, just enforcing the rules and making sure we died.  If we were involved, he started trying to one up us, making up powers and ad hoc rules for his enemies just to make our lives miserable.  If he didn't have awesome NPCs, he was not into it.  He was like that with characters too, and he didn't get invited to many of the games I played with other groups.  As my first gamemaster, he will always have a special place in my heart, but he was definitely a taste I outgrew when I started playing under people who didn't want my character firmly under their heel.

He also literally had cheat dice he'd threaten us with.

The next dungeonmaster I played under quite a bit was the guy who DMed the giant, out of control, 13+ player Eberron game I talked a bit about in my craziest RPG memory post.  I can't remember his name (or most of the people who played at the local comic shop in most of those days), but he was a skinny, slightly punk rock, stoner kid and was completely Neutral.  He really had to be with the utter craziness that was that game, but he rolled with us not knowing rules, being zany, forgetting it was our turn, balancing encounters scaled for a 4 man group  against a disparate band of close to 20 characters (once cohorts and animal companions were counted up) of various levels and letting the dice weed out characters as they may.  All dice rolls were on the table, in the open, and final.  If we screwed up a rule, it was screwed up for the rest of the session, and if someone corrected it, nothing got retconned.  

Most of the GMs at the comic shop that I frequented in high school tended to be Lawful Neutral to Neutral.  There was a very awesome game with a Lawful Good GM running D20 Future, mostly because he made stuff up, blew our minds with it, then codified it in the rules so we could understand, use, and play with it once he was done letting it tickle our sense of wonder.  

I honestly may have played more sessions of D20 Future/Modern/Etc than actual D&D.

I grew complacent under the reaches of Law and Neutrality during my high school career.  I didn't run many games at all during that time frame, partially because I didn't have much confidence in my abilities to run a game, and partially because there were so many DMs running games that I never really needed to run to play.  This all changed when I went to college (I went to a branch of the Ohio State University that is in the town I grew up in, so I never moved).  Suddenly, there were a dearth of GMs, and I was only playing pick up games at the comic shop, because most of the really cool gamers had graduated too and gone elsewhere.  A guy a few years older than me who I worked with and had known my whole life (our moms were friends and went to the same church) had roleplayed for several years with a few of his friends who were also older than me, and, after a feeling out period to see if I was creative enough for them, they asked me to play with them.  

I'd never played with a firmly, completely, totally Chaotic Good group before.  Rules flat out didn't matter.  We went sessions without even rolling dice, our character sheets (GURPS 4th edition) were always in a state of flux, and the stories were fantastic.  We'd play for up to 10 hours straight, in character the whole time, weaving the most complex and beautiful tales of heroes and villains I've ever experienced.  It wasn't a game; it was a release.  We got to be someone else, transported into the world we collaboratively built.  Words can't describe the magic of those games.  I honestly view those afternoons in Scott's apartment as some of the most inspirational and impactful moments of my life.  I will always have a healthy dose of Chaotic Good in my GMing style.  It was free and uninhibited group creation, and it was beautiful.

When the nominal GM of that group quit, that group almost stopped playing.  Horrified that I would lose the most magical thing I'd ever experienced, I volunteered to run the game.  I was not confident, I faltered, I stuttered, and I screwed things up, but we all came together and made a fantastic story.  It brought me out of my shell.  It gave me the faith in myself I needed to run games, and, once life and growing up tore that group apart, I sallied forth with the certainty that I could be a good GM.  

I sallied forth on the giant lion of confidence.

As I played and GMed more throughout college, I realized that, while I loved the freedom of Chaotic Good storytelling, most players and groups reacted adversely to it or just weren't comfortable with it (I made a girl cry running New World of Darkness horror, it was awkward).  They enjoyed rules and rolling pretty dice.  I did too, honestly, and adopted a more Neutral Good GMing aspect.  I still fudged rolls if bad stuff was happening that would ruin the game, but I actually statted stuff up and made encounters and junk.  

There was a kid named Jacob who my buddy, Kenny, and I met in Sociology of Social Deviance (yes, actual class) in college.  He was weird, eccentric, overbearing, socially awkward, and one of the most psychotically creative people I've ever met.  He'd roleplayed quite a bit growing up, and we dragged him into a few gaming sessions with people we knew before he stepped up to run D&D 3.5 for a group of about 8 of us.  That was the game I played Balthaazar, my favorite character ever.  Jacob, honestly, defies definition via the alignment system, but falls mostly into the Neutral Good realm with hefty doses of Chaotic Good and Neutral Evil depending on how attached he got to NPCs and plot trains.  I learned a lot about good GMing from Jacob.  I also learned a lot about bad GMing from Jacob, and as we became close friends, we realized we could openly critique each other, take it to heart and change.  Both of us have become far better friends, players, GMs, and humans from that friendship.  Jacob is still the GM who will blatantly screw the party over, but it will be for plot purposes, and he won't actively dick people over anymore.  I'm far nicer.

So on to me.  I fudge rules, probably too much, but people usually don't complain (and my players are the types that will tell me if they're not happy).  I tend to let the party get away with too much.  They get too much good stuff too soon, and encounters tend to be a little too easy, but I do run things by the rules, as long as the rules don't actively inhibit story.  Even then, I sometimes enforce them.  I've moved to more of a Neutral Good style of GMing as of late, although my Chaotic Good roots show quite a bit, especially if we're playing systems with far looser rules systems like World of Darkness.  Rules intensive games like Pathfinder tend to get a bit more of my Neutral Good side, especially as I stray into OSR territory and run more oldschool systems like my super simplified D&D and Castles & Crusades where we get to dungeoncrawl.  I really want to find a game where my Chaotic Good roots can show again, but I know it's not with my current players.  They like their rules too much.  Not to say they aren't creative as heck (they blow my mind quite often), but they enjoy the gaming aspect of RPGs too much to eschew funny shaped polyhedrals and level progression charts.  

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