Friday, July 8, 2011

My First Time

"Dear Penthouse, I never thought it would happen to me..."

No, wait, wrong first time.  I'm talking about my first time in the GM chair.  That was the topic of last night's #RPGchat on Twitter.  (It was my first time making #RPGChat, and it was pretty awesome.  An hour of highly concentrated discussion.)  I told one of the participants that I could one-up him for the melodrama and disaster involved.

So, be duly warned.

First, I must start with a confession.  While I frequently claim to have started gaming with the Red Box in 1981, the truth is that I mostly just read the books (and Dragon magazine) and created characters during that time.  I tried to play with my brother once or twice, and it failed.  The one time my sister expressed interest, I have to admit I was kind of a snot to her, and she didn't ask again.  (In fairness, I was 14, and she was 6.  I wasn't inclined to share my stuff with her at that age.  And, fortunately, she eventually discovered gaming on her own.)

I really started playing regularly after I got to college, in 1989.  I played with the group regularly for a couple years, and the regular DM, Scot, was feeling burnt out.  He wanted to take a turn in the player chair.  I was only too eager to grab the reins, and start up my own campaign.

Ah, the mistakes.  The mistakes piled up around me.  First, I had my own world that I had created, that was EPIC.  Seriously, it was bog-standard epic fantasy, but with scattered elements turned up to 11.  The basic problem, though, was that I had no actual setting bible.  Communicating the setting to the players was tough.

Then, I started out being a Monty Haul DM, during character creation.  The real problem, I think, is that I wanted to play Exalted, but Exalted hadn't even been written yet.  And I was trying to play Exalted with 2e AD&D, heavily house-ruled.  One player wanted to be, effectively, Sindbad the Sailor, but with more ninja.  My problem?  I didn't have an Arabic locale in my setting, so I had no idea how to fit him in.  Ninja Sindbad wasn't the problem, the fact that I didn't have a pre-made kingdom for him to come from was.

We also come to the point that ended up being the critical failure.  The previous DM, a guy that I highly respected, was really excited about actually creating and running a character.  I wanted to feed Scot's excitement.  I also assumed that a fellow DM would understand the need for balance and appreciate story elements over raw power.  So, I let him play a half-demon.  The idea was heavily inspired, in my mind at least, by Damon Hellstrom, Son of Satan, in the Marvel universe.  He had access to major powers, with the caveat that using them opened him up to the evil side of his nature.  Resisting that temptation was supposed to be the major theme in his story arc.

So, we begin the adventure.  It was very loosely based on a module I had read years before, which I had significantly rewritten the story around to fit my setting.  I had then tweaked that story again just before running it.  I was pretty comfortable with the whole thing.

Unfortunately, I hadn't really thought through some of implications of the most recent tweaks, especially radically changing how long the mansion they were exploring had stood empty.  I had some effects of decay occur that just didn't actually make sense, and broke immersion for several of the players.  Rookie mistake, not critical.  I didn't roll with it well, but in itself it's not that big a deal.

I was also railroad-y, didn't describe things terribly well, didn't hook the characters into the adventure, and didn't do a lot of things that my older, wiser self would do.  All in all, though, not terrible.

Things unraveled fast with Scot, though.  He grabbed the leadership role in the party, running roughshod over the other characters.  He questioned my calls repeatedly.  Then, in the course of the first session, he found ways to use every single one of his demonic powers (the ones he was supposed to be ashamed of, especially as a priest).  I was just stunned by his abuse of my generosity.

After the session ended, the drama continued.  Scot proceeded to critique my DM technique, and not in a constructive way.  He also was mad that his god had started withholding spells after he embraced his dark side.  It was not pretty, and I felt thoroughly gut-punched.  (Friends from that time will appreciate the irony and foreshadowing of this interchange.)

Then, just to top it all off, Scot announces that one session as a player totally started all of his creative juices flowing again.  He was taking the DM chair back.  There was no discussion on this point.  And, all the other players just sort of meekly backed him up on it.  I got canceled after the pilot episode.  It seriously sucked.

I didn't get a chance to run again for something like four years.  Oddly enough, I ran exactly the same adventure.  Better players made for a much better experience.  The primary lesson learned was, don't blindly trust your players.  Just because you like them doesn't mean they have compatible goals and playstyles.

1 comment:

  1. Honestly, my early GMing attempts went quite well, golems named I not withstanding. Still, I've had some crazy drama too, that inspired much facepalming and former members of the gaming circle.