I Want to Go Home (Part 2)
Started at Caribou Coffee in White Bear Lake, Minnesota. Finished at Home, Woodbury, Minnesota.
Some Gamemasters are really good at running games freestyle. These parkour GMs free-run through the collective consciousness of the gaming group, reacting to Player actions and re-directs like so many obstacles among the ruins, without any visible display of sweat, stress or pain. I admire them – even envy them; they can be really fun to game with as long as you are okay with episodic, Player-driven storytelling where campaign continuity and consistency take a back seat to expediency and The Moment. They flow. It is not that you can’t have consistency and continuity with a free-running GM; it is just not a natural fit for that style1. You see, the problem with a Player-driven storytelling approach is: what does everyone else do while the Player driving the story, drives the story?
If you are one of those GMs who can run games with multiple threads off the cuff, given only the suggestion of a conflict by one of your Players, I congratulate you sir (or madam/miss/ma’am). I, however, am not. Never have been. I run off the cuff just fine – thank you very much – once I know where the cuff is; I’ve got to have a plan, a sense of how the story is supposed to progress from Point A, to B, to C. With a plan in place, I feel I am in a better position to tell a richer, more entertaining story; I’m better prepared to handle situations where Players do things I didn’t see coming (it happens. All. The. Time.) and I’m able to gently redirect Players who wander off the path.
For me, being a Gamemaster has always involved a considerable up-front investment of time. My style has always attempted to be more about immersion, history, continuity within the setting. It has been about spending enough time in my own world to know where best to bring others into it.
My experience is that a Gamemaster invests significantly more time in the game than his or her Players. Consider that
The Player has to:
- Learn the mechanics of the selected game system enough to construct and play a character, including resolving conflicts and encounters as required by the system’s game mechanics
- Construct a single, interesting character
- Show up on Gaming Night. On-time and with character sheet would be appreciated.
- Participate in the game. Biting the hook on occasion is also appreciated.
By comparison, the Gamemaster, has to (at a minimum):
- Learn the mechanics of the selected game system. Thoroughly. You are the final arbiter on any questions about rules so you better know your stuff otherwise a Player is going to Lawyer-up on your @$$ and you’ll quickly lose control.
- Construct multiple, interesting non-player characters.
- Show up on Gaming Night. A Gamemaster is never late, nor is he early, he arrives precisely when he means to.
- Select or Construct the Campaign Setting (on-going) and learn it thoroughly.
- Plan the Campaign (on-going)
- Re-Plan the Campaign when the Players screw up the first plan (on-going)
- Plan each encounter and scenario.
Rob, Rob, Rob. You’re doing it all wrong then. Just grab a pre-made setting. No World-Building required.
Yeah. About that. See…over time I’ve come to realize (and recently to accept) that I have this control issue; as in, I like to be in control. I like to know the secrets, plan the stories; I like to know things you *don’t* know and if I use someone else’s World I’m missing out on the part I enjoy only slightly less than “The Prestige” – the construction of the World itself.
Don’t get me wrong. Your suggestion is sound and I’ve considered it before. Back in the day (30 years ago? Has it really been so long?), I loved both Gary Gygax‘s “The World of Greyhawk” and Ed Greenwood‘s “Forgotten Realms“; I even dabbled with “Dark Sun” and “Krynn” but the consideration of actually running games in any of these settings always felt odd to me. It felt as if I’d be moving furniture in someone else’s house or that somehow my interpretation of another writer’s world was just not right. Irrational, I know, but its how I felt.
Okay. Well, you don’t have to know every detail about every encounter. Do you really need to know where the Orcs Under The Mountain get their food from? Who they trade with (or raid)?
Ummm. Yes and no. “Yes” because it is details like that that make the world feel real to Players and “No” because if it isn’t relevant to the scenario or campaign I can usually let it go. For awhile.
All of that planning takes time…of which I have little.
You’ve mentioned that. So what are you going to do?
I don’t fully know yet but I think I’ve got a plan. One thing that I do know, however, is that my kids are getting older and I’d really like to share this fantastic hobby with them while I’m still cool enough to hang out with.
I better get going.
 Except, of course, in *your* game, dear Reader. Truly. There are some great free-runner GMs who are also gifted story-tellers who are able to weave exceptional stories from one Player-provided thread after another. I would be surprised if they are anything but rare, very experienced GMs with a wealth of background material at the ready. In other words, these GMs have already done the hard work, already know their world and the characters in it and are able to weave fantastic stories because they are starting with whole cloth and not single threads of varying colors, textures and strengths. ↩