Hey all! I was just thinking about all the articles, books, and videos on “how to be a better game master” out there, and that brought back memories of two of my favorite games ever. Both times I was lucky to be a player in a tabletop game ran by exceptional GM’s.
The first time I realized just how a good GM could make any game better was the summer of 1984, when my friend Hess was running various games for our group of rambunctious 12 year olds. We started playing Dungeons & Dragons and went on to Star Frontiers, Traveller and Fantasy Wargaming.
The last game, I was the single player in a months-long campaign (series of linked, consistent world games) that took my character from a cautious and timid explorer up into the schemes and politics of national scope and far past the limits of my game experiences. Game after game we played, surprises and deep secrets were revealed until the final number when the Big Bad Evil Guy was thwarted, and peace and harmony were restored to the Realm. I had picked up my own copy of the game to see how easy it would be to run my own genius game world; and when I went looking for the step-by-step on how to build mystery, danger and other layers into my world, guess what I found? Nada, zilch, zero. Just rules for mass combat, determining spell level difficulty class, chances for Divine Intervention, stuff like that.
All that world building with the rich characters, plots and atmosphere was from the creative consciousness of my GM. Well, he had been doing this for a couple of years already and surely practice made perfect, right? Well, I got better over time but never got to the level of pure escapism that I felt playing with Hess. Years later, a friend and I drove up to see him during our high school years and stayed for the weekend. Hess had moved on to his Sheldon Cooper phase and was heavily into physics, star charts and realism.
We tried this new game called Traveller 2300 and although it was way more rules heavy than we were used to, it was a blast. He still had that spark and ability to describe things in a way that let you almost feel it around you. Some people have that ability to tell a story and make you feel like it was your experience, too — he had that. You can find a lot of techniques and skills in books and videos, but unless you put them into play (literally) and practice them, you won’t improve. That’s one of my goals.
How about sharing some of your best or worst experiences as a GM or player in a tabletop game? Those kinds of stories bring us together in the most basic ways and give us common ground. Let’s build some community here, folks!