Game Masters (or Those People Who Changed my View of GMing)

Since I first began playing Dungeons and Dragons in March of 1979 AD, I’ve ran more games than I’ve played, but I’ve had a fair number of game masters over the decades.  I tend to get more enjoyment from running games than I do playing them, but I have enjoyed many of the games I played.  Here are some of the notable GMs, I’ve encountered in my days of gaming.

  • Davy McMillan – He was my 1st DM.  He ran me through B1 – In Search of the Unknown.  If Davy had not introduced me to D&D, I’d never been involved in such a wonderful hobby and there would not be a blog for me to write.
  • Clyde Smith – Clyde and Davy were classmates at Vancleave High School.  He was the first DM I knew who would “break” the rules.  He had a predilection for variant classes.  I will always remember the flying-steed riding rangers.  “I live for love.  I love for danger.  I live to be an Airborne Ranger!”  Clyde showed me it was okay to invent things that the rules didn’t cover.
  • Denson Smith – Denson was Clyde’s older brother.  He was known as a “tough DM.”  He played fast and loose with combat and we fought some very tough fights.  We never had a TPK, but we ran awfully close.  I don’t know if I learned anything from Denson, but I felt a rivalry with him and worked hard to make my games talked about as much as others talked about his.
  • Ned Harvey – Ned was a friend of mine since my days at Ocean Springs Junior High.  I introduced him to D&D.  Ned was a good GM in many ways: he had strong ideas, he could devise good combats, and he was well read enough to catch most of the references his players used to create their characters.  His one flaw was that he let it get personal.  Sometimes, it became a GM vs. Player game.  If the Players wanted to go left and his game plan said they had to go straight, then it could become a game wherein Ned tried to force the Players to go back to the story.  I learned from Ned and a few horrid missteps of my own to go with the flow.  If the Players want to spend a game shopping, then they get to spend it shopping.  I just need to keep notes on who sells what and where it is sold.
  • Mike White – Mike and I met in 10th grade.  We played in other GMs’ games and Mike hit the occasional one-shot games that I ran, but I never played in any of his games.  Mike and I were GMs that went to each other, when we at a loss as what to do next in our own games.  We shared D&D modules and ideas.  Mike taught me that GMing could be a collaborative effort.
  • Todd Jordan – Todd joined my D&D game,   after watching me teach his mother, aunt, and cousins about D&D.  He was a fixture in my gaming sessions for a number of years.  Later, he took his characters and his girlfriend’s characters and moved them to his world of Plangenus.  I played a few games in his world.  He had a lot of incredible ideas, but his world was bland and he never followed his ideas to their ends.  His world was a moon of a Jovian planet.  Plangenus revolved around its primary at the same speed as Plangenus rotated, thus one side always faced the primary planet.  The planet bound side of Plangenus got light reflected from the surface of the planet.  It seemed to me that such a world should have special magic effects on the “dark” side.  No direct sunlight, no starlight…wouldn’t there be more drow and other dark loving beings casting special spells that would be ruined by the light of day?  When I asked about such things Todd said that it didn’t matter and my interest in his world waned.  So, I learned from Todd to have weird or special effects in your world, just make sure you follow them all the way to the end.
  • Mike Magee – Mike and I met in college and his second long running character in Rilmorn was Gareth Eybender.  His creation of the Kingdom of Elethar and the extensive family tree of the Eybenders have given me years’ worth of material for my games.  Mike ran two games in which I played: Isle of the Ape and Lichlords.  Both of those modules are high-level games.  Mike ran them with aplomb.  It was from him that I learned to give the high level villains their rightful due.  I often fail to do so, but I always intend to play my powerful NPCs as intelligent, strong people.  You don’t get to be high level, if you are incompetent.
  • Ray Boone – Ray is another college friend that gave me distinct characters and societies that still carry weight in Rilmorn; Levi Dyskor is the exemplar cavalier that all other cavaliers aspire to be.  Ray ran the creepiest Beyond the Supernatural game, I have ever played.  It was a one shot game.  It wasn’t creepy because of all the gore.  It wasn’t creepy because of the monsters.  It was creepy because of the little details.  Ray just, seeming at random, dropped simple observations of what our characters saw.  The descriptions didn’t carry any hideous descriptors.  We were in an Antarctic science station investigating the disappearance of the scientists.  There was no blood.  There were no bodies.  Everything was normal and clean…and every time Ray pointed that out to us, we freaked out a little more.  Ray taught me that the ordinary can be terrifying, if one is expecting something horrifying.
  • Derek Johnson – Derek and I have never played a game of D&D together in our lives.  I have been with groups for which he ran Castle Faulkenstien, Call of Cthulhu, Vampire: The Masquerade, and Bureau 13.  Derek showed me, what I long suspected, that you can make any game system tell whatever story you want to tell.  He plays every system like a musical instrument and delightfully mixes tone and leitmotif to turn Call of Cthulhu into an adventure game or Castle Faulkenstien into a mystery game with a hint of horror tinting the corners of the world.  I try to do the same with each edition of  DnD and Rilmorn.
  • Matt Wagner – Matt is one of my D&D players from Emory.  His game of choice is Call of Cthulhu.  He likes to play in a dimly lit room by candlelight when possible.  Matt showed me how much the table environment affects players’ actions.  He can still evoke terror in a game set at table in the middle of cafeteria by his storytelling alone, but at table of his preference, Matt rules the world where Knowledge Shall Make You Flee.  Now, when possible, I try to set the environment of the game table to set the mood I want in my game.

Thank you all for inspiring me to try and be a better Game Master.

Game On!

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4 thoughts on “Game Masters (or Those People Who Changed my View of GMing)

  1. Pingback: Game Masters Part 2 | World Engineer

  2. Matt Wagner definitely has a command of setting and mood that is unrivaled among any of the games I’ve played. His games also tend to be free-form in the extreme. My biggest critique of Matt’s DM style is that I always want more of it. Sadly, he was never able to sustain his game for more than a few story arcs or one-shots.

    Liked by 1 person

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