Why do I Master Games?

So, a few days ago, I posted an old review in response to a Creighton Broadhurst post.  That post led my best friend to suggest that I start a blog wherein I review old gaming material.  I started working on a post for this potential project.  While I was working on that blog post, I realized something…I don’t remember why I got started GMing.

Granted, it has been over 30 years, since I sat down and started GMing, but I do not remember the steps between my first experience playing D&D that Sunday afternoon in March at Davy’s house and sitting down at my parent’s kitchen table drawing Lungold…I mean, Mythgold.  I know that I must have played D&D more than that one time.  I had an Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Monster Manual that my parents gave me for Christmas.  So, what led me to wanting to create my first dungeon?  What led me to craft an overland map that led the PCs to Mythgold?  What set me on this path that I will not willingly leave?  I don’t remember.

I remember long hours of playing my cleric Gregor O’Dragon nee The Gaunt, but a fair number of those hours happened after I first ran Players through parts of Mythgold.  I remember being fascinated by the descriptions of the rooms in the module B1In Search of the Unknown.  I remember stealing ideas right out of that module for Mythgold.  I just don’t remember why I wanted to DM.

Our gaming group, in the early days, consisted of Davy McMillian, Michael McMillian (Davy’s cousin), Stephen Goff (my cousin), Clyde Smith(Davy’s friend), and Mark Inabinette (my cousin).  Davy started out as DM, because he had the books.  Shortly, thereafter, Davy and Clyde began taking turns at DMing.  I don’t remember what happened at most or any of those games, but it was during those early days that I must have begun to desire to sit on the other side of the DM’s Screen.

What if my memory is faulty?  What if I am wrong about which AD&D book my parents bought me for Christmas?  What if I started drawing Mythgold before I had any D&D books of my own?  It doesn’t really matter, because the truth of the thing is that I wanted to create.  I wanted to make a dungeon.  I wanted PCs and their Players to interact with the monsters that I had placed within it.  I just don’t know why?

Even if I do not remember why I started GMing, I know why I do it today.  I do it today, because I am a poor player.  I have a hard time sitting on the far side of the Game Master Screen and not think about how I would run the game different.  I enjoy creating.  I get a great joy spending time designing maps.  Working up NPC personalities gives me great satisfaction.  Writing secret cards helps me to think outside of the box and fuels further creativity.  Running games makes all the creative work I do worth the effort and time that goes into creating.  Being caught off guard by my Players and having to maintain composure, think on my feet, and give the illusion that I had everything already planned out gives me a thrill that outweighs the glory of creating.  Watching a story unfold, a story that I could not have crafted on my own, is like watching a flower bud open.  It is a thing of beauty.  Seeing Players getting caught up in the moment gives me energy to go deeper and draw forth more better encounters and adventures.  It helps me make my world a more real place, at least for a short while, than the rest of reality in which we dwell.

So, why do you Master Games, my Good Readers?  What draws you into the bright darkness that requires us to fill crannies full of goblins and sow the seeds of dragons?  Until next time, Game On!


P is for Procrastination

When I accepted the A to Z Challenge, I had high hopes.  I got four completed and had planned on writing “E is for Elethar,” “F is for Fun,” G is for Gregory,” “M is for Maps,” “S is for Shanor,” “X is for Xashthrapot” and “Z is for Zentlan.”  Alas, I was not successful and I know why, I procrastinated.

Every Game Master can, most likely, tell you of times when he or she, for no good reason, put off working on Game until it was nearly too late to run the game.  It is true that GMs procrastinate; “Never do today what you can put off till next week,” so quoted my mother.  The given fact that I procrastinate is not important.  What is important is the reasons why I procrastinate and how I deal with the causes of procrastination.

Procrastination is not simply not doing something that needs to be done; it is choosing to do something else, when one has time to do the needed thing.  It is sitting down a playing Sid Mier’s Civilization, instead of working on the A to Z Challenge.  So, why do I put off working on my game?  Some days, I am just worn out.  Work has taken its toll.  There is high drama being played out on the stage that is my home.  I’m sick.  On those days, I just want to do something that occupies my mind, but doesn’t require me to think.  I don’t really have anything I can do to deal with these situations, because they are external to my game.  Other times, I procrastinate, because I am unhappy with my game.  When this happens, I have a problem upon which I need to work.

When I am procrastinating because I am unhappy with my game, I usually find one of two causes.  Either I have devised a setting which doesn’t interest me or my players are making me miserable.  The latter problem is often caused by players who are uninterested in the setting which I am running or by players who get more enjoyment out of ruining the game for the GM or the other Players.  When this has happened in my games, the players in question were also my friends outside the Game, so I decided to focus on doing what I could to engage those players and focus on the things that make the Game fun for me.  It usually works and we all have a fairly good time.  Always focus on the positive and always remember the other Players.

When I procrastinate due to my lack of interest in my setting, I must figure out what I don’t like about my own campaign.  Sometimes discovering what I don’t like about my campaign is quite simple.  Other times, I spend hours or days trying to figure out what is wrong.  Either way, once I discover it, I begin to change the setting.  I don’t do it suddenly without warning, because that isn’t fair to my players, who have worked hard to make characters that fit the setting.  I start small and give the Players time to adjust their characters to fit the changes.  The few times that I made sudden and hardcore changes in my games, I had players rebel.  So, now, if I am unhappy running a gritty desert campaign and want to run a high fantasy Celtic campaign, I can start with dropping magic items from the style of campaign I want into my desert setting.  Then I start sending the PCs on short excursions into the net setting.  After a few trips into the Celtic setting, I craft longer adventures and attempt to give the PCs touchstones and hooks, so that my Players want to explore this world.  If I do it right, I’m running y preferred game of choice and my Players are caught up in the depth of my world and the story that we are creating  together.

Do you procrastinate?  Why?  What do you do return to active game work?  Until next time, Game On!

Gaming the System

Sometimes I Play the Game and other times I Game the System.  I have been gaming long enough that I am not a big fan of “imposed motivations” being placed on a PC.  In Dungeons and Dragons 5E, there is a section in character creation where the Player is supposed to select a Personality Trait, an Ideal, a Bond, and a Flaw; there are tables of options from which the Player can choose or on which the Player can roll randomly.  There are rules and sidebars designed to help a Player create unique Personality Traits, Bonds, Goals, and Flaws, but the default assumption seems to be that when the Player chooses his or her PCs Background that he or she will take from the provided lists.  This is not an ideal situation for me, since the suggested options are designed to be as generic as possible and I am presently running a very specific (Gnome) campaign.  However, it has provided some neat insights for me.

Years ago, Jason Holmgren of Ironclaw explained to me how he felt rules not only provide the framework of game play, they also set the style of play.  I think he’s right in that supposition.  I’d even go so far as to say, “Rules, not only provide the framework needed for game play and the style of play, they also provide assumptions about the setting.”  For an example of this in D&D, check out my complaints about 3E and 4E (paragraphs 5 and 6).  While I do believe it is possible to tell whatever story one wishes to tell, regardless of the rules system, it takes effort to mold those stories into the assumptions the rules system places on the setting. (2014.10.04)

In my Gnome Campaign, Nicki and JR are playing forest gnomes.  Nicki’s character, Roywyn, is a druid (PHB pages 64-69) and JR’s PC, Gimble, is a ranger (PHB pages 89-93).  While the quick build suggestion for druid is Hermit, Nicki chose the Outlander background (PHB pages 136-137).  JR stuck with the suggested quick build background for the ranger class, which is Outlander.  In addition to the four categories of characteristics that a background provides, the Outlander background offers a table for Origin.  Nicki rolled Hunter/Gatherer and JR rolled Tribal Nomad.  JR’s roll for Origin, along with Nicki’s roll of “I am the last of my tribe, and it is up to me to ensure their names enter legend,” as her Bond caused me a bit of a problem when it came to my setting.  Gnomes in the literature are not tribal nomads.  They are hill dwelling, warren digging, settled folk.  This is reinforced in the 2E supplement The Complete Book of Gnomes and Halflings (I book that I got when a friend was giving away his collection, but tha I had never opened, until two weeks ago).  How am I to reconcile this? (2014.10.04)

I believe the basic presumption of D&D is that the game is going to be a multi-racial, multi-class, pseudo-European milieu.  Also, a GM is unlikely to get someone who wants to play a truly weird character: a gnomish ranger from a band of tribal nomadic little people or a halfling barbarian.  If the GM does, then he or she can use the basic assumptions of the setting to say that the halfling was found as a baby abandoned in the wild and raised among the Ice Marsh Barbarians who had a band of gnomes that lived among them or something similar.  I don’t have that option in my Gnome-centric Campaign. (2014.10.04)

So, I have to come up with a reason as to why there would be nomadic gnomes.  I have to use the rules to make the setting.  Are all forest gnomes from Terah nomads?  I don’t think so.  What if the nomad tribes (I really want to write it as gnomad tribes) from Terah were not just made up of forest gnomes?  What if they were a mix of gnomish subraces?  Why would they have such a society?  Roywyn is the last of her tribe?  Gimble only knows of one other member from his tribe, Papi?  What secrets does Papi, a rock gnome, know about the now lost nomads?  This is all a case of me trying to making sense of the results of the rules, as I see them.  Hopefully, I will make world sense out of rules sense and have a compelling setting and campaign. (2014.10.04)

Game On!

A Probably Not-so Secret Secret (or Making it up as I go Along)

Want to know a secret.  I make it all up.  Nearly every bit of my D&D game, I improvise.

I have idea and plans, but when I sit down at the table, ninety percent of what goes on is created on the spot.  There are multiple reasons for why this is the case.  Often, my players head off in directions that I never imagined.  Other times, I get to the table and realize that what I created and built, just isn’t going to work.  Occasionally, I just don’t have anything ready; I have good intentions, but like the Road to Hell, I get paved with them.  Sometimes, I just want the thrill of creating on the fly.  Sometimes, it makes me feel like I am a huckster selling snake-oil.

Now, in my defense, I do create NPCs, and towns, and monsters with which the PCs may interact.  I love making and twisting maps and often have those on hand to help orient the PCs.  I design cultural touchstones, so the Storm Kingdom is different than Neverwinter.  I have been making secret cards for the NPCs and special places and items that exist on Rilmorn.  I craft magic items, sometimes before the game and sometimes during the game.  I plan combat and social encounters to challenge my players.  Yet, despite doing that work, I still seem to be making things up at the table.

There’s my secret.

Game on!

World Engineer

Hello, I’m Gregory.  My wife, Christina (Please check out her blog), has told me to not over think this and just write…so, I’m trying.  This blog will be my attempt to share with you what I do in gaming.  I started gaming with Basic Dungeons and Dragons on a Sunday afternoon in late March 1979(it was cold and rainy).  Now, I’ve been running games in my world of Rilmorn for over thirty years.

My blog address is GameEngineer.worpress.com, because WorldEngineer.wordpress.com was already taken.  I don’t think I’m really a game engineer.  Game engineers are people like Monte Cook and Bruce Cordell.  I think I’m a world engineer.  I build societies and cities for my players to explore.  I design natural terrain, both mundane and fantastic in which my games reside.  I embody non-player characters (NPCs) with which the player characters (PCs) interact.  I weave plots and bait story hooks.  I act out wild scenes to engage the people at my table.  Sometimes, I create mechanics to facilitate the workings of the world, but most of the time, I just build a setting and use the game engineered designs of others.

Boy, that sounds dry and stilted to me.  Hope it is not so much to you, good reader.  Until we meet again, May your days be filled with dreams and your nights with wonders.  Game On! (2014.10.04)