Friday, July 3, 2009

Worst (and best) GMs and Players

In perusing the other blogs I follow, I came across a new thread talking about the 'worst GM' or 'worst player' you ever had.  Being fond of bandwagon jumping, this is my attempt to clamber onboard. The only problem is, I haven't REALLY been a player very often—and on top of that, I've never really had any 'nightmare' experiences with either players OR GMs. Therefore, the best I can do is talk about the worst (and best) gaming experiences I've had.

I'll start with GMs. Oddly enough, one of the 'worst' experiences I had was with the guy who GMed what turned out to be the most favorite campaigns I ever played in. Doyce was (and is) a very creative and energetic guy. He's a writer, and his campaigns were always done with a sense for story and the dramatic. That being said, he also had a tendency to put so much effort into something that when it got around to actually doing it, he would burn out quickly. Another of his tendencies was to sometimes enjoy the STORY of an adventure so much that he forgot to let his players actually AFFECT the story. 

This was the case in one of my 'worst' gaming experiences. Doyce was running a science-fiction campaign (using the 'Worlds Beyond' system). He had gotten a stock adventure out of some gaming magazine and was having us run through it. The adventure involved exploring a crashed starship and slowly discovering the horrible aliens that dwelled inside. Things were going along just fine at first. We were in the spooky haunted house ship and got the feeling that something BAD was there—and it was starting to get late and dark outside. This is where the adventure called for us (the party) to camp out in the spooky ship, thus giving the aliens a chance to wreak havoc with us. Unfortunately, we didn't want any part of that. 

Instead, we decided to pile back up on our little super-sonic shuttle craft and fly back to the main starport and relax in a hotel. We could tell that this totally threw Doyce for a loop. He started coming up with reasons why we couldn't—as in it would take too much time. One of the others pointed out that it would only be about a one or two hour trip in our shuttle. Not bad at all really. Doyce was perturbed—and from a GM's viewpoint, I could see why, but honestly players rarely ever act like people in horror movies. We generally like to be as safe and smart as possible. This means NOT sleeping in creepy, alien-infested ships. Unfortunately, the session degenerated from there as we all kind of joined in 'heckling' (good naturedly) Doyce's attempts to convince us to stay at the ship. 

As these things do, it quickly turned to the ridiculous—where we were planning on hiring 'guard bears' for our camp (don't ask) and using rice-krispies spread on the floor as an early-warning device (again, don't ask). This incident has since become known as the 'Flaming Bears of Ixion' incident—though honestly, I can't remember why the bears were on fire or even if the planet in question was Ixion. This whole thing happened during the 'waning' phase of Doyce's interest in the system and campaign, and thus it was kind of the final nail in the coffin of the whole thing (more or less). So there you have it. My 'worst' GM experience really wasn't that bad at all. In fact, it was actually kind of funny. 

If Doyce ever reads this, I hope he will do so with a smile on his face, because he is also an example of one of my BEST GMs ever. He ran an on-again-off-again Dark Conspiracy campaign—actually utilizing the hideously flawed GDW system. But the system really didn't matter. The campaign was a blast—with a lot of character moments and memorable situations—like my character's penchant for getting shot/bit/stung/burned/impaled/etc. ALWAYS in the left leg (and sometimes by members of his own party!). There was also the time the entire stealthy party was sneaking its way up to the creepy mansion only to suddenly discover that one of the group had NO stealth skills whatsoever and was just marching boldly and noisily up the lane (picture a bunch of camouflaged commando types watching in horror as one of their number just plods on by in plain view).

There was also the 'I wear my Beret into combat!' incident. That one made me respect Doyce a lot. And laugh a lot. The group was going to raid an office building infested with alien bugs. So all the prudent members of the group were suiting up in full body armor and helmets. One of the guys decided his character, a former green-beret, was going to forgo the helmet and wear his beret instead because he was just that much of a badass. Of course, anyone who has ever read a Greek tragedy knows this kind of hubris cannot go unanswered. The player here only compounded his bad karma by later, in the thick of the point-blank gun battle with the bugs, declaring that, on his next action: "I am going to fire a fully-automatic burst with my combat shotgun". Doyce reminded him that other players were in the area and likely to be injured or killed. The player didn't seem to care. It was then the Alien Bug's turn and wouldn't you know it? A giant, spike-clawed leg descended on the beret-wearing monster-hunter. Hit location? Head. Down he went, his shotgun clattering to the floor. The rest of us were able to (more or less) kill the rest of the bugs and then run away (dragging mr. Beret's limp body with us). From that day on, that player (Rick Harvey) would forever be known to my gaming group as "Headshot Harvey". 

At the time, we all thought it WAS just Karma. Only months later did Doyce reveal to us that he fudged the hit-location—thus putting the cocky player and character in their place (and saving the rest of the party from what might have otherwise been a party-killing move by the guy). Heh, it was funny and it was a bold move from our GM. I still giggle about it.

But as much as I enjoyed Dark Conspiracy, the best campaign I ever played in was Doyce's short-lived Mythus game. Again, the system seemed rather bizarre and flawed, but that didn't matter. Utilizing a copy of the absolutely incredible 'Free City of Haven' setting, Doyce ran me and a small group of players through a short series of adventures in this fantasy setting, and I loved every minute of it. As I recall, it only lasted three months—from beginning to end of the summer—before Doyce again lost interest. Sniff. Alas. 

Wow. Talk about rambling. What was the topic of this post again? Oh, right! Best and Worst GMs and players! Lets continue with that:

As far as worst players go, I have only a couple—but again, their 'transgressions' weren't really all that bad. I suspect that many gamers are just like them. Troy (who played Starstalker in my Star War campaign) is what we called a 'twink' or a 'gunbunny' . He didn't seem care much about story, or drama, or roleplaying. He just liked to shoot stuff and to buy bigger and better guns and armor. In a lot of games, this really wouldn't be THAT much of a big thing—but in a story-driven system like Star Wars, he stood out like a sore thumb. While everyone else was problem-solving their way through the adventure, Troy was looting the bodies of dead stormtroopers and seeing if they had any money on them (you know, typical gamer stuff that you learn to do in dungeon-crawl type games). 

Likewise, the player of the 'Jedi' Yelstain Keete (his name was Todd, but not the same Todd who plays Ruukhan and Horatio), brought a distinctly power-gamer attitude into the campaign. It was clear he saw Force powers just as something that made his guy more powerful. He had no real interest in playing the role of a Jedi—witness him wanting to casually slaughter imperial technicians by placing his lightsaber to the back's of their chairs and turning it on. He chafed under the whole idea of getting darkside points and being told that if he got too many, he would lose the character. I have little doubt that he would have turned evil if he could have.

But as I said, these are what I would call 'typical' gamer attitudes—and I've run into them since. So even as I say it, I DO hesitate to call them the 'worst' players. They just weren't as AWESOME as the other players I had the honor of game-mastering.

To list all the BEST players would take up too much time. And besides, just check my earlier posts for examples of their greatness. But I would be remiss if I didn't mention one more great GM before I went—Lee. Like Doyce, Lee is a writer, and a very creative and funny guy. Not only were his games interesting, they were also hilarious. But then, I have to give some credit to the hilarity to his two brothers, Mike an Dale, who also played....but..well, that is a story for another time.

So in closing, I guess I've been really lucky to avoid any ASS GMs or players. Go me! But I've still had my share of manageable travails.


  1. Hooray for Lee! That Champions adventure he ran for us that time in COS rocked. Tinfoil Avenger, Old Lady Johnson ("Damn kids, get off my lawn!"), Nice Guy, and Black Squirrel (and her nemesis, the Tongue -- "You're going DOWN!"). Much hilarity.

  2. You forgot the Cornfield Commando, Sharon. I'm crushed. :)