Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Game Master versus Player

No, I'm not talking about 'hostile' GMs or anything like that. Rather, I'm talking about my favorite subject—me! My gaming 'career' began many moons ago—probably right around 1981. And considering where I grew up (in the boonies of the boonies in South Dakota), there were not a lot of gamers around. Thus, if there was going to be any gaming at all, I was going to have to be the one running it. And so it continued (with the exception of a few games run by my buddy Mark in high-school), until I hit college. There, finally, I could be 'just a player'—at least part of the time.

But my "primarily GM" background gave me a rather unique (I think) perspective on being a player. First of all, I think that I was (and am) a lot more helpful than your typical player. That isn't to say all players are disruptive or anything like that—but rather that I am particularly sensitive to the challenges of running a game. I made an effort to make the life of my GMs easier—whether by being patient when other players were acting or by helping look up rules or even by trying to include other players and not 'steal the show' (this is a difficult one, because all players like to feel the game is centered around their character).

Likewise, during the time period I was playing, a lot of gaming was story-driven rather than sandbox style. Among my circle of gamers, this meant that certain allowances were made for 'drama' instead of demanding realistic pragmatism at all times in order to survive. I am the type of player who will sacrifice a lot for the sake of drama and "what my character would do" in a situation. If I'm playing a heroic character, then this would occasionally mean putting him in danger, even when it was 'wiser' to flee (facing down a 'charnel juggernaut' until the rest of the party can evacuate innocents and return with help is one such incident). Likewise, if I am playing someone who can be considered naive and maybe a bit too trusting, well.. then sometimes I will allow that person to be so, even if my 'player-sense' is tingling. I was never purposely suicidal in my actions, but I did allow my characters to have 'faults' and 'weaknesses'—like.. oh, a desire to do what is 'right'.

In a typical 'old school' game, these factors would probably incredibly lethal to a character—but they made for some great story moments. And honestly, I was never QUITE certain how far my GMs at the time would let this go. I think Doyce or Lee were quite capable of allowing a character to die, even in a story-driven plot. It gave an edge to the actions I took, even if I was reasonably certain they'd allow me a little leeway.

But I digress a little—didn't mean to get into story vs. sandbox again. Folks have strong opinions either way. All I'm saying is, in Story driven adventures, I was very willing to 'play along' with my GMs if it meant for a better story. And I think that stems directly from how I wished my players would game with me as a GM.

But being primarily a GM isn't always a good thing. As a GM (and because of my nature in general), I am something of a control freak. As a player, I find it a bit difficult to 'let go' of this, even though I really don't have much choice. I know I make a conscious effort NOT to second-guess my GMs, because really—I do LOVE to play. But I can't help think of what I would do differently and how I might make things 'better'. This sounds egotistical, and it is a little. But then all GMs have to be a little bit egotistical (read: Confident), or their games will fall apart.

Come to think of it, this is probably why I overcompensate a little when it comes to playing 'in character'. Not to get to philosophic about it, but the idea of 'letting go' of control of my character's destiny is at once unnerving and liberating. Maybe THAT is part of the reason why I let my characters take such risks. I mean, I have no real control over what happens to them, so maybe I'm a bit 'fatalistic' in my approach? I don't know. But part of that rings true.

In any case, I think that being a GM gives you a unique perspective on being a player—and while I'd like to think it makes us 'better' as players, I'm not certain that is true in the majority of cases. Please note I am talking folks who are PRIMARILY GMs—because I think most players have run a game or two in their careers. It isn't quite the same thing as someone who does it 'full time'. I haven't had a lot of dealings with other GMs, but from what I've heard (and seen) ego does play a lot into it. So I wonder what the reality is. Do we make good players? or bad ones. For myself, at least, I'd like to think the former. But...I am biased. Duh.

Anyway, enough ramblings for now.

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