Thursday, December 14, 2017

Gm's advice, a personal observation.

Warning, this post doesn't contain any usable gaming content. For that I'm sorry. Not sorry enough to stop typing, but just sorry enough to realize someone might  be looking for usable content, why waste their time. Honestly though, no one is going to read this, so who fuckign cares anyway.

This  will stray a bit far afield,...Fair warning. There is a mountain of GM /DM ing advice on the internet. Some of the advice is practical. Things like "Here is how I used index cards to organize my notes", or "here is the shorthand I used to  write monster descriptions for quick reference." These are useful things that can help a new Gm. I'm all for that. There are people who have been playing for a very long time they're bound to have picked up a few tricks that make running games smoother. I'm all for that.

Some internet DMing advice is personal opinion cloaked as useful tips. Even all that opinion can still be useful. Insightful opinions about how to run a table are useful when the reader understands that they are reading another singular person's opinion. That kind of information is best when it is presented openly as an opinion piece. Before anyone jumps my shit I'm not complaining about any particular person or entity who uses the "my way or the highway" schtick on the internet. That's not quite what I'm thinking about here. There're a set of people on the net who have developed strong characters through which they present their opinions. That's fine. It's hard to stand out on the net. I have never quite gotten the hang of it.
A desire to strongly defend opinions is not necessarily a bad thing. This work is my opinion, free for you to agree with, disagree with, or ignore as the reader sees fit. For another example, An article like this one from "The Angry GM" is at it's base an opinion piece.  It's a damn good one, he did his leg work, then wrote the piece in an organized fashion. It would be foolish to say an article presented like the one mentioned above does not contain well thought out advice.

What I watch out for are those who post "This is THE way to play." Or worse yet "This is how the game was intended to be played." I'm going to work backwards on this one. I think the  second  statement has more meat on the bone.

Unless the reader is the the designer of a particular game, I don't want to hear how that particular game was intended to be played. Any statement from anyone other than the one who originally wrote a game is conjecture. The conjecture increases exponentially based on the age and the popularity of a game. Most designers worth their salt would readily admit that the what happens in a playtest is someone does something with their game that they never intended. Players of all stripes will do things with rules a designer hadn't even thought of. Players will always think of unintended uses for the rules. It's part and parcel to the fabric of what makes RPG's the games they are.

Unintended playstyles were in my opinion one of the driving forces behind the  a session  zero, and  explicit social contracts at the table which were popular topics to discuss a couple years back. Some newer games are designed to be bound so tightly to their intended emotional / contextual themes that techniques had to arise which got everyone on the same page in order for the games to work. As an example try playing "Dogs in the Vineyard" when one or two players are not interested in  the underlying morality tale while the rest of the table is, the game just won't work as intended.

The world's most popular Role playing game,  (No. Not politics) has always been a hotbed for this kind of  debate. How was the  game originally intended to be played? Is a question I hear echoed time and time again on RPG blogs. The impression I get from  my own memory of early Dragon Magazines Q&A column, also from books like "Playing at the  World *" At first no one knew quite what to do with the D&D rules. As the  game spread different groups of people were doing things in different ways. Still are. I'll take a second to reiterate I'm not by any means an expert. I wasn't around in 1974 to play one of those first 1000 copies of  D&D, so I can't speak on what the intent of those games were. I would argue that my point here is there's no way  to know. There is no evidence beyond what the creators of D&D left behind in the form of notes, communications, and  rules. There are still some folks around who did play in those early times, but like any other group of players how do we know they were playing the rules as originally envisioned? That argument opens up a can of worms as there are people who have spent great deals of time pouring over every bit of work G. Gygax and company ever did. Those students of the  early days of RPGS, often think they know the original intentions of the game designers, what more they are willing to endlessly argue that they know. I don't have the  energy. My point being, the  question of how RPG's were originally intended to be played is an endless, unwinnable argument.

If that's how I feel, why bring it up? 
Fair question.
All Internet Game master advice like all advice is based on a person's personal experiences combined with their opinions. I don't want any one telling me that they know the one true way a game should be run, or that they are running a game "as it was intended."
I do want to know  other GM's tips, tricks, organisational ideas.
On't go out there into the ether and tell people that "how you ply is wrong" or "This game is not being run the way D&D should be run."  It's not good for the community, it's not good for the game.
A good Example is Critical role on Geek and sundry. Now for me I don't enjoy watching other peoples games all that much . to Me D&D is not a great spectator activity. With that in mind I watched a few CR episodes in prep for this  post.
Mathew Mercer does not run his game how I run my game. Far from wanting to say anything negative about what he was doing I want to look at the other side. Not everyone's group is full of professional voice actors. I mean I have one player who is not allowed to do a pirate voice in my game ever. Again. ... it's like that. So there is that and other "production" values to think about, then strip away. At it's base he's running a D&D game. A wildly popular D&D game.
I don't think I can over state how many young people, college age and younger I have have seen on twitter who were brought to the game through Critical Role. More importantly many of them are young women, something that have been sorely missing at many gaming tables for far to long.
If Mr. Mercer's version of D&D is the only thing this younger more diverse player base knows I'm fine with that. More players equal better business for in this case Wizards. Rising tides raise many ships and all that.
I see no reason to try and inflict my stodgy old 1980's style Game mastering on these people who are clearly enjoying the game. whether I agree with the calls made at Mercer's table doesn't mean shit.
I'm just hoping the next "Critical Role" when ever that surfaces is as successful in capturing the imaginations of young people as the  first one was.

So.. In a flurry of finishing..
Stop telling  new players that there is ONE TRUE WAY or ONE PROPER INTENDED WAY of playing role playing games. There isn't and the effort doesn't help.
Instead try sharing the tips and tricks gathered over years of gaming. Try helping to new GM's working to  find their own voice have an easier time of it.

thanks for reading.
Mark.


 (Some of the things I have read and or referenced leading to or while writing this post.
Most of these links are to amazon because it provides easy access for most  people.
 I don't have affiliate Links, so click away.)
*"Playing at the World" Written by John Peterson, can be found here.
D&D 5th ed starter set  (I don't reference this in the post Just thought it is a nice link to include.)
Rise of the dungeon master
A collection of Dragon Magazines. (A long time ago I bought a collection of Dragon Mags on CD..I think I gave my  set away after ripping it to a hard drive. By now the CD's would be so old I doubt the data would be worth  anything any more.)
Empire of imagination.
old school playbook,