12/18/09

Chasing That First Crit

Once upon a time, I was full of ideas with regards to what I would do if I could make a game of my own. I was brimming with concepts, story hooks, character ideas, and plotlines. When I discovered D&D, I poured over the books voraciously, imagining endless possibilites. Unfortunately, I had yet to discover my friendly local game store, and had at the time no one to play this game with, or anywhere to play it. I was in highschool, and most of my friends had never even heard of D&D, and I was ill equiped to explain it having never played it.

Then, about a year later, I discovered said friendly local game store. I was elated, wandering about, peering at all the neat goodies. It did not take long for me to stumble across one of the regular game groups. I asked to join, and was quickly accepted. They were my first game, but far from my last. It was not long before I was playing tabletop roleplaying games 3 days a week, with three completly different groups of people.

I am very unique when it comes to how I developed as a tabletop RPG player, for this face. Each of the three groups were increadably different from one another. The group I played with on Sundays were all kids about my age, our GM having most of his experience in computer RPGs based on second and third edition D&D. My Wednesday night game consisted of no one aside from myself who was under 30. They had been running this same game for nearly a year, and were all relatively experienced in the game. The DM was the least experienced, this game being his first time actually DMing. The players had all been playing since second edition or longer. My Friday night game consisted mostly of people in their mid to late twenties, with a couple in their early thirties. They seemed amused to see a bright eyed, bushy tailed new RPG player, where most kids my age were playing Magic the Gathering or Yu-Gi-Oh.

I greatly enjoyed all three games for different reasons. The Wednesday night group challenged me on a tactical level, with intricate encounters, both combat and otherwise. The Friday night group had many varied and interesting characters who played off each other for some excelent roleplay. The Sunday group had grandois settings and storylines, and made us feel like truely epic heroes. Unfortunately, each of the groups also had their problems. The first game had the tendency to break down into hour long rules debates in the middle of combat. The second's players were unusually adverserial with one another, and with the GM. The third suffered from a lack of experience on the player's side and a lack of expertise from the GM.

This is one half of what finally got me in the GM's chair. All these little problems bothered me. I wanted to see if I could do better myself. The other push came from my non-tabletop playing friends expressing interest in these crazy games I kept talking about. So, finally, I drew up a world and ran a game.

The group originally consisted of a few of my high school friends and a few players from my Sunday group. We had a few new players walk up, and I greeted them with open arms, as the other groups had done for me. The group changed much over the course of the nearly two years it ran, but overall it was very enjoyable, and most of the people who participated in the game would talk about it for years to come. It was not without a few complications, up to and including having to ask a player to leave the game. But the game continued on, a great story with great characters unfolding, and ultimately coming to it's final conclusion, an epic showdown where only one character stood at the end of the combat, a lone soul to carry on the tale of his friends' sacrifice.

While I loved running that game, it has become my curse. I have found myself eternally chasing that game, never able to come up with anything quite as fun as those high school days. There are many factors at play, here. Part of it is high standard I impose on myself, part of it is the fracturing of my old gaming groups after high school, and there are even more variables I have yet to nail down.

I have always felt that tabletop roleplaying games where an opportunity for me to trade the visual splendor of the video games I grew up with for unbound freedom in storytelling and character choice. Yet, as I sit down as either a player or GM, I find myself placing odd restrictions on myself. I'll start to write a session, and find myself saying "that will never work" or "this is stupid."

Both my biggest strength and weakness is that I've never stopped observing, either as a player or GM. I keep mental notes of what works, what doesn't, what's not done, and whats overdone. Unfortunatley, I can pull up many, many more examples of what is either overdone or doesn't work than what is fresh and functional. After all, it is nearly impossible to define what makes a good game, but it's much easier to define the things that make a bad one.

I've now found myself back in the GM's seat, after going on hiatus from playing for about a year and GMing for twice that long. So far all has gone smooth, but I still find myself more concerned about what might go wrong than what is going right. Perhaps that will always be my curse. I just try to have fun, and hope my players do the same.

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