Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Screen – Part 11: Humble Beginnings and Pompous Endings

First time I got involved in a roleplaying game was High School.

I think it was about Year 10 which, for reasons too petty to recall, was not a fun year. It was some sort of fantasy-based setting, the rules were made up of two paperback-sized books. I dimly recall being a Mystic, which was kinda more psychic than magic.

Before that I had played HeroQuest, DuelMaster and a number of self-contained experiences that were as complex as the Lone Wolf series to, I suppose, Choose Your Own Adventure (or Pick a Path if you prefer). And in each of these experiences I’d found myself writing or rewriting history and story, though never to the satisfaction I eventually received out of roleplaying.

I think it ties back to the idea that you have to find something interesting about what it is that you’re making up. Which may sound straightforward when you’re a player cause, hey, you’re creating something idealised for yourself. When you’re creating something for another player, it’s a horse of a different stripe.

The first time I ran a game was in Year 10 as well. Same group of people who introduced me to my first game in point of fact. I can’t say with certainty but I’m pretty sure it took me two or three games before I knew I wanted to try writing more than just my character. I had IDEAS!

The first game in which I would try this was an unforgivingly complex adaptation of the Darksword Trilogy (Now Quadrology). I had stayed up until 3:00am the previous night (it was a sleepover on a weekend hence I was allowed) reading and re-reading the rules I thought I’d need, while scribbling down notes for this epic tale that had twists and and gravitas and was epic as Babylon 5 and cool as some of the anime I’d also been introduced to that year…

First thing I learnt was that nothing kills a game faster than a deadline. Particulary when that deadline is your friend’s parents driving you back to yours so that they can have some peace and quiet.

Second thing I learnt was that nothing accelerates a deadline faster than having to recheck rules (though this was not a lesson that stuck until a couple of years ago).

Third thing I learnt was that you couldn’t make an epic tale of complexity and expect it to finish in one game.

Fourth thing I’d learnt (though again it wasn’t a lesson that stuck until recently) was that you cannot, CAN NOT, expect to have your story alone motivate players into action. Even if the world is crumbling all around them, the player is thinking firstly ‘What do I want to do?’

Disappointed somewhat that I didn’t get to finish it all in time and, settling instead for telling the rest of the players what happened as a conclusion on the drive back home, I can only surmise that my friends were friendly enough to encourage me to take another shot because I got back into the saddle of that different-striped horse some months later.

I’ve run games and I’ve played in games and I couldn’t honestly tell you which I prefer except to say that it’s really by the company you keep that determines how much fun you’ll have. And while what I’m about to say doesn’t necessarily hold true for three people* I’ve played with, the majority of role-players prove the following theory in the quality of both characters and game…

…Players, you need to run at least one game.

Conversly I could say that GM’s need to be players for one game but it seems redundant in light of the above. Still good advice though.

The good and fun people to play with are the ones who have sat on both sides of the screen. The ones who appreciate the challenges of both roles. The ones who, when looking at a GM floundering, appreciate what he/she is trying to do AND, more often than not, attempt to fix it or play along.

Players need to run a game to appreciate the constant uncertainty, insecurity, the pressures in entertaining your friends for three or more hours. Players need to know what it’s like to have to deny a friend something, however imaginary, and hope he/she doesn’t think less of you. Players need to know how to encourage your friends to come back to your story or when to let them go off on their own, be it ingame or out-of-game. Players need to know what it’s like to have another player put his/her character’s agenda over your story, or simply just act contrary to your expectations.

Most of all, players need to know what it’s like to create and collaborate in a tale of high adventure that ends with everyone smiling.

I’ll leave it there for the moment but I want to touch on this a little further in the next installment of Behind The Screen, so I’ll conclude with an exercise in the meantime:

John Rogers of Kung Fu Monkey listed the primary questions each writer must ask of their story as:

Who wants what?
Why can’t they have it?
Why do I give it a shit?

How does this translate into roleplaying?

I have to go off and write notes for tomorrow’s installment of the Adventures of the Colt Apollo now. Till then…

*Karen, who already appreciates what we go through but I think would tell a good story anyway. Liam, who has run one game but should have run more even as a reminder for what storytellers go through (as well as because he ran a fine game). Joel who did run games and play them too but sucked at both.

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3 Comments

  1. It was some sort of fantasy-based setting, the rules were made up of two paperback-sized books. I dimly recall being a Mystic, which was kinda more psychic than magic.

    That’d be the awesomely atmospheric Dragon Warriors. I love that game.

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