Friday, August 2, 2013

Call Me Gortmael

Hello, I'm Gort's Friend and I'm not a control freak....

Despite having spent the vast majority of my time gaming as a GM.   I'm really not a control freak.  It's just the way it works out some times.   I'll back up my claim too.   I let them do what they want.  Who am I to tell them to not walk in the front door of the Steading of the Hill Giant Chief, despite the party noises from inside?  They're grown ups, right?  Oh sure there is that side door just begging to be opened and if one is to judge from all those hints in the text, everyone was supposed to sneak in the back and hide.

Nope, they always had to walk right in.  Next thing you know, explosions, the damn roof is on fire, the treasures have been fragged and the only damn survivor is that half-retarded, invisible thief climbing for the smoke hole.  Till he slips and the campaign is over.  Everyone dead again.

Used to happen a lot back in those days, I was new, they were new, and hell we liked rolling characters up.

What days? These days.
We'll just leave it at that, as it makes me feel less old or lets me pretend I'm not boasting.   That clusterfuck wasn't the only time and it wasn't only me.   It just seemed like every time someone went to play another of those slick modules something went wrong. The party took a wrong turn, killed their native guide, and never found the Keep on the Borderlands.  Just never seemed to work out.  Every time we tried it their way, with their monsters, ashes and blood.  We did try though.  We gave Gary Gygax a ridiculous amount of cash and Judges Guild as well. Yet it was all store bought, not tailor made. The Dragon seldom worked out better.  I admit to buying a lot of stuff and never using it at all.  Gave up on the modules.  Never used those cities I bought from Judges Guild for anything but ideas.

Maybe it was us.  We were self-taught, the product of a weird age when the basic rules came out and then the Advanced rules trickled out.   We'd come at the game from an odd angle, refugees from the endless counting of Avalon Hill.  It took us a while to realize you were only supposed to have one character at a time.  We used HO scale army men for the first year or so.  I can still remember my favorite dwarf was a kneeling Highlander.   Nobody had ever taught us to play, so we spent our hours squabbling over the rules, like every other teen.   Gamma World, Traveller, Champions, Dr Who, that James Bond one, we tried a lot of games. We played with other people. Compromised on rules.  We thought you made your own stuff, because when we started, nobody was selling that much stuff.   

Maybe it was Paranoia which was my downfall.  Now if you've never played this game, it is the perfect solution to when your gaming group has degenerated into am unholy bag of dicks.  When someone's thief always feels the need to steal from everyone else, the cleric refuses to heal anyone but himself, and while you might have finally convinced that asshole to stop being a bard, now he has his heart set on being a frigging monk.   Oh and he wants to use the complicated hand to hand rules, which makes every fight such a god damn ass-pain, that you decide the only solution is an unrelenting ghoul army.  Oh but Paranoia. Now the basics of the game is that it was a Logan's Run style Arcology, run by an insane computer.  It used the old Thieves Guild System, where you built up the skills you wanted and ignored the others, but where it really shown was in the fact that players were openly antagonistic of each other.   The idea was that each player was a mutant, which was against the law.  That each player was  in a secret society which was against the law.  So the point of every mission had little to nothing to do with actually solving the problem, but everything to do with covering your own ass when the shit hit the fan and then blaming everything on someone else who was a traitor.  The joy of the game was sparking a riot down in the worker's quarters and causing chaos. It let us rediscover the fun.  Plots that weren't just treasure seeking.

We did get better.  Oh sure, half the time they took a ferry the rope was getting cut and it was off down river they went.  Or the random group of brigands looted the guy with the good sword's body while he was sleeping and had to be chased to their cave lair. My mega-dungeon complete with walled city and fifteen levels? Well admittedly they never really did get inside the dungeon proper, but hey that city was pretty big.   The next time they must have explored a good half the first floor of the mansion before getting distracted.

I learned to live with it.  The time they went Heart of Darkness on me and started by taking ears and ended with a zombie army sacking villages.   That time when I set a little quest for them to pay back a raise dead spell, which turned into six months and killed half the party again. It happens right?  

I learned to let it go. Sometimes you used the stuff you made, sometimes you didn't.  That absurdly large world I made, So what that I used a hundredth of it?  Good practice for the next one, right?  Yeah, I'm the geek with a file cabinet which is a testament to time wasted.  That first mega-dungeon?  Only the first of at least a dozen.  The flying castle that never got opened.  That time I tried to recreate Moria (and swore off orc armies forever.)  Oh and that time they never reached the castle frozen in the glacier, because they got hung up with that war against the Gaels.

And the world turns, you get new groups of players, who don't know your old errors.

You find they have different styles. Some are focused and tight, some are sprawling bands, with a revolving cast of one night players.  You adapt for what you're given.   You throw away the old stuff, because you have new ideas and you can't stand the way you used to draw mountains or didn't understand trade route or whatever.  You let them try all being mages, or halflings, or clerics.   You have that campaign where you switch worlds constantly or the wizard who modifies body parts.

So what did I ever learn?   For that matter what's the point of this rambling beginner's blog? I don't know.  I swear next time I'll stay on topic, but I'm not a control freak.....

1. The Campaign is always better.  Sure I've had one-nighters which were fun, but does it compare to the joy of a long complex campaign, where every missing eye is a testament to an old adventure and your mage has a robot familiar, because well see it was after he was reincarnated as a kobold and you were on the mechanoid world....  This might not be true for you, but for me, the guy making the adventure.  I need a story line, even if the party never get there.  I need a distant future where Conan gets his throne, even though we all know that is unlikely as the group is bound to implode before then when someone has the nerve to get a real job or because someone decided to sleep with another players wife.  There is nothing quite like long running feuds and reoccurring villains.  When the lackey from act one shows up in book seven?  sublime.

2. Yes you can pull punches.  Now that doesn't mean you need to let them succeed, but there are a lot of punishments out there.  Which one player once mentioned as "we seem to spend a lot of time having all our stuff stolen, getting tied up and tossed through an inter-dimensional gate. lately."  Slavery is often a lot more fun than being a lord and there is usually less book keeping involved.

3. I'm not a control freak.  Sure I do run neat and tidy quests.  OK, so I'm not that anal retentive guy who looks up and writes down all the details.  Sometimes I wish I was.  I bet that guy would have stayed on topic.  I like painting the big picture and sketching in loose plot lines, but I'm never married to them anymore, because I know the shit hits the fan. Sometimes your elaborate plans to stage Ragnarok, complete with timely, obscure prophecies just don't work out.  People get tied up.  They get thrown naked through gates.  By the time they get back, it's a post-Ragnarok world and that is cool too, because they never need to know you meant anything but what happened.   The secret to a good campaign, to an original world is to never show everything.  You want to be Tolkien publishing Lord of the Rings, not Tolkien putting out the Silmarillion so you know what a bright guy he is.  Let them take turn and wander into that vaguely sketched out mess you stole from Philip Joseph Farmer, by the time you're finished, they'll be convinced that they're geniuses for discovering it and that you plotted out every step of their existence.

I tell you, I'm not a control freak.  I'm just a GM without a campaign right now.  It's happened before.  Last time it happened I drew an absurdly detailed city, which while nice to have, didn't really get used enough.

So let's try the blog thing.  Maybe some skulking about and commenting.   Need someone to spitball an idea, I'll go steal some for you.   Nobody reads this well then it's a zen koan for the modern age, the sound of one man typing.   A good alternative to that novel I keep starting and quitting.

Suggest a topic if you want.   Maybe I'm going to try and write those old style Dragon articles about GMing or maybe I'll just fill this up with crap I have lying around, like this old campaign map from my second or third campaign with a real computer, where I tried to pull off the classic Brian Aldiss Non-Stop action with the big reveal of "we're all in a space ship!"
Or  I might discuss cosmic screw ups, such as why some great ideas like geomorphs are such a terrible idea.   Like the trouble this seemingly innocent one got me into.  Because hey why not make those geomorphs 3d?
Oh look I can color code them so the open spaces, it'll be easy to read space above you this way....
Although I'm still convinced this might be more workable now, if used correctly.......

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