I don’t mind admitting that there are times recently when I’ve really wondered what I let myself in for with the whole GMing thing. Don’t get me wrong I’m enjoying it but it’s a hell of a learning curve and even playing with people I trust it’s still a challenge to try to overcome the embarrassment of role playing five or six different characters (or as I call it “doing the silly voice thing”). Sitting down in front of relative strangers and doing it (which I’ve done a couple of times now) is even more nerve wracking, especially if I’m not sure whether they’ll enjoy the style of a particular module.
Given that I’m more worried about the role playing aspects than rules, combat, etc it was probably slightly ambitious to pick Raging Swan’s Retribution to run as my first game. If you’re going to jump in the water sometimes the deep end is the best place to pick and I definitely feel that I’ve learned a lot, very fast; probably far more than I would have done if I’d just picked a straight up dungeon crawl.
The first session of Retribution definitely served as a reminder that the best laid plans don’t survive first contact with the enemy. The journey to the Priory should be a challenge to the party and while neither of the encounters should be fatal when combined with the exposure and the weather they should still serve to keep the party very much on their toes. It may be that, in order to bolster a party of beginners/born again gamers, I allowed the party to be slightly too advanced or it might just be that they planned well and rolled lucky but both combats were over in under three rounds. The weather was the one thing that was fully in my hands and therefore pushed the party into an uncomfortable spot where at least one of them was concerned they were simply going to die of exposure. Whatever the reason my carefully laid plans were torn asunder in no time flat and I needed to improvise where I wasn’t expecting it. The real lessons though were that even though it didn’t go as I’d planned everyone had fun and probably more importantly (although it took longer to realise) carefully laid GM plans very rarely work so I need to learn to let go and see what happens more than I did initially (probably more than I do even now)..
The second session was also a huge learning event for me. It was always going to be an interesting evening as it probably includes most of the hardcore role playing in the adventure. As it was my pacing fell a bit short (hey I’m new to this) and we had an entire four hour session without once needing to roll of initiative. This was probably my worst scenario for my game, how bored were the players going to be with no combat for a whole session! The answer, much to I think everyone’s surprise, was not at all. There is lots going on in Retribution, spending time working out where each character was going to sleep overnight, who was on watch between which times, who was going to leave weapons and armour behind, etc all built tension beautifully. The party spent a whole evening looking for clues, trying to work out who (or what) was behind the occurrences and even animatedly discussing some red herrings that I had included as adventure hooks without realising they could be seen in a mysterious light against the backdrop I was portraying. I don’t think if I ran sessions without combat regularly the party would be fans but the expectation that a fight was around every corner without one actually starting was really successful. I think it was this session which encouraged me to push the envelope. As I write this the last game I ran (more on this below) was for a friend of my son’s gaming group who said they were fed up with dungeon crawls. So I took a group I hadn’t played with through an adventure from Dungeon Magazine #38 which consisted of only one relatively boring fight and relied almost entirely on role playing. Again, having really worried that I may have chosen a game that 15 year olds would have found boring, everyone said they enjoyed it and I’m really looking forward to running my regular gaming group through the same adventure in a few months.
Not every session has been a huge challenge for me but I like to think that I’m learning fast, looking for opportunities to grow and if I make the same mistake more than once it’s not every mistake or made more than two or three times. I realised during the first session that as much as I’d read everything multiple times I really didn’t understand all the rules thoroughly enough and it really slowed play down but I’ve definitely internalised the rules as we’ve used them more and I’ve got more confidence to make a decision about how to play something if I don’t know it and then look it up later (owning up to the players that I’m doing that).
The last game I ran was really interesting when I examine myself through it. I felt that I’d managed to create definable characters for each of the NPCs and, although my son pointed out that all but two had the same voice, I’m very happy that they knew who was who and even seemed to care about some of them. I also found that although I’d only played with two of the people in the room once I set up my stuff and started handing out character sheets I felt in control of the table and had a lot more confidence than I expected to have. I’m naturally quite awkward in social situations but I definitely “put on the mantle of GM” and I’m impressed with the growth I see in my style and confidence. Chatting about the game afterwards my son also said that for much of the session he felt as though I wasn’t in the room, that I’d become the game, which I found an amazing compliment and really lifted my confidence.
The one thing that is slowly dawning on me is what it feels like for the players who haven’t already read the adventure before they sit down to play (which is as I want it). I know that they don’t know what’s coming but what’s hit me a couple of times is that stuff that I’ve put in as fluff seems like just another possible clue for them to follow and that often stuff I think is really obvious really isn’t when you’re trying to process everything at once. Stuff that I’ve read that I thought the players would see straight through has really had them puzzling and sometimes stuff I’ve added as fluff they’ve been so interested in that I’ve had to make a note to write a storyline around for use in a future game.
In the last few months I’ve read every module I can get my hands on and that’s really helped me, found some excellent blogs as well as YouTube and Vimeo channels and I think even though I’ve not run that many games it’s all helped. Having finished Retribution I really feel like my regular players are coming to terms with their characters and we’re getting an idea where we want the campaign to go. Both my kids are playing and enjoying their experiences differently (in the case of my eldest not only playing but also GMing) and it’s a great opportunity to spend quality time with them. 2014 has been a good year and I’m really looking forward to seeing where it goes from here.