So, she wanted to get to know me... mind me rambling?
As I mention, I've been a game master for over fifteen years. I started playing RPGs (or trying) before I even knew what they were. My first attempt was making martial-art techniques for my GI-Joe action figures, assigning damage ratings and using 6-sided dice for them. I made paper maps of underground places with monsters and threats, then made little stick figures with weapon and gear to go exploring the region as a 'freeform board game'. I'd never seen or heard of D&D or RPGs at all, but I wanted something with randomness, versatility, and the ability to explore.
Then I was introduced to D&D. At the time, it was everything I wanted -- fantasy setting, monsters, exploration, and the ability to go anywhere I wanted to. For the first four years, our adventures were simple... I'd run a session, and if we didn't finish the adventure, who cared? Next session, we'd sit down and try something new. Continuity wasn't really an issue, and the game world was pretty patchwork, but the idea was to just do stuff and see what the world had to offer.
I was learning the rules, and knew nothing about how to GM. As a 15-year-old GM, I made some pretty bone-headed mistakes, but the cool thing was that because of D&D, I was learning all sorts of things about mythology, history, cause-and-effect, and so forth.
Junior High School introduced me to people playing AD&D. When I was younger, I wouldn't touch AD&D... I thought it was sort of a 'bad D&D' sort of game, for people who wanted to do bad things. I eventually started getting into AD&D because of the versatility it had, there were things in it which didn't exist in D&D, and I was curious. The group I joined was... weird. (I would say these days, 'they were teenagers'). I had a first level fighter having to deal with characters with 100s of levels, attributes pushing 25, millions of Hit Points, and their own guns, star destroyers, and goddess knows what else.
After two sessions with them, I made my own group. It started small, but eventually some of them wanted to join my campaign with their uber characters. Being younger than them, I couldn't say no (damn peer pressure), so what I did was adapt. I let them in, then bent everything I could think of to make them fit the game. Anything that was outside the rules or the setting, I would deal with... I put them through traps, tests, quests, and pared them down bit by bit until they fit the game setting I had. It wasn't rail-roading, since my game style was always off the cuff, doing what I thought was natural for the setting, they had full freedom to go where they wished and do what they wished, but I enforced the rules of the game as best as I understood them, and shaped the uber characters into people that would fit into my game world.
And for some reason, they loved every minute of it. It was quite the ego boost.
A few years later, I had to move, and almost all my game books disappeared in transit. I ran simple games from time to time with my friends, and it was the first time a campaign actually began to creep into existence. Continuity was part and parcel of the game, where things that happened before would carry over into later sessions. Being young, we started blending our games -- AD&D would mesh with Top Secret S.I. This blended with Marvel Super Heroes, and even Elfquest and Call of Cthulhu. Characters from one world would cross with characters from another, and deal with the headaches such characters provided. Eventually, we stopped calling it 'D&D', and called it That Campaign. It was great fun, and we tinkered with the mechanics, trying to get everything to work in one universal rule system. I eventually tried GURPS, but the mechanics broke my brain, and I decided there was no way I could use it for what I wanted.
Remnants of That Campaign still exist. The game worlds continue to move forward, and elements from them creep into other games, the tapestry expanding and ensnaring more players.
I was introduced to Amber Diceless by accident. I was informed it was a game where you could 'do anything', and I'd already tested campaigns where the characters were gods (and tried to write an RPG with that in mind). I had never read the books, but decided to try to run the game. I was dismayed that there were no maps, so tried to make one based on the description in the RPG. Finally, I read the books, and then everything fell into place. Amber was one of the de-facto favourite RPGs in the house I lived in (six college-aged people in one house, oy) and wound up one of my longer campaigns there.
Vampire was one game setting which was hard for me to grasp. All the elements were interesting, but it was too campaign specific. Everything fit into a little niche, and I didn't know how to handle that. This all changed when my roomie began to run a LARP. For some reason, seeing it, watching how it worked, put everything into concept... I understood. And once I understood vampire society, running a tabletop Vampire game became simple. It was, I think, a maturing moment for me. Vampire changed the way I looked at gaming. Sure, Star Wars had a campaign setting, as did TORG, but Vampire had a very intricate society, and there were no 'generic' things about it. No matter what you made, you were a part of the setting, intricately woven into the very fabric of the game world.
Vampire is what took me away from 'generic characters' and convinced me of this rule: the mechanics of the game should support the world they were designed for. A setting should not be moulded to fit the rules of a game. Being thrown into the GM's chair so young taught me to constantly think on my feet. It is rare that I'll have elaborate notes. Instead, my campaign world is fleshed out in my head, everything moving and evolving, and I just let the characters do what they want, seeing how the world reacts to them, and vice-versa. Being faced with munchkins and power games taught me how to adapt to the unexpected, to allow players to do as they will, but make sure that it all works within the framework of the campaign setting. Blending different games together showed me how to run crossovers and how to adapt rules from setting to setting, looking for holes in the mechanics and figuring out how to use the rules as-is to cover something unexpected.
But Vampire taught me about setting and how the rules should support that setting. It showed that mechanics were more than just numbers used to settle disputes, they were there to give a specific feel for a game. Yes, I had run Call of Cthulhu (second game system I ever owned), but Vampire was different. Shadowrun, a game a friend gave me almost out-of-hand, had started this trend... but it was Vampire that enlightened me.
Some of my favourite sessions in any RPG game came from Vampire.
The downside of this, I think, was that even as a player, I'm in 'GM Mode'. When the campaign starts, I'll usually have a character with a two-page background, built from the setting itself. I plug my characters right into the setting, usually giving them contacts, friends, and so forth. Then I set out the character's goals and where they want to go. It usually takes two or three sessions for this to change, but it gives me a starting point.
Once the game begins, I try to put the world together in my mind. The more the GM has the game move forward, the more things fall into place. I pick up and collect contacts, keep a list of NPCs I meet, make deals with them, and establish myself in the game world. Most of this is to get my character heading towards where he wants to go, but a part of it is to see the world the GM is laying out, and learn about it.
The other problem that comes up with me being a player, however, is making my characters 'airtight'. I watch what kind of game the GM is running, and I tailor my character to that sort of game. My character develops in the skills they use a lot, and anything left over is put into the skills needed to work in the game the GM is running. The problem comes from being, apparently, very good at this. I've had a number of GMs close their games because they simply don't know what to do with my character -- my character is too good at what the GM is trying to do.
Two examples that come to mind... Furry Outlaws is a Robin Hood sort of RPG. I had made a social type, someone to get into the graces of various people, make contacts, and bring the information to our team. The GM breezed through those scenes (no RP), and we kept getting into combat. After about four sessions, my character was the most potent killing machine in the group -- and still decent at social interaction. About eight sessions in, and my character was the ultimate forest killer. The last session had Prince John's knights coming in to clear us out of the woods (the GM wanted us to feel hunted, rather than just owning the region). The group, rather than fleeing, stood their ground, and the character was dropping six to eight knights in full armour a turn -- with daggers. The GM realized that we couldn't be beaten, because I had tailored my character exactly to the type of game he was running, and I was coordinating the group around the campaign type he ran. He wanted combat, so the character developed to thrive in any combat we encountered.
The other example was D&D. I had made a smart-assed rogue for my roomie's AD&D campaign. He was Neutral Evil (selfish, cruel), but for some reason he came out as group leader. The PC party were tools, but they were tools the character honed. He made sure they were properly equipped, protected, useful, and coordinated. As long as they listened to him, and went along with what he wanted, the group did swimmingly. The GM found that the group was getting a little too good for what she had planned, and moved us to another plane to continue her game. She had me set up an ambush for the PCs (she'd come to me for advice, and have me run combat, since she couldn't stand running combat.) And as she wished, our characters were all captured. Unfortunately, through sheer RP, my character had the baron's keep and soldiers under my character's command three sessions later. We were approaching ninth level, and I felt it was time to build a thieves' guild and get a central power base to explore this new world. And the campaign pretty much ended there, because she didn't want me owning a thieves' guild (she was worried about what I'd do with it).
A shame, really. I loved her campaign world, I wanted to see more of it, but the character would be one who wished to be secure before going out and exploring, and the other characters (and their players) agreed with the assessment.
Ah, one other flaw I have before I wrap this up. When I make a character, I stick to the character's personality and the setting itself. This is something Vampire taught me. I accidentally broke a campaign in the first session as a player because of that.
We were playing WitchCraft and I made a Rosicrucian. The plot was that these gates were opening up in the sewers, and releasing monsters into the city for short periods of time. Being a Rosicrucian, I popped open a map of the city, studied where the gates opened, and started using complex math to figure out what the pattern was. No problem, we got the next gate figured out, and we went there to see it. Not bad, eh? I mean, we were doing what the GM wanted, and everything was running smoothly.
One PC was a Necromancer (I think), and we had a child Psion in the group. Standard WitchCraft group.
So, we're in the sewers, and the monster comes out. We smack it around until it goes to run away, and it leaps through the gate. The gate is slowly closing. Obviously, the GM wants us to go through and see what's on the other side. The Necromancer jumps through.
I don't. And I make damn sure the child doesn't either. Instead, I pop out my cell phone and contact the Rosicrucians. I give them the information I have, and once the gate is closed, start learning more about the magical nature of the gates, so when the next one opens, we'll have a full team to deal with it.
The GM was not happy. To him, the group should have jumped through the gate, battled monsters, etc. To my mind, a Rosicrucian is not a soloist, he's part of a large group. This group works together, shares information and resources, and acts as a team. And there's no way in heck a child is going into another dimension.
Ah well. :) I could bore you all with more stories, but I thought this would be a nice way to start. I'm sure a lot of you have similar stories to tell, and I'd be interested in seeing them. What shaped how you GM / Play, and how you see RPing?
I blame lildeth.
So, she wanted to get to know me... mind me rambling?