I’ve been playing role playing games for around four years now. It all started with DARPG, a pen and paper version of my absolute favourite video game series, Dragon Age, and it completely opened my eyes to a whole new world of gaming I didn’t realise existed. I’ve since dabbled in other worlds and systems, such as Shadowrun and Monsterhearts, and currently I play D&D weekly with a group of friends online and, despite the fact that we’ve made some terrible, terrible decisions and driven our poor GM mad at times, the next session is something I look forward to from the second the previous one ends.
One massive factor in this is how fantastic (and patient) our GM is. She ran our first DARPG game, multiple other campaigns since then, and is currently doing an incredible job of guiding our dysfunctional group through The Tomb of Annihilation. She’s put up with busy schedules interrupting story lines, people arguing over the simple act of opening a door, our inability to take decent notes, and… fire. Lots of fire.
Without being too cheesy, it’s been quite inspirational. As someone who enjoys a story, I love the idea of taking a group of players and chucking them into a situation to see how they deal with it, and our GM is one of the best at it. There was only one thing stopping me from becoming a Gamemaster myself: I’m a bloody nervous wreck. The thought of spending evenings preparing a quest, knowing exactly how I want it to go, being the control freak that I am, and the players doing something unexpected made me uncomfortable to the point that I genuinely thought I’d never take the GM’s seat. The unknown, and the worry that I wouldn’t know how to deal with it and end up disappointing my players, was too much.
It was when my other half decided that he wanted to have a games night with a few of his friends that I finally decided to take the plunge. I would run a quick, free-to-download DARPG campaign (The Dalish Curse, if anyone’s interested) which I imagined would probably take one night of playing to complete. It was set in a world I knew, with rules I was confident about, and most of the players were new to RPGs, so we would be taking it slowly anyway. It felt like the perfect situation I was waiting for to try GMing for the first time.
… And it was perfect. Just in a very different way to what I was expecting.
The players introduced their characters: we had Beauregard, an Orlesian exile seeking vengeance for his disgraced family. Angron, or “Angry Ron”, a dwarf seeking the strongest ale he could find, who kept putting rocks in his pockets to stop himself from floating into the sky (which made me extremely happy as a Dragon Age fan). Then came Zee, our group healer who came in the form of a Qunari with some identity issues. And then… then there was Susan. Oh, Susan. She was an obese Orlesian noble who had a severe superiority complex.
It turned out that my plan to use this situation as an experiment, a safe environment to try a new experience, was not how the party was going to allow it to go. This became apparent in the very first encounter with a group of blight wolves, with Susan immediately abandoning her companions to seek the safety of a nearby farmhouse. This was followed by the entire party choosing to set fire to an important NPC, and then allow her to be thrown into prison for a crime she didn’t commit.
I was terrified of the unexpected. These players did anything but what I expected them to do.
Three sessions of this followed the first night, with them throwing wackier situations at me than I thought were possible. From tying up NPCs (who, again, were completely innocent) and leaving them to die alone in the forest, to trying to interrogate wolves and darkspawn (seriously, if you’re nervous about doing NPC voices, throw yourself into the deep end and pretend to be a wolf answering questions); Susan shocked me time and time again by attempting to sell her body to an NPC she was convinced was the big baddie (again, he was innocent), stealing loot from another player, and then demanding that a group of injured Dalish elves join her as her servants. The entire campaign was an evil play-through.
I had certainly experienced what it’s like to be in the GM seat – what it’s really like – and I had a hoot doing it. It made me realise that even though the hard work is done through the GM, the most important people around the table are the players. Trying to make it the perfect experience for me would have completely ruined theirs.
My advice for anyone in the same boat as I was: go for it! Find a group of people you’re comfortable around and a set of rules you’re confident with, so all you need to worry about is having a good time. If your players want to kill everything in sight when you had a sweet story about saving a group of elves planned, that’s fine. It’s their adventure – you’re just there to try and control the chaos.
Got to say, though… not in a hurry to meet Susan again.