Monday, July 29, 2013

Other Side of the Screen

Occasionally, Game Mastering feels like a thankless task.  GMs give and give and give.  Sometimes they receive an accolade here or there, other times the scornful, disapproving eyes of ungrateful bastard players!  Hopefully, that's a rarity at your table, but yeah, GMing isn't always glamorous.

That means a long-term Game Master must find fulfillment in different ways.  Chiefly, his achievement is the power of creation, and sometimes that alone must sustain him in the dark times of whining, looking up stupid irrelevant stuff on one's internet-capable cell phone, and weaselly avoidance of any possible damage or ill effects.  Just as God (assuming He exists) must be thoroughly disenchanted with the sentient beings running roughshod over his world, there has to be a certain amount of satisfaction in knowing you made something cool, something alive... and that it wouldn't exist without you.

But this blog post really isn't about GMing so much as returning to playerdom.  Yes, a mere mortal again - or vampire, half-orc, mutant, etc.  It can be quite a shock.  A comedown.  Instead of manifesting a world and controlling nearly everything in it, he's now little more than a scavenger trying to survive another night.

I recently played in a friend's Call of Cthulhu one-shot.  As GMs tend to agree, it was a refreshing change of pace.  Playing is its own kind of fun, different from GMing but still a good time.

There's a mindset that comes with running a PC for a change.  The GM-turned-player wants to make up for lost time.  You see, he's watched all his players blasting away at imperial stormtroopers, beheading trolls, drinking blood, smashing cars, manipulating shadow, committing treason against the computer, and summoning nameless servants for dark puposes.  There's all this awesome stuff that a career GM has voyeuristically lusted after for months or even years.  Suddenly, it's within his grasp!

Prepare thyself, GM, for the second come-down of Christ.  Chances are, a former GM's player experience won't live up to a sliver of what he was hoping for.  These days, I've become a master at managing my expectations.  Years ago, I fell into that trap.  I thought my years of GM service entitled me to a fantastic experience in front of the screen.  I was due, right?  Haha, not so.  A combination of bad rolls, bad luck, player inexperience (yes, years of GMing can corrode forms of common sense), and trying too hard... they all put me in my place.

Older and wiser, I now let the game evolve organically, and my place within it.  Mostly, I was comic relief.  An impossibly handsome and intelligent drifter without much education and the worst dice rolling possible.  In the end, I played my character as if I was him.  Didn't try to be the best, outshine the other PCs, save the day, accumulate fantastic loot, or do a bunch of radical super-maneuvers to impress anyone.

My expectations in check and sense of entitlement gone, I had a lot of fun.  And better yet, I was able to better facilitate the table's fun rather than hot-dogging it, failing miserably, and becoming indignant.  Focusing upon my character allowed the GM to do his thing and the other players to do theirs.  Sure, I was wounded, driven insane, and seemed kind of NPCish next to my companions... but that's the life of a PC sometimes.  His experience isn't always glamorous, either.

I was playing and made myself realize how fortunate I was to be roleplaying at all.  I welcomed the idea of not having the session's success resting solely upon my shoulders.

So, if you're normally a GM and about to play, keep that in mind.  You may not slay the dragon or roundhouse kick Dread Cthulhu in the eye, but fun can still be had.  And if you're a career player, then do something nice for your GM this week - send him a "Great game, man!" email after the session or buy him a 12 pack of his favorite soda or even volunteer to GM for a night.


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