A Post Without Value: My First Attempt to GM

LS's First Gaming GroupThe vast majority of the time, I like to think that my posts have a point. That I’m communicating ideas which might be useful to someone else. I endeavor to avoid anything which seems overtly self indulgent. And I always work to write posts of quality. Posts which do credit to my dubious claim of being a writer. But, life is not always so kind. One too many distractions have emptied my backlog of posts, and I’ve only got a short amount of time before my self-imposed posting deadline. So today, I’m afraid, you don’t get something even slightly well considered. All I have for you is a shitty story about my first serious attempt at being a game master.

It was not a great first attempt.

Here’s an excerpt from some of the notes I still have. I believe this is from our second game, after the players discovered that their first quest giver was evil.

“Four months have passed since you left the service of the dark lord Grome-Lah to join the goodly king of Taladore, Vladamier. The king’s daughter, Reina, has become quite fond of her father’s new bodyguard, the powerful samurai, and of the playful gnomish bard with his stories. All in all you, and the people of the city along with you, enjoy a new age of prosperity.

However, this peace is fated to be short lived, for you soon begin to hear rumors. Corpses walking in the night. At first it is passed off as a mere old wives tale. It is not too long, though, until the rumors persist enough that king Taladore sends you to investigate the ever growing belief that the dead are walking”

Aside from the lengthy writing of a kid who is far too impressed with himself, this isn’t a terrible start to the game. I had a bad habit in those days of using the names of Star Wars characters in my games (Grome-Lah was my clever adaptation of Nom Anor and Tsavong Lah), but so long as the players didn’t recognize them, there was really no harm. And even though I wince now at my clumsy attempts to get the players to care about the NPCs, I don’t think it affected the game drastically.

What did affect the game negatively was my poor understanding of the rules. Though I’m pretty sure every GM could say that about their first game. I’m curious to know: if D&D 3.5 was your first system, how long did it take you to understand when you should ask for a Spot check, and when you should ask for a Search check? Because I pretty much used them interchangeably in this game. I also allowed my players to do pretty much anything with their characters that they wanted. Which, truth be told, is still how I do things. But now I make my players work for the things they want. The next time I have a druid player who wants their animal companion in a forested setting to be a camel, they’ll need to travel to a desert first.

And speaking of letting my players get away with anything, I also didn’t know how to let them fail. When their tactics were bad, I would reduce the number of enemies in the room. When they failed to make any attempt at diplomacy, kings and emperors would go out of their way to be extra friendly just so the half-baked plot could be moved along. I even changed a few DCs just so they wouldn’t feel too bad about making poor rolls. I’ll never forget how dirty I felt when the bard attempted to scare some orcs with his bagpipe music, and I fudged the DC because I didn’t want him to feel underpowered.

But that’s all small potatoes. Everybody makes these mistakes the first time they sit behind the GM screen. Everyone thinks they’ve got a great story to tell, or believes their friends might get upset if things don’t go their way. As a person runs more games, they will grow into the role of GM. But these common failings are not my greatest sins.

For, you see: I had a DMPC.

His name was Zerek Mexiel. He was a Tiefling Lich, and a 20th level Wizard, and I thought he was such a cool addition to my game. Ostensibly, his purpose was to observe humans for research purposes. I made clear to my players from the start that the Lich did not care if they died. In fact, the effects of their deaths was a subject of great interest to Zerek, and he wished to study it. So, if anything, he would be happy to see one of them die.

Which might have been kinda cool if I hadn’t used him to repeatedly intervene on the party’s behalf.

Here’s a particularly poorly written bit from my notes:

“The corpse falls to the ground and lays still, finally at rest. As it strikes the ground, however, a welt on its neck is revealed. The red glowing eyes of your lich companion go wide. For the first time since you met him, he speaks: a grating sound, like a master smith’s saw against steel. [ed. WHAT?]

“That mark on the creatures neck, it is the trademark of a former student of mine! One who I banished from me over 30 years ago. If you wish to find him, you must involve the king’s powers.” And with that vital piece of information, the creature again falls silent, fading slowly from sight.”

Yeah, that’s not good.

I’ve reached the point where I don’t hate all of my old writing. Pretty much anything I’ve produced from 2009 onwards is decent. This garbage was written many, many years before that point, and I’m mortified that it came from my pen.

Are you not entertained? Does my humiliation not please you?

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3 thoughts on “A Post Without Value: My First Attempt to GM”

  1. It’s pretty cool that you still have those notes. I have lost all of the materials from my previous phase of roleplaying, with the exception of a few pieces of character art.

    1. I am nothing if not an archivist.

      The skill isn’t in keeping things. It’s in organizing them so you’ll be able to find them. It’s a task I frequently fail at. =P

  2. Letting the PCs reap the consequences of their actions is still something I struggle with. I definitely fudged the dice a few times in the first game I DM’d (incidentally: Gamma World). It’s still tough to resist the temptation to have mercy on the PCs, especially in a world as harsh as 1E AD&D. I’m still on the fence on how I’d handle poison. The rules are if they don’t save, they die.

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