International GM’s Day, for this GM and this Writer
It’s International GM’s Day, as dictated by the folks at EN World and now adopted across the Internet, and I can think of no better day to talk about roleplaying games and writing.
I’ve never made any secret about playing roleplaying games. I cut my teeth on Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Second Edition; I made an ill-fated attempt at Paranoia as a young middle-schooler; I toyed with but never actually got to play Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Other Strangeness; and I had a pile of GURPS books I never used. Four different editions of D&D; the World of Darkness; the Chronicles of Darkness; 7th Sea; Legend of the Five Rings; Wild Talents; Unknown Armies; Eclipse Phase; so many more I do not remember or only barely flirted with. These were the tools of recreation during my childhood, my early adulthood, and now. More campaigns have died unended than ever been completed (I think my Changeling campaign, Roo’s Eclipse Phasegame, and the first leg of my D&D 4th Edition campaign are the only ones I have ever personally seen conclude rather than die the slow death — or get killed in a fit of drama and broken friendships), but all of it has stuck with me. All of it has made me who I am.
Through playing and developing characters, I learned to develop empathy for people who are not me; actually meeting people who had radically different experiences than I did was obviously necessary for me to bridge that gap, but it got me on the right track. Through running ongoing campaigns, I learned about communication, conflict management, and scheduling; through running one-shots and limited-run campaigns, I learned about navigating limited narrative spaces, and writing plots that fit into the time/space you have available. Through gaming, I learned how to write a plot that affected a consumer emotionally; how to take the germ of an idea and expand on it and refine it; how people interpret data presented to them, and how to both ensure the data is clear and manipulate interpretation to make a later revelation shocking or surprising; how to navigate the narrative tools of coincidence and convenience and ensure they do not turn into crutches. My understanding of storytelling structures, my comprehension of social dynamics, and unfortunately, even my ability to identify abusive and toxic behavior; all these things were refined by my time in the mental crucible that is gaming. None of them started or finished there, but my skill set and my personality are inextricably tied to my hobbies. They are a source of recreation; but they are also a source of creation. Hell, learning the difference between writing a story and writing an adventure for an RPG was one of the biggest moments in which writing “clicked” for me — and that, along with the message that everyone fails before they succeed creatively, is the most important lesson I have learned as a creator.
So, thank you to everyone I have ever gamed with. Thank you to the AD&D 2nd Edition, Mage, Changeling, and Vampire players in high school, for letting me just utterly reek at this whole thing so I could learn. Thank you to my Changeling players in college, for letting me really try something big, and for helping me struggle with the deficient parts of it, and for reminding me to this day that it was the best thing I had done at the time, even if seeing the ways I did not do so great helped me do better in the long run. Thank you to my D&D 4th Edition players, who helped me confront some anxieties I have about gaming and creativity and start to move past them, and who helped me try something a little weird (that may get weirder if we ever go back to it). Thank you to my Wild Talents players, who are part of my most ambitious campaign to date and who make me feel good about it every session.
Thank you to my high school GMs, for stumbling right alongside me and for giving me something to build on. Thank you to my college GMs: Josh, Kat, Tyler, Chris, Matt, the aforementioned Joe, all the Jasons, and Mo, for taking the time to run games and showing me both ways I did and didn’t want to GM, and for some golden moments that will stick with me forever. Thank you to Ted, Ralph, and Gary, my GMs in my grad school days, for showing me yet another different way and for pushing my boundaries. Thank you to Joe, my first 4th Edition D&D GM, who reminded me games could be fun again. Thank you to Sonya, for letting me come along on her first foray into GMing. Thank you to Matt, my current 5th Edition D&D GM, for helping me have fun playing again and helping me work through an awful Eeyore period with my dice. Thank you to the Alliance GMs, Brandon, Dan, Sarah, Jim, Sonya, Warlock, Madhawk, and Mike, for making me feel welcome and for trying some new things and some tried-and-true things, both with me and at me. Thank you to Terrance, my L5R GM, for showing me a different side of Rokugan and reminding me we’re here to have fun. Thank you to Nate, my recently concluded Mouse Guard GM, for showing me all kinds of tricks that may never have occurred to me. Thank you to the unnamed fellow GM who taught me it was OK to have anxiety about running games, and taught me we all work through it in our own ways. And thank you to the con GMs who have taught me a thousand little tactics that I could only learn by playing with total strangers.
Thank you to everyone. I needed all of you to become who I am today, as a gamer, as a writer, and a person. And the value of that is a price above rubies.