Wednesday, July 4, 2012

On Being a Game Master: Sometimes you need a break

Most of my history as a gamer and game master  was spent with essentially one group for almost 16 years.  But eventually, I needed a brake, and went on sabbatical for nearly 3 years.  In that 3 years, I probably played 6 sessions and didn't run a game at all.  I reached a point where I didn't miss role playing and the time away allowed me to appreciate my recent return to gaming a great deal more.

My growth as a gamer came largely due to 3 things: the sabbatical itself, the maturity of my own expectations from gaming and the exploration of the OSR.

The sabbatical wasn't completely my decision but rather a reaction to many, many years of one drama after another.  It was the best thing that happened to me, and helped me face a fear that had been gnawing at me.  For years I wondered what I would do if I didn't have a gaming group and didn't get to game.  It made me make negative decisions and associate with people who had a negative effect on me.

However, the time off let me realize that life went on and I even found some new hobbies, notably a great love for the NFL.  It especially gave me more time with my family and helped me reaffirm what was most important to me.

I had assumed I would return to gaming if my kids showed an interest but life some times throws unexpected turns at you.  Though, I'm a manager at a Comics & Games store, I hadn't run games at the store for over a decade and hadn't played due to lack of interest on my own part.  Yes, that's right, a few months into my sabbatical I turned down invitations to game, it just wasn't the right time for my return.  I actually savored the break from it.

The right time finally came in january of this year.  I tentatively stepped back into role playing as a player and within a few months started this blog and began running 3 games a week.  2 of my kids are even players.

My Maturity was the revelation that I was at least 50% of any conflict within my old gaming group that and the ensuing drama that followed. It was a sobering fact, that regardless of my intentions in those situations, the result was unhealthy for me and them.  I'm not saying that I never saw my faults or realized my mistakes, but the truth that a hobby should be fun became clearer the longer I was away from it.  I could justify my decisions that led to the conflicts, but it didn't make the problem less real or take a way my own personal responsibility.

This was compounded by the realization that even though I thought the people in my gaming group were my friends, many were in fact, merely acquaintances.  Many of our conflicts were rooted in this misunderstanding on my part.  I won't lie, the ideal situation is for me to game with my friends, but I better understand that some people just want to role play and who they play with is mostly unimportant to them.

I will say that it was very, very hard discovering that if I wasn't a part of a gaming group with them, people I'd spent my weekends with for close to 16 years had no interest in returning an e-mail or phone call.  I learned that my "friendship" with them was an assumption I had made and it wasn't appropriate to the reality of the situation. While it did hurt my feelings, I understand the situation, and hold no hard feelings to them.  I have focused on being better aware of who it is I role play with and what their expectations are.

My Exploration of the OSR allowed me to focus on one aspect of gaming (even if it is spread over may variations of the same game).  It allowed me to accept that no one will run DnD like I do and that was OK.  It also allowed me to realize that I could channel my interest in game design into building adventures and challenges into one game without having to design it from the ground up.  World design and Adventure design began to take priority over mechanical design and my "quest for the perfect system".

Swords and Wizardry, in particular, helped me clarify what I was looking for in DnD.  While, it's not my game of choice, it holds a special place in my heart.

Something to understand is that I had rarely played DnD before this.  Wether it was ADnD 2E, DnD Rules Cylcopedia, or DnD 3.X.  I had never found any of their "systems" satisfying and always overlooked their core tenant:  have fun, make stuff up, play the game.  I had spent quite a bit of time with 4E and like much of it, but I simply had no history of gaming with a grid and don't really care for it.  It's just not the way I prefer to run or play games.

So the OSR's revelations about DnD and where it came from and what it could do was like a light being turned on inside me.  It was the only area of gaming I got real excitement from.  I think the grass roots focus was part of it's inspiration.  DnD belonged to all of us, but none of us owned it.  If I had played DnD when I was 11, I think that's how it would have felt.

While I'm glad to be back, I keep in mind that fear and misunderstands have no place at my table or in my hobby.  I understand that many things might come up and a break might come with any of them.  Until then I've learned to savor the time I have and just enjoy the game.  And I hope all of you get to do that too.
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