Hack n' Slash
The first in Chimpan-A's pen and paper gaming editorial series...
Why do I bother?
My friends call me Notorious DM.
It's an inside joke, but has come to represent my DM'ing style and capabilities. I'm a second generation Role player. My Dad played in the 70's and got me into it around 6 years old. I've been actively playing since Junior High School. I've played all kinds of stuff, White Wolf, TSR, everything in between… even some of the weirder games, like 'In Nomine' from Steve Jackson Games. I've seen both sides of the screen, as player and DM (or Storyteller, or Game Master. I still prefer DM though. Nothing conveys the feeling quite like being the Dungeon Master). I enjoy and perform both functions. Over the years I've developed my own style of running things behind the screen though. The thing is, there are some people in the world who are... shall we say, unappreciative of my abilities. All of these people sit at my gaming table.
For those of you who've never tried it, DMing is enough of a chore all by itself. You've got to come up with maps, plot hooks, properly set encounters, and work out all other manner of sordid and sundry things. But those aren't the worst parts of DMing- Oh no! All that is just the setup; the blood, sweat, and tears that let me get to the real horror of my existence. It's not until you try throwing in a group of patented pain in the ass players that you've got the makings for a migraine the size of Godzilla. They whine about the characters, cry about the rules, complain about the scenario, and in general do everything within their impish power to undo all the hard work I've put into the evening. I'm sure you know the people I'm talking about- their like is scattered across gaming tables all over the world. So gather around, fellow lamented Dungeon Master, and let me describe mine to you. Let's see how many sound familiar and if we, together, can come up with a way to get rid of them once and for all.
First up is "The Complainer": You know the one. Nothing is ever quite good enough, cool enough, or deep enough for him. Every little turn of the die that doesn't go his way is heard about: in no uncertain terms, loudly and frequently- often for the remainder of the night. This is the guy the DM finds himself fudging things for (Sacrificing his DM's moral ethics), just so he doesn't have to hear the player bitch all night. He's loud, and not afraid to let his opinions (wrong and asinine as they may be) be heard.
Next comes "The RulesMeister": He's the one who's read the Players Handbook front to back eighteen times. Then back to front once for fun. This is also the guy who constantly thinks that the DM be even more of a RulesMeister than he is. Bah. I've got more important things to do than read every damn rule in the book five times over (Things like creating death-trap dungeons, the better to kill off my impudent players). No, this is the player who knows the rules better than the DM and isn't afraid to call you on it. Silly things like party loyalty and game flow are of no concern! If it doesn't sit on page forty five of some book, he'll let you know.
Then there's "The Distractor": When you gather around the gaming table, yeah, you're looking to have fun. And it's certainly a social gathering, a time for buddies to chat and catch up. But this is that one guy who insists on chatting and joking throughout the game. Everybody loves him, because he's funny as hell, but he won't flinch to ruin the mood. During the very tense scene between the party and the penultimate villain you've lovingly created, this is the guy who cracks a fart and blames it on the lich.
Next move on to "The Instigator": You've got a plan, a brilliant plan. This plan will take your party on a whirlwind tour of the world, to experience adventure, romance, excitement, danger, and more riches than they can imagine. It all starts with one guy in a bar... But The Instigator just KO'd your hook with a mug of dwarven ale to the back of the head and ruined it all. This one guy alone will cause you more scenes of violence than the rest of your group combined. All because he doesn't think there's quite enough action in the game already, or maybe he's just a griefer.
Finally, last but not least is "The Checker": "Hey, how's he lookin'?" You ever hear that? You ever want to smack that guy? Here's the guy who thinks that if he double checks everything the DM says he'll somehow get a special advantage he wouldn't have gotten before. The worst part is that it works every once in a while. He checks to see how far away a guy is and moves to right outside that guy's movement range. He checks to see if he'll get a bigger to hit bonus by rearranging his magic rings. He checks to see what the name on the spell book the evil mage is holding so he can try and anticipate what magic the guy is going to use. It's guys like these that force DMs to come up with freaky powers like "Umm... suddenly a burst of energy flies from his hands and hits you!" Sure that guy didn't have that power before, but damned if you're gonna let the Checker get the better of you.
I guess the biggest question you're asking right now is: "Why, Chimpie? Why do you bother running games for these guys?" (By the way, what a cute nickname you have for me, I love you guys) The long and the short of it come down to this: I love gaming. D&D, White Wolf, Star Wars, whatever, I never mind. Running a game involves a level of creativity and thought that really gets me going. When you've got a group that eclectic and creative as well, those juices start flowing and it's a wonder to behold. I mean, granted, we have our trouble spots (Little tip, read the spell section thoroughly), but when we get going, it's a thing of beauty. And when the night is said and done, I get the warm fuzzy feeling that I'm the one who made it all happen. I made the charts and graphs, I made the NPCs come to life, I made the villain that makes them quake. When they file off back to their respective homes calling out "Good Game!" (Or "!#$% you!" depending on what kind of game I ran), I get the satisfaction of knowing it was me that entertained them for the night. And that next week, they'll be coming back to take another crack at my world. That, and the fact that I get off on the whole ultimate power to rule the universe thing... but hey- who doesn't?
But most of all I do it because it's fun and I really do enjoy it. The rush of a good session gaming with friends is all it takes to keep us all coming back for more. Even the poor, under appreciated DM. Besides, when it's their turn to run the game... Well let's just say that turn about is fair play.
All in all, it's not an easy task to take up the DM's mantle. Every Game Master out there has had to deal with one of the ilk mentioned above. We have ways of dealing with them though. The DM must be in full control of their gaming faculties. You have to know the rules, so that you can make sure everything fits right into the world. You have to know your players so that you can make a game that truly appeals to all of their senses. You have to know your own story so that you can weave it masterfully into the adventures you tell. And failing all of that, you have to know the Monstrous Manual, so you know which 40 ft tall creature of blazing death to throw at your party to get them all to shut up. I mean, really, nothing says "My house" like a surprise ancient Red Dragon. Of course, the only real permanent solution to dealing with these folks is the tried and true "Locked Door on Game Night" method. But damn me, I love gaming too much to try that last resort, even if it's with these guys.