Many moons ago, when an old Hollywood actor was serving his first term in the White House and Han Solo was frozen in carbonite, I learned how to play Dungeons & Dragons (Moldvay) with an older friend. He ended up being Dungeon Master most of the time; I only filled in when he was unavailable or I wanted to run a new published adventure that I’d just purchased.
Martin’s recent article caused me to reflect that it was my first GM, rather than any setting, that really shaped how I ran games. In some cases I aped what he did; in others I specifically did the opposite. Here are a few of the major ways that my first GM shaped my style:
Short Campaigns – My first GM ran long campaigns that ended only when we’d gotten bored of the characters. I went through four generations of a family during my first AD&D campaign. Still, in spite of the longevity, nothing seemed particularly epic or memorable about the characters. When I took the reins, I deliberately aped James Bond movies (opening with an unrelated action scene) and tight plots to keep things moving and ensuring that my campaigns ended with the players wanting more.
No GM Avatars – My first GM always had his own PC traveling with the party. Worse, the GM Avatar often hogged the glory. His Avatar was always the best at what he did and often rode in like the cavalry to save us at the climax of an adventure. He’d admitted to me that this was largely because he wanted to play more and was always stuck GMing, but I make a point of not creating a GM Avatar for my campaigns.
Soap Opera – I learned to play RPGs at the tail end of 9 years old; my parents expected me to play outside most of the time. As a result, a lot of our games had to be run outside, where it wasn’t convenient to carry around dice, books, and character sheets (and we didn’t have any of them new-fangled tablets!). Thus, my first GM adapted and ran more personal plots and subplots that involved deep role-playing and less dice rolling. That stayed with me and even today I tend to pepper my campaigns with interesting NPCs and juicy subplots.
Trying New Systems – My first GM hated learning new systems and would rather shoe-horn new ideas into the one or two systems with which he was familiar. That left me with a bunch of games he’d never run, so I did. As a result, I love trying out new systems and see how they affect the play style at the table (although I did go through a “let’s make everything GURPS” phase in the 90s, so perhaps this one took more time to develop).
Fudging – This goes a bit hand-in-hand with the Soap Opera, and for many of the same reasons. My first GM didn’t hesitate to fudge things, usually for our PCs to come out on top. I’ve incorporated a “soft mechanics” stance in my own style and often fudge rules or let things slide in order to keep the game moving and entertaining.
So how about you? Is there a GM that shaped your style in some way? Did you incorporate her style, reject it or simply admire it? Have you ever tried to emulate a style and it just didn’t work, or make something work that your first GM couldn’t?