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A GM’s Day Tribute
Posted By Phil Vecchione On March 4, 2009 @ 3:00 am In Gnome Gnews | 8 Comments
Happy GM’s Day to all you GM’s, DM’s, and Screen Monkeys out there. GM’s day is a day to thank the GM’s who run the games you play, for all their hard work and dedication for preparing sessions, mediating rules disputes, bending the rules to let you get into that character class you really wanted, and all the other nameless tasks that they do during and between sessions to create those worlds that we play in.
We here at Gnome Stew wanted to take a few moments and dedicate this article to all the GM’s that have been a part of our lives. Be it the GM’s who led us into our first Dungeons, or the innovative GM’s who opened our eyes to new game system, or even the established masters, who though their writings and seminars expanded our minds, and shaped us into the GM’s we are today.
No list of thanks would be complete without acknowledging Gary Gygax who, as GM’s, we can all trace our GMing pedigree back to, in one way or another. On the first anniversary of his passing, our thanks go out to him, for the the multitudes of worlds he helped to create in our imaginations.
And now on to our personal thanks….
DNAphil (aka Phil Vecchione)
I would like to start by thanking my first DM, a family friend, Patrick, who introduced me to D&D. He was several years older than I was, but did not mind running D&D games for me, even though he played in a group with his peers. With Patrick as my DM, I explored the world of D&D through several different characters, many of whom, died in horribly fun ways. For better or for worst, I will never forget the death of my Assassin, who died in an ice cave, when a Frost Giant broke his Mirror of Life Trapping, and all the things I had stuck in there, were freed and pissed. Thank you Patrick for introducing me to RPG’s, which have had a profound impact on my life.
I want to thank a few other influential GM’s that I have had a chance to play under, over the years. Thank you Mr. Icom, for teaching me how Cyberpunk is supposed to be played; buying new organs from an alley clinic, for the first time, was a true experience. Thank you Sargon, for creating a mystery so complex, that we had to fill a dry erase board with clues and arrows, before we could solve it. Thank you to Spenser, who convinced me that one more D&D campaign would be totally worth it.
I also want to thank a few GM’s, who I never had a chance to play with, directly, but who’s writings and seminars have profoundly changed my own GMing style: Eric Wujick who’s Amber Diceless made me understand just how important the GM is to a good story; Robin Laws, who opened my eyes to who my players are, and what they need; Mike Mearls who taught me how to stage a combat scene; and to Vincent Baker who showed me how to let my players figure out how to finish their scenes themselves.
Even though I’ve been my group’s de-facto Game Master for most of our playing time together, I’ve learned the most about GMing when one of my players says he or she wants to take the reins. I watch them make the same mistakes we all make as first-time GM’s and then I see them loosen up and start finding their own unique ways to make the game fun. It’s intimidating to sit before your friends and be responsible for making the night fun. It’s hard to pare down your grand ideas and plotlines to make the game run smoothly and focus on the characters that aren’t under your control. It’s daunting to stand back up after that first inevitable failure. I want to thank all the people I’ve seen rise up from being players in my games to being GMs in their own right and who outshine me in unique and incredible ways. Thanks Alec, Brian, Chris, Ed, Matt, Miriam, Ryan and Tanner!
I want to thank my first GMs. It was fifth grade, I was at a new school, and a couple of teachers were going to run some D&D on the lunch break. Dad and Mr. Reid were the two teachers who ran that first short campaign. I still remember that sense of wonder encountering a kobold, tromping into the dungeon and trying out the various pools to see what magical properties they had. I still laugh at the image of the giant finger growing from the enlarging pool, the banter of boys and their two hit point warriors. [My dice have been unkind to me from the first.] Thanks for making gaming a compelling part of my life– and for gaming with me through the years!
My first GM was David Etlin, a friend I made at gymnastics; I was around 10, and he was about 11 (this was in the late 1980s). I had heard of D&D, but didn’t really know what it was, so he had me create my first character — a Dwarven fighter named Vlagranras. David ran me through a short dungeon solo, and I was hooked.
We were friends for several years, and memorable games included beach-side D&D in New England and my first Shadowrun campaign. Solo gaming seemed like the normal approach to me, so David’s GMing was my model: I started running games for friends solo in 1989, and didn’t shift into traditional group GMing for several years.
To be honest, I don’t remember much about David’s GMing style, or the specifics of most of our games. But he was a charismatic guy who knew how to run a fun game, and whatever he did worked — I went from improvised pseudo-roleplaying, which I started doing in 1987, to buying my own set of AD&D 2nd Edition books and running campaigns as a full-fledged GM, all in less than two years.
Thank you, David, for turning a spark of interest into a lifelong hobby, and for giving me the basic tools to become a passionate GM in my own right. My published work, blogging, and even my day job can be traced back to that first D&D session. Wherever you are, I hope you’re doing well.
I remember where I first heard about DnD. The year was 1989 and Charles and I were in 5th grade. During recess one afternoon, he told me about this game he was playing with his friend Kyle and Kyle’s big brother called Dungeons and Dragons. Charles told me about how he and Kyle were a pair of sword-wielding warriors who flew through space on the back of a mighty dragon named leviathan who could chew up interstellar debris and spit it out as explosive projectiles. Bizarre as it sounded, it had me 100% hooked. They wouldn’t let me play with their group (which was fine with me. Kyle was a little jackass and his brother was a bully who routinely threatened to beat me up.) but Charles did loan me his red paperback player’s handbook for a few days. Once he needed it back I bought my own copy and read it over and over, playing the demo solo adventure until I knew Bargle’s cave inside and out. Then I recruited friends and neighbors to come play the game, but since no one else knew how to play, I had to be the DM. Of course, I had my own outrageously powerful GMPC, but no one minded (ie: they seethed with hatred for him, especially since I continually found ways to retcon him to make him even more broken, and I ignored it). It was years before I got to play in anyone else’s game.
My GM Day shout out goes to Ken, who rekindled my interest in gaming (and miniatures) when he served as a GM for “Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil.” So many of those sessions were conducted in brutal June and July heat around his kitchen table. The perspiration was pouring off us as we attempted to make sense of the 3.5 rules — which were new to us then — and trying not to let damp finger tips spoil our rulebooks and those paperback supplements like “Defenders of the Faith” and “Song and Silence.” It was so hot I remember allowing my PC to continually take cold damage at one point so I could imagine what cool air would feel like.
I never would have picked up the hobby again had Ken not made our forays in and around Hommlet so engaging. Our PCs hid among the ruins of the moathouse as a blue dragon assailed us, engaged Tieflings in battle as a building burned down around us, allowed undead minions to lead our assault against some bugbears and beat the snot out of Lareth (to no avail). Those afternoons were just plain fun.
Many of the house rules he introduced remain a part of our games today. Usually I’m the GM, but he occasionally pulls out a classic — like “White Plume Mountain” and slides into the GM chair so he can torture us with that dungeon’s many diabolical player killing chambers.
The thing I most admire about Ken is his versatility. I’m a meat ‘n’ potatoes D&D guy through and through, but Ken still GMs every new game that comes around the corner. He knows how to take the best each game has to offer and discern the weak points as well.
My first GM? Well I’m not going to mention names, because the truth is that he was not a very good GM. I will refer to him simply as Sir Ego. Sir Ego crafted excellent story lines, he knew the rules of the system inside and out, and he was able to keep the game flowing smoothly during combat sessions. The problem with Sir Ego was that he treated people poorly. He was rude, arrogant, and he considered others to be worthless. It didn’t take long before I found another group to game with.
I do not remember Sir Ego fondly, but being older and wiser now I pity him. His arrogance was centered completely around his gaming life, and he had no career or significant relationships that I can remember. He was much older then myself at the time, and he was at an age where his life should have had more facets to it than gaming alone. Was his arrogance and rudeness a way to compensate for a lack of other forms of success or to cover up for some kind of personal pain? I do not know.
Sir Ego did teach me a wonderful lesson during my brief time as a player in his campaign though – no matter how good you are at running the game it is the people that you play the game with who should come first. So thank you Sir Ego! I hope that you also learned this same lesson that you taught me those many years ago.
Technically speaking, my first GM was myself, stumbling through the D&D Moldvay Basic Set after watching two gamers play D&D (I’m not sure which flavor…it was 1982) at an altar boy retreat. Not long thereafter, my budding group had a number of GM’s, all of us learning as we went.
The GM with the greatest impact on me in those early years was David (not his real name). David taught me a lot about being a good GM. He crafted stories and plotlines that really engaged the players, he was great at “winging it” when he had nothing prepared, and he taught me a lot about sandbox play. He also wasn’t afraid to set the rules aside for dramatic moments.
Equally important to this budding GM was what David taught me not to do. He introduced me to the concept of the GMPC, long stretches of boring sessions to get to the “meaty parts,” having distractions around the table (he insisted on keeping a TV on, only to get engrossed in the program), and Monty Haulism.
So for the good and bad, I’m really thankful to David. He had the single greatest impact on my GMing style, as I took lessons learned from him and incorporated them into the way I run my games. Thank you, David, for everything.
Kurt ‘Telas’ Schneider
My first GM will remain nameless, but he introduced me to D&D at summer camp in 1978 or so. Sadly, he was not that good with novice players; instead of offering suggestions and common sense advice, he would let me find things out by failing at them. He TPK’d a number of parties that I soloed into a catacombs filled with ghouls and gelatinous cubes. The only two survivors were Shevetas the Elf Wizard and Rothgar the Dwarf Warrior. Shevetas got a ring that allowed him to Polymorph into a hawk or wolf, and Rothgar got a magical axe named Galdor.
Despite the experience, I was hooked, and I ran a number of adventures (nothing that qualifies as “campaign”) over the next few years, finally taking a break sometime in the mid-late 80s (about the same time I discovered alcohol, girls, and the gym). I got back into gaming around 2003, and was lucky enough to stumble on a very mature and sociable group of gamers led by an excellent GM nicknamed Palmate.
I owe my gaming renaissance to Palmate; he ran an excellent Forgotten Realms campaign, with colorful characters, creative encounters, and plenty of storyline. He gave us the freedom to find our own way, but held on to just enough carrot-and-stick to keep us from stagnating in the sandbox. He was willing to set aside the rules when they got in the way of the fun. And he managed a very disparate group of gamers, all of whom had fun. Palmate set a very high standard for GMing, one that I hope I can achieve.
Those are our thanks to all those GM’s who helped to make us into the GM’s we are today. We encourage you to post your thanks to the GM’s who have been apart of your gaming life, in the comments below.
Happy GM’s Day!
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