Happy GM’s Day to all you GM’s, DM’s, and Screen Monkeys out there.Â 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.Â 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.Â 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.Â With Patrick as my DM, I explored the world of D&D through several different characters, many of whom, died in horribly fun ways.Â 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,Â 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.Â 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.Â Â 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.Â 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:Â 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 howÂ 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.Â 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.Â 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.Â 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.Â 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.Â 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.Â 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).Â 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.Â 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.Â He TPK’d a number of parties that I soloed into a catacombs filled with ghouls and gelatinous cubes.Â The only two survivors were Shevetas the Elf Wizard and Rothgar the Dwarf Warrior.Â 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).Â 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.Â 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.Â He was willing to set aside the rules when they got in the way of the fun.Â And he managed a very disparate group of gamers, all of whom had fun.Â 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.Â 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!
DNAphil- You’re welcome, but I should be thanking you! If it weren’t for your Amber Diceless campaign, I would probably have given up roleplaying. You have crafted some of the most fun, interesting, and intense campaigns that a player could wish to be involved in.
As for my GM skills, thank you for putting up with the many crash and burn campaigns that I have attempted before finding my niche with D&D 4e. If you hadn’t stuck with me through those (mostly) colossal failures, I may not have given it one more try with 4e.
And finally, with regard to Sargon’s Eberron mystery extraordinaire – just brilliant! Kudos to Sargon for one of the enduring memories I’ll have for our gaming group.
I would like to take a moment to thank the two most influential DMs in my life as well.
The first was a guy named Gareth who used to run verbal games in the van on the way to scout outings when I was 12. If a roll was required, he would always just ask us to “pick a number between 1 and 20” and he would change the target number so everyone wouldn’t just pick 20. It wasn’t a perfect system, and hell, we didn’t even have characters with actual stats, but it conveyed the core principles of D&D, and we didn’t have to bring anything with us to play. It was through these sessions that I first was introduced to a game in which I could truly do ANYTHING I wanted to. I was amazed, went out and bought the just-released 3rd edition (Yeah, I’m a youngin’) rule book, and started getting friends together to play.
The second is a guy named Dave. Gareth had never been afraid to kill player characters, but tragically, after him, I fell into a cycle of playing with DMs that for some reason felt as though killing their players was wrong. I was getting tired of this predictable style of play in which there was no real suspense, because if something genuinely threatened the players, we all ultimately knew that the DM would fudge a roll. I was just at the point of hanging up my dice bag for good, when a friend convinced me to come back and give it another shot. He explained to me that the games he runs are a bit darker in tone. I didn’t believe him until, in the first session, one of our party started to bleed out, (The player wasn’t actually present that night) and the DM was making the death saving throws (4e) for him out in front of his DM screen. Suddenly, I was aware that not only was this DM not afraid of killing a PC, he would do it when the player wasn’t even there! “This is what D&D is meant to be,” I thought, “suspenseful, exciting, and with real danger (at least for the characters) lurking around every corner.” That got me back into the game.
I currently play in two 4e campaigns, a 3.5 based WWII game called Weird Wars, and I GM a Serenity RPG. Thanks Gareth and Dave, for showing me what D&D is all about!
Wow! To be immortalized on Gnome Stew! (I’m the Ken that Troy Taylor referred to)
To be honest, while I’ll admit to being a decent DM, my style holds no candle to Troy’s. He is SO methodical in his approach, with dioramas, folders full of NPCs, and hooks for every player at the table. Surprises a plenty and mannerisms for each NPC come from behind his screen. Meanwhile, I’m a by-the-seat-of-my-pants flyer. Whew!
Thanks, Troy! I may have jump-started your lovof the game, but you’ve sent mine…to Infinity and Beyond!
My shoutout goes to my best friends’ family, and the GM in particular, I ended up calling Dad.
Dad would show us these “Dungeons & Dragons” book, filled with pictures of monsters that were fierce enough to incite fear, but real enough to be mortal. I would walk around the playground with his son and we would play Make Believe with nothing but our words. No LARPing, just walking and talking (by the way, this has led to a habit of me pacing on the phone, which drives my boyfriend CRAZY when I pick up the phone and begin pacing all over the house).
Later on, me and some new friends in High School picked up D&D 3.0 starter set. I was chosen to be DM, and we did have fun. The best parts were the bits such as “If the players choose, they can kick over the table and use it for cover. If this is the case, …” and there were RULES for improvisation! It astounded us.
But then my old friends with Dad invited me to play in their game. Soon, it became a part of my life. All week, we would work on our own RPing stuff (Dad had his Rolemaster rules, his son had his Spacemaster: Privateers, and we all would end up contributing to Dad’s Rolemaster). House rules, ideas, “how does magic work” and so on. Friday, I would show up and that night we would stay up and share our ideas and have a little “Creative Convention”. Saturday morning we would set up the house for the session, and play from Noon-to-night. Sunday was our day of rest, and Monday would begin the cycle.
Even though I am far away from them now, I forever owe gratitude to Dad and my friends for showing me the most powerful and beautiful thing I have as an individual is my creativity. It’s funny, because my generation could use a lesson from these games. I’m very young, and I see a lot of materialism and “The best is the most expensive,” and boredom means “Buy a new video game.” (I see it most often in the mirror!). But the most fun I’ve ever had was with my friends around a card table on a couch, with munchies, inside jokes, and the most infectious laughter I have ever heard.
But the most important thing that GM taught me was not specifically game-related. He taught me that life is tough, and you need to have fun.
I’d like to add my thanks to my GMs.
First, to Shane, my first DM. Because of you, I got my nickname. On top of that, you helped me make my character, and put up with me constantly asking for help and asking for clarifications.
Next, to my friends in The Horde (not related to Warcraft in anyway): Aidan, Stephen, Alex T, and Alex C, who are both co-players and GMs. Aidan was my second DM after my first game up and died (admittedly, Shane moving across the country helped). His game taught me just how terrifying polymorph is, and then, a few weeks later, opened my eyes to the Planescape setting, which I’m an avid fan of.
Stephen was my first non-DnD GM, introducing me to the wonderful world of Call of Cthulhu. I still remember him stuttering in surprise when I rolled a starting San of 91. And when I got a San of 95, he was even more flabbergasted. He then introduced me to Unknown Armies, one of a very small amount of RPG sourcebooks that I own (the others being the PHBs for 3.5 and 4th ed DnD, Paranoia XP, which I GM when the mood takes me, and Anima), and one of my favourite settings.
Alex T, in his own way, showed me just how much fun a game of DnD could be. Inadvertantly, his Evil Characters campaign split into two parties: myself and Alex C being the group that actually WANTED to take over the world, and Aidan and Stephen being the group that wanted to just be left alone. He also introduced me to several non-DnD settings, such as BESM (which I was unsuccessful in buying before it went out of print), Anima (which I’ve got), and Cyberpunk 2020 (which I don’t own, but might like to), as well as the Eberron setting, which I’ve loved but never actually owned (yes, I know there are some issues with it. It’s still a lovely system).
Finally, Alex C. For demonstrating clearly the most important fact there is: if it’s cool enough, go for it. He’s also the reason I first found out about min/maxing, since he’s pulled it off so successfully on several occasions (commenting that he doesn’t normally do it, except when it would be funny).
To those four, I also offer the heartfelt gratitude as a GM. The four of them caused havoc in the only way that Paranoia players know how. They came up with innovative solutions to problems, then pulled them all off at the same time. They surprised me and amused me.
For that, they live.
Thank you again for posting this, Phil — it was an excellent idea, and thinking about my first GM put my entire gaming career into perspective.
I’m not fond of teleology, but so many good things in my life can be traced back to that first gaming experience; it’s hard to imagine what my life would look like if I’d never had it.
A special thank you goes to Gnomestew’s Scott Martin, who introduced me to Spirit of the Century at a meetup event over two years ago. It pulled me out of my gaming doldrums and onto the path of forging a new gaming group and also building new friendships. That was one hell of a game session and it came when I needed it the most. The session sparked my gaming fire and it wouldn’t have happened without Scott’s GM abilities, which includes a very good grasp on FATE mechanics just for starters.
It has been a whole lot of fun gaming ever since Mack and Jet took on Rocket Red and those knife-packing psychopaths to get that relic into the proper hands. 🙂