It can feel like a chicken and an egg conversation, but obviously someone out there read the book and ran a game without ever having played it before. Sitting beside my bed are a pile of books that includes a couple of novels, a couple of essay collections, and at least two RPGs I want to run where I have no (or limited) experience playing. There’s a little voice inside me panicking at the thought of running them without prior exposure and is envious of the GMs that have done just that.
The majority of the games I have run have all been games I played first. At some point during playing the game, something clicked and I knew I could handle running it or I at least wanted to make the attempt. Some of that was from extensive experience, like Pathfinder. Others are from something about the game falling perfectly aligned with the type of games I enjoy, like Doctor Who:AITAS or Monster of the Week. Reading the rules helped hone my skill with those latter games, but I already understood the core concepts.
One of the RPGs sitting beside my bed is Fate Core. I’ve had a mixed experience with Fate so I feel it’s a game that rises or falls based on the skill of the GM. In the hands of a bad or even mediocre GM, the game can become a very frustrating experience. On the other hand, a good or great GM can give you an awesome game that will stick with you for a while. Unfortunately for me, my good experiences are not sufficient to let me feel comfortable diving into running it just yet. I see what it can be, but I haven’t quite wrapped my head around how to get there with the tools it provides. Before I run it, I’m going to have to really dig into the book.
The other game sitting there is Night’s Black Agents. I’ve only ever played a Gumshoe game once and it was a fun enough game that the system intrigued me. Beyond that, I’d heard good things about this particular game from some very vocal advocates. When I run this one, though, it’s going to be all on me. I’ve never played it and no one else in my group has the book. Everything I’ve seen about the game says it’ll be a great fit for my group, but running it from scratch is an intimidating hurdle in front of me.
I can actually point to one experience where I went from zero to running a game just on the game’s materials. This summer, at GenCon, I had volunteered to run games for Cubicle 7, but most of the Doctor Who sessions were already taken. As a result, I was asked to take on running the newly released Lone Wolf Adventure Game, based on the choose-your-own-adventure novels by Joe Dever.
At first, I was terrified. Even though I had never heard of the books, they had a strong fan base with a huge nostalgia factor. Since I was getting access to an early release of the PDF, I couldn’t even count on someone else to run it for me first. Luckily, once I dug into it, I discovered it’s an easy system that’s good for beginners and designed to capture the feel from the books. The first time I ran it, a playtest for some local friends, I didn’t do a particularly good job, but it did teach me what I needed to know about the game. The subsequent games I ran at GenCon were all successful and I got some positive responses from fans of the original books.
It’s not going to be easy for me to wade through the books of the two games I want to run, but it’s where I have to go if I want to bring these games to the table. Basically, I need to become the chicken if I want this particular egg to hatch. Okay, maybe that’s a little too dorky, but you get what I mean.
So have you been able to make the leap from reading to running? I’m curious to know the variety of learning styles among other GMs.