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Reflections from a Game Master on his Birthday

Today is my birthday. I’m 42 years old and have been a gamer now for over 32 years. Birthdays are a good time for reflection, so this year I thought I’d reflect on my GMing experiences and see how my style has evolved along the way.

My journey began with a happy accident. I picked up a copy of the Moldvay Basic edition of Dungeons & Dragons believing it to be this [1], as I’d seen it on a commercial. Imagine my surprise when I opened it up and found funny dice, a 64 page rulebook, and a ‘module’ with a map too small to put counters on. Undaunted and curious by what I read, I started on the slow journey of learning what this game, what roleplaying, was all about.

For me, the 1980s were a wondrous age where I grabbed almost every RPG I could find (I happened to join the hobby during its first real “boom”) but primarily settled into Advanced Dungeons & Dragons and the Marvel Superheroes Advanced Game. It was the age where I actually preferred being a player to a GM, and I learned several valuable lessons that stuck with me as a GM:

By the end of the 80s and into the 90s, my gaming style evolved again. My primary GM and the other player that formed the core of our group left to join the armed forces; at the same time, I’d fallen in love with GURPS. I was now primarily a GM and the majority of groups I started used GURPS as a baseline. During this period, I learned several new lessons:

By the end of the 1990s I was out of college and finding it difficult to spend a lot of time prepping for games; skipping sessions became more frequent as well. It was also around this time I discovered LARPing and finally got into the World of Darkness and horror gaming in general. Delta Green pulled me into Call of Cthulhu, which is pretty much perfect for running infrequent games.

During this period I learned the following:

At the turn of the millennium Dungeons & Dragons was hot again and “d20” had become the universal system of choice (even if it was closer to Palladium’s Megaversal System in terms of compatibility between games). Interestingly, I was a late adopter; I’d continued to play games like Call of Cthulhu, 7th Sea, Victoriana, and WitchCraft.

During this period I learned the following:

It was also during this period that I began to get involved in the RPG industry as a freelance writer, blogger, and line developer. In addition, I started going to Gen Con regularly (I plan to hit Origins this year as well). These experiences have also impacted my GMing style:

It’s funny, while crafting this article I discovered that my GMing style and preferences haven’t changed all that much over the decades; I really just learned how to refine them through trial and error. Overall, I still enjoy running dramatic games with a movie or television feel that have tight plots but give the PCs time to breathe a little.

I apologize for rambling a bit on my B-Day. Hopefully my reflections have given you some insight on how this wizened Gnomie ticks and how I approach GMing.

But enough about me, how about you? Have you found your GMing style really evolving over the years or are you still essentially running the same types of games you were 10, 20, 30, 40 years ago? Is there anything you wish you could change in the future? Is there anything you’d lost that you’d like to get back?

5 Comments (Open | Close)

5 Comments To "Reflections from a Game Master on his Birthday"

#1 Comment By Sabrina On April 7, 2014 @ 2:51 am

Hurray for the Marvel Superheroes Advanced Game! That’s actually how I managed to find players in my area. Not a lot of roleplayers, but I found a few comic book geeks. (Of which I am also one.) They took to the game like fish to water and we’ve branched out from there.

But we still return to the Marvel games most often. We haven’t found very many other genres that work for FASERIP, though we did give Transformers a whirl and it worked out better than expected. (This was by request of a player. We have no idea if a Transformers game exists, but we threw the setting into the FASERIP system and it worked out okay. There was less variety in characters because they all had too similar stats but it worked for a short, two session experiment.)

#2 Comment By Martin Ralya On April 7, 2014 @ 10:57 am

Happy birthday, Walt!

And thank you for sharing your hard-won reflections and advice.

#3 Comment By spikexan On April 7, 2014 @ 2:24 pm

Great article. Reading this made my day. I’m 39 and started gaming in 1887 with the marvel advanced set and top secret. You’ve inspired me to jot down some thoughts of my gaming evolution as well. Thanks!

#4 Comment By Martin Ralya On April 7, 2014 @ 3:17 pm

1887, huh? Your memory must be going in your old age. 😉

#5 Comment By spikexan On April 8, 2014 @ 4:05 pm

Ha. I haven’t so careless with the secret of my immortality since that little Russian stint when I counseled the final tsar. I guess I’m slipping…..