triskellian: (dice)
[personal profile] triskellian
A group of us in Oxford got together and ran a stay-at-home roleplaying con. We invited some out-of-towners and others who live nearby, solicited and wrote roleplaying games, and planned board games and social events.

I played in three roleplaying games, ran one, went to two gatherings, one barbecue, and several river swims, and saw loads of great people, many of whom I don't see often enough, and the whole thing was all kinds of awesome. But the bit I want to talk about is the GMing.

I am not a novice GM. I've run a long-ish campaign, and a whole bunch of one- and two-day one off games.

But this weekend was only the second time I've run a game on my own, and the first time that game was a 'proper' roleplaying game (the first was a live action version of 'Kill Doctor Lucky' and didn't feel much like a GMed game in the running, although it was a bit more like it in the writing).

When I'm co-GMing with [livejournal.com profile] secretrebel, the process of writing the game, for us, is generally a lot of long conversations arguing around the ideas we want to cover, constantly throwing away old ideas or adapting them into new shapes (or resurrecting the ideas we threw away in the last conversation), gradually honing in on the story we want to tell and the way we want to tell it. Towards the end of the process, when we know what we're doing and we just need to turn those ideas into pieces of paper to give our players, we split jobs up and each take on bits of them, but for most of the time we write games by talking about them.

Writing a game on my own, with no idea in advance who would be playing in it (and therefore who I could talk to about it), was a strange, quiet, sort of experience. I found myself writing down question and answer sessions with myself. 'What's the world like?' / 'I think it's a dystopia'. 'How did that happen?' / [list of ways to bring about a dystopia]. And so on. Like co-writing a game (and writing a thesis, for that matter), using Scrivener meant I was circling around my ideas. A few lines added to that text file, a new idea for this one, a couple of paragraphs over there. When I ran out of steam, I'd go and read a different file and think how that related to the bit I had stalled on.

The initial seed of the game had been the beginning-of-the-game setup, combined with an event from the characters' past. I'd had that when I'd first proposed writing and running this game, back in March. Life had intervened, and I hadn't got any further then, but coming to it this time, the world was mostly clear quite early on. And I spent ages making the world clearer, thinking about different aspects of it, and writing and refining background handouts for the players (several of whom liked the world enough to encourage me to run more things set in it). Eventually, I realised this was quite a lot like the aspects of PhD-dom where what I do is read and make notes, forever, and put off starting to actually write anything for as long as possible. When it came down to it, I did most of the writing of what would actually happen in the game itself only two days before it ran, in the garden, with some other people who were unaccountably not as focused on working as I felt I ought to be (but wasn't).

A while before the con in question, after a conversation with [livejournal.com profile] secretrebel in which we were both bemoaning the (suitably-non-specific) ways our individual game writing was being troublesome, I proposed a 'let's not be in each other's games, so we can talk about writing them' pact. She declined, on the grounds that there was an aspect of her game she thought only I would properly appreciate (I think, with hindsight, she was right).

A couple of times while writing (once on the morning of the day I was running the game), I had a sudden realisation of a completely different way the players could interact with the world I had given them, and had to rethink my expected order of events and make plans for alternatives. But relying only on myself to think of different ways into the material turned out to be possibly the scariest thing about writing a game on my own. No one else with whom to destruction-test ideas. No alternative viewpoint to propose different ways of approaching the material. Just me, trying to think of everything on my own.

But when it came to it, the game felt quite smooth. I knew my material, I was free to improvise and/or change things on the fly without rewriting the hymnsheet, and although the players briefly worried me by taking longer than I expected to do a particular thing, in general they did exactly what I'd hoped, in more-or-less exactly the order I'd planned for. They gathered data, discussed possible interpretations, gathered more data, and made a decision, and the game ended just the way I'd wanted it to, in a sensible period of time. I enjoyed it, and for most of the time wasn't even thinking about myself-as-GM, or the fact that I was doing on my own something I've usually done with someone else.

For the next time, all I need is another idea...

Date: 2012-08-01 01:30 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lathany.livejournal.com
This was very interesting to read. I come from the opposite end, that I've been soloing GMing for years and years. I have run joint games as well, but they are very much the minority and I tend to find them much more difficult.

I had a sudden realisation of a completely different way the players could interact with the world I had given them, and had to rethink my expected order of events and make plans for alternatives.

Heh. I find it's a rare game where the players actually do what I expect them to do in the order I expected them to do it in. Or react to NPCs in the manner expected (although hate is easy to inspire - the odd murder attempt usually does it).

Date: 2012-08-01 04:22 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] undyingking.livejournal.com
Mm, I was thinking the same, co-GMing has always been a bit of an emotional hurdle for me. (In tabletops: for some reason, it's not half so hard in LRP.)

And it was a fun game, [livejournal.com profile] triskellian: you certainly came across as very assured and confident of the material and of improvising around it. Not having to periodically confer with a co-GM, or even just catch eye and make significant nod to, might have helped with that smoothness.

Date: 2012-08-01 06:04 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] cardinalsin.livejournal.com
Thirded. I find co-GMing harder (even though on reflection I may actually have done as much or more team/co-GMing as solo) simply because I often find myself diverging from my fellow GM(s) in ideas and it can often be quite hard to deal with the resulting ego-pain. I think I'm getting better at it, but in the past certainly I've tended to have very strong ideas and not too keen on compromising.

Date: 2012-08-01 08:29 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] waistcoatmark.livejournal.com
About 3years into a Mage campaign, my players were completely flummoxed by a situation, and came up with a half-assed bodge that sort of got them out of it. After the session they asked "How on Earth were we supoed to deal with that?"
"I don't know: the first 5 situations in the campaign, you came up with a completely different solution to the one I'd plotted around. After that I stopped bothering to come up with a solution in advance. This is the fisrt time in over a hundred sessions where that didn't work..."

Date: 2012-08-03 07:55 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] zandev.livejournal.com
I reran my cinematic martial arts game at the con, experimenting with game style.

The crucial experiment both times was to go with an extreme cinematic style in that it was heavily railroaded, and skipped past 'filler' scenes. I thought this worked pretty well. Obviously the players have to know what to expect (as it does restrict the role playing freedom) and it's not sustainable for a campaign, but was an interesting alternative for a one-off.

I originally thought that this would make it easier to plan, as the ordering and timing is more under GM control. However, it then opens up other expectations for the placing and plot to be cinematic (for instance with foreshadowing), which needs more intricate planning.

Date: 2012-08-06 12:32 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] undyingking.livejournal.com
Good point about the extra expectations of cinematic structure, I think that can sometimes be a bit neglected.

Your game was great fun, thanks for that! The unusual system stuff fell into place pretty quickly, from my pov.

Date: 2012-08-01 01:59 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] bateleur.livejournal.com
Sounds like it went well - congratulations! I'm hoping this means you might do such a thing again sometime. :-)

One thing I like about solo GMing over collaborations is that I feel the GM's creative style comes over better. I'd often rather play a slightly rough game that's interesting and original than a really polished game that's a bit too derivative of other games/films/books I already know. I did well out of Wraeththu in this respect since I hadn't read the books at the time... and as a result now don't much like them because they're not as good as the game!

Date: 2012-08-01 04:49 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] bateleur.livejournal.com
Our co-GMed games often use an existing book/film/whatever as inspiration or as setting, although generally not as plot, which is perhaps the thing which would be a problem.

Yes, I certainly don't have a problem with settings being used in theory. It varies with the extent to which the original work explored its potential and the extent to which the original setting was good to begin with. Also, I'm generally much more appreciative of clever reuse of material which the original author wouldn't have done than things which feel like more natural extensions of the original.

Date: 2012-08-02 08:44 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] leathellin.livejournal.com
I don't seem to have a roleplaying icon, seems a bit of an oversight. Anyway...
I have done more co-gming than solo and I like the way it can balance things a bit. Depending on the people in question of course :-) Games run by me and Amanda for example tend to be more magical than I would write left to myself[1] and it is nice when GMs have different strengths to their styles as well.
Running on my own I like the control but I also worry quite a bit about the things I am just not so good at because they are much more obvious. My solo game at OxCon was different again for me because I tend to so historical settings because I like world consistency and it makes it easier (for me anyway).

[1] My favourite kind if magic level is the can't-quite-tell sort of thing.

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