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...
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