Game Masters


It's been my experience that role-playing campaigns are, quite often, entirely too transitory. Players put tremendous amounts of time, thought, and creativity into their characters, and GMs put even more energy and effort into constructing their campaigns. Sadly, campaigns that actually run all the way to their natural ending point are few and far between. Those that do, then, will invariably stick out in gamers' minds as important events in their gaming careers.

Most gamers got their start with D&D or one of the other classic fantasy RPGs, but for me that wasn't the case. The first games I played were modern-day games like Vampire: The Masquerade, with the occasional superhero game or Shadowrun session tossed in for good measure. I didn't pick up any epic fantasy games until later on in my gaming career, and even then I didn't play them very often.

The singular most important skill of any dungeon designer is the ability to plagiarize. If you are going to make it to the top in this business, you are going to have to steal as much as you can. Why? Everything you steal is one less thing that you have to think about. It's like that old saying about midgets and giants.

Remember when LEGO sets came in one big box? With no more guidance than a few pictures on the lid and a bit of creativity, you could build a house, or a tree, or a dinosaur, or a plane. The building blocks were simple, standard, somewhat abstract, and made sculptures tending toward the representational. Today, LEGO comes in little kits with specific instructions and specialized pieces that let you make a single item: Windsor castle, a Corvette, the space shuttle... The final product is interesting and intricately detailed, but the kit really only makes that one thing. Once you've built it, it often goes up on a shelf like a model airplane and you go shopping for the next object. In many ways, this is a lot like RPG modules.

We GMs may sometimes wish we could devote ourselves to nothing but campaign planning and evil schemes, yet real life intervenes all too often. The result is a frighteningly sparse or nonexistent set of campaign notes and the horrible sinking feeling that even if you pull off an astonishing feat of last-minute game planning, you'll never be ready on time. What's a GM to do?

Why is a dungeon there? Well, someone had to build it, but that's a topic for later. Why is it in your story? Why is your character going to one? It has a purpose to serve. What sort of purpose? Well, whatever reasons your character is going to one in the first place.

This week's noun is space, the distance between all the other nouns in your game. Having an accurate understanding of the space your game takes place in is very important if you want to keep your game realistic. It can also lead to some very interesting situations if the GM is aware of space and the silly players are not.

A term like "ecology" means specific things in gaming context. So many things in games come about on fiat. Why do trolls regenerate? Regenerating monsters are interesting foes. But being a proto-intelligent humanoid with regenerative powers is strange. How does it work? How do they work? What is their culture like? How do they go about living? These questions are unanswered.

Crawling around in dank, poorly lit underground tunnels, on the quest for treasure and mindful of monsters and traps: this is THE typical adventure. It has always slightly reminded me of my college years, but that is another story. This prototype has been around for quite some time. The game, after all, is called "Dungeons and Dragons."

Go ahead, admit it. In the very back of your gaming binder, in some dark corner of your closet, there hides a character sheet for a half-drow, half-dragon demilich fighter/mage/assassin who keeps the Tarrasque as a lap dog. Or if you're a WoD player, don't think you can just pretend no one ever saw that 5th-gen Awakened Cappadocian Abomination whose driving goal was to diablerize Caine. There's no use hiding the fact that you were, at one time, a total power gamer (I know that I was). It's kind of like the chicken pox - we all get the munchkinism disease at some point in childhood, but after that we're immune.

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