I've been thinking a lot about the player side of things lately. This is unusual for me. Before Trollsmyth's Labyrinth Lord game, I hadn't played in a regular game since before I started this blog. Short campaigns, the occasional one-shot, sure, but nothing like a long-term, meets-every-week game.
And heck, even before that, I've never done a whole lot of long term play. A couple of weeks ago that game became the longest game I've been in, period, and it became the longest game I've been in as a player a while ago. My group in high school always tended towards short games, and I was the GM as often as not, so my play experience is somewhat lacking in general, and deficient in the area of long-term play specifically. There are trade-offs to that -- I've run a bunch of different kinds of games -- but it's nice to get this experience now all the same.
And interesting, as it's an opportunity to learn about my playing style. First major item of note: playing is really different from GMing. I mean profoundly different.
Obvious, right? Different power level, different responsibilities, different rewards. And people tend to be one or the other, so that's a pretty powerful marker right there. But I'm thinking of one item in particular, that's at the core of all the other difference: as a player, I have only one in-put into the game.
I'm used to running NPCs, and even fairly complex ones, but a PC is an entirely different animal, and in ways that I'm only just now really appreciating. The surface qualities are pretty similar: I talk in-character. I make decisions in-character. I create a personality, appearance, backstory.
But when I'm a GM, and I create an NPC I turn out not to like, it's a pretty simple matter to kill him, ship him to another continent, or just plain forget about him. But as a player, I'm stuck with the decisions I make (to an extent depending on the GM, so if I end up with something really loathsome I can make an appeal) and those decisions take on a whole different kind of significance, because this character is the main, and in many ways only, way for me to interact with the game.
So that guides my decisions. If I want, I can make an NPC who's incurious, or obnoxiously argumentative, or sort of stupid. None of those are options for the only character I can play, because I'm curious about the world, need to stick with the team, and like to figure things out and try different ideas. My needs as a player drive the development of my character.
But that in itself is a fun sub-game, and one I don't get to play as a GM. In this game, my characters have started out fairly simple -- more playing piece than character, really, because I haven't figured out what would be interesting to play. I make decisions based on what I, as a player, think is interesting. But then that gives me something to work with. Once I find out that I like exploring dungeons and asking questions about their makers, I decide that my character is curious and likes history. Once I find out that the GM will let me get away with doing slightly crazy things as long as they're interesting -- and even reward me, occasionally, for taking risks like running off into the woods alone after the pixies who took our stuff -- I adjust my earlier idea of her being fairly cautious and make her, while not reckless, willing to take those leaps of faith that I'd discovered were so interesting.
Setting up a character before play and letting her run out like clockwork wouldn't be all that interesting to me. But exploring the tension between "this is what I want to do" and "this is what my character would do" fascinates me. It's a constant challenge, and a constant source of new ideas. The particulars of the rest of the group will encourage me to switch I a role I'd intended to play off of one party member over to another. An offhand comment and an NPC's reaction will spark an entire new dimension to a backstory. It's a very different kind of fun than GMing, but a very satisfying one.