Wednesday, December 31, 2008

On Running the Game

I can remember the first moment I knew, absolutely, that I wanted to be a Dungeon Master. That wasn't the first moment that I'd had the desire, but it was a misty, half-formed thing, dating to a time when "Dungeons & Dragons" was something I suspected my best friend's father engaged in. (And a thing I was desperately curious about.) The general urge, towards the creation of worlds and the setting of scenes was why I spent a large part of my childhood wandering around alone, lost in my own imagination. It was always there, lurking.

But the moment that Dungeon Master, that hallowed calling, crystallized in my mind, that was something else, particular in its beauty. It wasn't quite when I first started gaming (though it did come close) because when I first started gaming I was a bit foggy on just what it was that a Dungeon Master did. Most of my group's early games were based on adventure modules -- no harm in it, that was just what our first DM did. We were learning. But somehow I'd gotten it into my head that this was the primary job of the referee, the running of other people's material.

When a friend of my dad, who had played the game himself back in college, disabused me of that notion -- the possibilities! Anything, any place, any problem, any race, any class, whatever crazy thing I could come up with, I could make, I could invest with the reality of play. I'd gotten a similar sense already from reading, and writing, but there was something special about Dungeons & Dragons, about gaming, some vitality that worlds purely of my own invention couldn't quite match. Or a different vitality, different enough to warrant its own effort.

With that sense of possibility came a drive, to craft and run my own games. The next time one of our odd, quixotic early adventures ran aground, I offered to run a game I'd been thinking about, based on a world I'd written a (hideously terrible, though I didn't know it at the time) novella about. I didn't have hardly anything planned, just a general idea of setting and a willingness to make up whatever I wanted as I went along.

And it was awesome. I screwed up pretty much constantly, didn't have a clue what I was doing, drove most of my friends up the wall at various times with my weird demands, but when I wasn't frustrated out of my mind it was wonderful. And I have a pretty good hunch that my friends enjoyed themselves, for the most part, seeing as that's one that we still talk about. (And not in the "wasn't that a hilarious failure" sense that's attached itself to my second campaign. The first one was good.)

Since then, I've been addicted. I'm not a player nearly as often as I should be, partly because I'm always the one saying "hey guys, let's game!" and partly because I tend to get grouchy when I do play. None of my old gaming friends quite understand my twisted devotion to the hobby. They enjoy it, and most of them even GM their own games at college, but they've got other hobbies. And I do have a couple other interests of my own, but I don't blog about them.

I don't know what it is, either. I have a couple of vague notions, something about that particular dynamism that comes from the back and forth of table play, the thrill of responding to the crazy antics of an unruly gang of players, but in large part running games is just something that I do. Because it's awesome. It doesn't need a whole lot more analysis than that.


  1. Aw. I find this adorable, that you can remember the very first moment you wanted to be a DM.

    You're one of my very favorite DMs, so it's interesting to hear about how you used to have all these difficulties like all beginning DMs.

    It's true that most of our group don't really focus so much on gaming. It's certainly a hobby for me instead of a lifestyle choice. But I still find your blog really interesting and informative about gaming and the philosophy of gaming. And I think that's a tribute to your writing, mostly. I've read other stuff about gaming in which the subject matter might be interesting, but the post is dull as a rusted robot.

    The dynamic of DMing versus playing is interesting, I agree. I've only DM'd the once, and it was a headrush, because of just how different it was. There's two very different experiences, and I think (IMHO) that a lot of the appeal to DMing is that you get to create a world, a story, and many characters, rather than focusing on just the one. And as a writer, I can understand you enjoying that element of control more than just playing along with someone else's story.