Monday, September 3, 2007

Bigger Than (Imaginary) Life

One of the greatest joys of GenCon was getting to observe so many other GMs and their GMing styles.

We're a curious breed, those of us who run our own games. You can play in a game and never really take any of it all that seriously; but if you're going to RUN a game, on some level, in some way, you need to be able to convince yourself that this really needs doing, and furthermore, you need to believe that you are just the one to do it.

It's been said (by me) that the one real requirement to being a film director is simply having the balls to tell other people what to do, for no other reason that YOU think it's a good idea. The same applies to running games. All you really need is the cojones to be able to tell other people what happens next.

I believe this leads to a common trait amongst GMs: they're all, in some fashion, bigger than life.

And I further believe that their ability as a GM increases as they develop the quality they have that makes them so. This is why so many great GMs have such diverse styles.

I think of Kevin, who ran a tremendous game of Dread -- he's got a gift for straight-up oration, and can just reel off spectacular descriptive passages seemingly without reference to any notes. Gift of the gab, they call it. Dread is perfect for him, with its simple mechanic and narrativist structure.

Or Liz, who gesticulates wildly, demonstrating to her players what's happening or how NPCs are reacting. She's a natural performer and her liveliness makes for such an exciting game table you barely notice the rules.

Gabe's dry wit and self-deprecating humour create a game space full of hilarity and yet with a compelling story as we tried to figure out just how all the pieces fit together.

Alan ran a Mars-based game that somehow brought X-Files-like subtlety to fantastic planetary romance and his serious demeanour and careful attention to detail (even when his players were distracted just making up wild conspiracy theories) kept the whole thing grounded and our character's struggles all the more thrilling.

I was really too drunk to evaluate Kirin's performance, but the fact that he handled a dozen drunks in a riotous game of Kobolds Ate My Baby and managed to keep the game on track says everything that needs to be said about his force of personality.

And that's just GenCon GMs. Nobody's going to convince me that Chris doesn't bring that wacky, "What the heck did he just say? Oh wait, that actually does make perfect sense. Weird." sensibility to his games. Nor that Paul's Empires In Collision isn't the perfect vehicle for his obsessions with history, adventure stories and detailed re-creation. And what to say about Stuart and his stunning capacity for developing complex puzzles and relationships?

Us GMs have to be bigger than life in some way -- to possess some quality that we elevate beyond just sad obsession into true creative energy. And I think we all get better the more we give way to that quality and lose our fear of being sadly obsessed. The more enthusiasm and joy we have in our particular gifts, the more memorable a game we can deliver to our players.

Our gifts are different -- a joy in delivery, an obsession with detail, a determination to overcome the obstacle of inattention -- but common to us all is a recognition that we do possess gifts and that we can bring joy and good memories to those who we can convince (cajole, entreat, swindle) into joining us.