My Early Days with 1st Edition
Back during the OD&D days my father was known as Raymon the Barbarian, my mother was a Cleric of Corellon. No, this isn’t me starting a character back story, but maybe I am relating a bit of my own. In 1982 and 1983 I used to lay awake in my bed and listen to the late night gathering of my parents and their eight or so friends rolling dice in our basement. Fortunately, growing up my room was also in the basement. A magical world opened up to me, this was the first touch I had with D&D. A few years later my father read all of us kids “The Hobbit”. We stayed awake late on weekend nights to watch B-movie awesomeness like “Hawk the Slayer”, “Beastmaster” and the “Dragonslayer”. At twelve I checked out the Lord of the Rings. At this point I hadn’t yet picked up any dice, but my younger brother and I played pretend walking home from schools. In some ways a gamer was born.
Moving to Second Edition and Older Brothers
My eldest brother inherited the box containing my fathers D&D modules and rulebooks. His friends gathered and gamed in various peoples houses around the neighborhood to play. I followed them around a lot trying to get on their game. Some much so that they nicknamed me hawk. They meant it as in “being watched like a hawk” but I took the nickname in stride and pretended it was because of “Hawk the Slayer”. In those days the only requirement to play was to be able to calculate THAC0. I spent a lot of time learning the rules (when I could get the book from under my brothers bed). Eventually, I got my shot. It was “TOTALLY WICKED!” The group broke up shortly thereafter, hanging out to play fantasy games with your little brother isn’t as cool as hot girls and faded blue jeans.
No One to Play With
For the next couple of years, I started writing fantasy short stories. They weren’t good. My obsession with world building began when I discovered the bargain bins at the local comic shop. A whole new set of worlds opened up with Dragonlance, Forgotten Realms and Grayhawk sourcebooks at my fingertips. I collected and read everything I could afford, including some Battletech books that I never actually used to play. For the next decade I built a world centered on my collected knowledge. Imagining I was Tolkien, I would sit for hours in my room sketching out maps and realms of kings and their histories. It was during this time that my brother was gifted Heroscape for his birthday. We quickly exhausted the scenarios included with the game and I started coming up with my own. Eventually, my father was drawn in and dusted off the persona of Raymon the Barbarian
Moving into Real Roleplaying
Before I left for the Navy, I was visiting my brother when I discovered Magic. He had picked up a pack of cards from somewhere and we sat on the back porch drinking and playing with a set of alpha’s. The game was a ball. More tactical then D&D, but still with a bits of story attached on every card. I continued my magic obsession throughout boot camp. Yes, I am from that generation that played Magic rather than Poker in the military. When I got to my first duty session people where playing something called Third Edition. We rolled up some characters and broke out some dice. Soon, it became a regular thing. I don’t know if our DM converted his Ravenloft adventures or if they were something published, but that campaign was the hay day of gaming for many years.
When I got out of the military my brothers and I played table top war gaming for a while. Mostly war hammer and war hammer 40k. We picked up the CCG Warlord and I still have the cards in my collection of miscellaneous games. It was a good game but it didn’t have the following of Magic and died off. I stacked away the setting in the back of mind like so many other things.
Hack-master and KoDT
For many years I worked away and started my own family. Time and effort for gaming faded to be replaced by the need to raise and feed small children. I stumbled across Knights of the Dinner Table while talking to a co-worker. That lead me to Hack-master and the game reminded me of my dad and brothers old sessions. For many years, the comic strips kept the gamer in side of me alive. Jolly Blackburn and the guys at Kenzer Co. are simply amazing.
Virtual Tables 3.5 and 4E
Between postings my little brother brought home a game he had been DM’ing in Korea. For his short leave we played a few sessions and the things I disliked about 3E seemed to have gotten an overhaul. He soon departed, a year later he called me and directed me to a site owned by Smiteworks. I downloaded a program called Fantasy Grounds II. We were connected. No matter where in the world my brother was stationed we could play. I felt like a little kid again. He put together a group and soon Orcs were mowed down and ogre’s chased us from their lairs. Good times. When my brother came home from Germany, WoTC was unveiling 4E. Some very creative gents put together a rule set and a small adventure to demo. My brother and I signed up and played from the same room via the VT with guys around the world. That first dungeon crawl had us hooked, he cast sleep on the dragon in the final room. When it was bloodied it tried to flee and my range twin striked it hitting once and missing once by just two. The dragon fled with only my missed arrow sparing its life.
We quickly put together a new group, some of our previous group made the switch and others didn’t. My brother DM’ed for the first six levels of that campaign and then handed over the reins when he got dispatched to Iraq. Since then I have been running the gaming group. The first campaign started at 6th level and continued on until 30th. We just rapped up a campaign thru 20th and our starting a new one now.
So this is my unleveled DM back-story. All this leads up to where we are today. I recently read Strange Magic’s/The Action Point’s articles on GM Merit Badges. The real cause for this whole article. This lead me to wonder about the type of game my player’s expect at my table. In an effort at transparency here it is:
1. Let the dice fall where they may - I roll my attacks etc in the open, the software can hide ‘em but I don’t. I only hide my rolls or ask my player’s to roll “in the box” for things they shouldn’t know they succeeded at. Whatever number on the dice comes up, I let stand no fudging.
2. Run - If it looks big bad and terrifying, it very may well be. I don’t protect my player’s from the unknown. At any level my encounters contain everything from house cats to elder dragons. If you run into it you should be able to deal with it, out think it or out run it. Going out into the wild is what the brave do. If you’re not brave buy a tavern.
3. PC Death - I have never had a TPK, I have come damn close. One character, the ranger, hiding in the woods with a single hit point left while the goblins search the country side. If you make a tactically dumb move I will kill your character. Ask the thief who was trapped in a ships hold with a dart trap. The trap triggers on a failed check, if the PC takes a short rest and heals, no death. WoTC lowered the skill check DCs six months later. I lowered them a month later.
4. House ruling -I will house rule a broken rule, or change a mechanic if it will bring the player’s more fun or add to the story. I won’t house rule a combination because it trivializes a single encounter and I won’t house rule something to make the game more tedious. If it improves the entertainment of combat or the story absolutely, change the rule. Stunned and Dazed slow the game down, I use them for very Iconic monsters or not at all.
5. Challenges - My challenges are meant to not only threaten the Player Characters but invoke the minds of the Players. Puzzles use the PC’s talents but need to have the gray matter of the player involved. My Character sheets all contain the Do Something Cool power set.
6. Player vs. Player - If you are taking out your frustration about another player out in character seek medical or psychiatric help, we are playing a game after all. If your characters actually come down on opposite sides of an issue and there is no way in character to solve the dilemma, I will not force a player to capitulate. I don’t believe in the excuse but that’s what my character would do. However, I have seen two players make decisions in character that have led to cross-party conflict down the road. Example: One player, a paladin, promises to find a characters murderer, and another player, the rogue, swears a god oath to rescue an innocent man from being hung. The players at the time didn’t know it was the same guy. If it comes down to blows, so be it. If both individuals know out of character that its not personal. Let the dice fall where they may. That being said I don’t find the situation entertaining but I won’t hand wave it away either. I don’t use alignments.
7. Story - My story doesn’t matter. Your story does. My campaign is all about exploring your character, his/her/its weakness, strengths or values. If you come to bash heads you may not be as entertained as if you come with some idea of what you want to happen. Your characters goals drive the story. The more believable and heroic the goal, the more central to the story it becomes.
8. Mirror - I said it above, it's about its your story, I just fill in the mad libs. If you have a cool idea or a cool moment, I will take it and make it bigger and deeper and feed it back to you. So I guess I am a fun house mirror.
9. Improv - Nothing is set in stone. I will end conflicts early, never start them or turn a peaceful situation into a battle all on the attitudes and motivation of my NPCs. The adventure is a baseline. The city is interactive, the mission is abandon able, the quest a choice. The players choices make the story.
10. In Charge - I am in charge. If you know a rule I don’t, reminders are welcome. Debating the realities of the situation vs. the rules or my interpretation of the rules in game is a no-no. After the game I will listen to whatever evidence you can provide and make a ruling. Once, the ruling is made it will stand until new evidence is provided.
11. By the Book - If the rule exists and you can find it fast, amen. If not see above. I use the book to the letter unless I house rule it. House rules are announced at least a week before a game and put to a vote via the forums. Objections are raised and debated and a final group ruling posted. I am willing to change the situation as the story unfolds.
12. Maps - I make my own maps as time allows and plunder shamelessly. I always have access to thousands of maps and if push comes to shove will draw one on the fly for those spots that are marked here be dragons. If I have a map, I know what the challenging hindering, threatening terrain, single-use terrain, and hazards are. If not I have a chart for those maps I draw. The map is pretty colors so you can interact with it. If a map and description differ… the map wins.
13. Disturbing - I see mapped terrain in 3D. I see powers much in the same regard. When you behead that kobold with a critical hit. Bits of brain goo will fly up into your face, and blood will roll down his face. If you are eating or squeamish you better warn me. Before that warm bit of intestine spills out of your enemies gut and pools upon your brand new forest green elvish hunting boots.
14. Frightening - My bad guys are bad, they may have reasons and deluded justifications for why they are doing what they are doing, but they commit horrible acts that make my skin crawl. I want you to hate them. When I can pull it off ghosts and dungeons are creepy and full of the weird and fantastic.
15. Tactics - It’s a game, part of it is tactical combat, part of it is tactful negotiation either way the stakes are based on your ability to play your role in a group. Lone rangers tend to die. Groups that don’t work together lose characters. Groups that don’t think on their feat get eaten. Sometimes they get thrown up, most times not.
16. Drama - The dramatic element is your character living out his life. Its your choices and choices have impacts good and ill. Nothing happens in a pure vacuum and everything has unexpected results both good and bad. “In life I have failed more than I have succeeded but I love my wife and I love my life and I wish you my kind of success.”, Jerry McGuire. Stories are full of struggles and set-backs. You are never guaranteed victory, but you are guaranteed a climax.
17. Fate - You are fated to be a hero, so act like one. Get up when you get knocked down. Escape when you are captured. Die and have the love of your life fight the demon’s of hell to keep them from taking you. Heroic tales are not guarantees. Sometimes a hero doesn’t come home and we tell his tale any how.
18. Unknown - If it ain’t covered above then it can only be covered by saying “Don’t be a dick”, if you play nice with others, work together and have fun you will get no problems from me. If you are disruptive, rude, cruel, distracted, or down right no fun then I will tell you to hit the bricks. Everything else is a negotiation.