Game the Game: “Hi, my name is Barak, and I am closet player/ director”

“I have always considered RPG Design to be a conversation, where someone does something, then someone else takes those ideas and develops them further, and then someone ELSE takes them further still.” Jeff Grubb*, via Facebook

Somewhere, out there, in multiple places, there are categories of players. Folks refer to these categorizations: “I am a ____ with some aspects of ____,” as if these were psychological tests. In my travels, I have not come across GM categorizations that are as widely used and accepted.

Wah wah wah… No, this isn’t an article complaining about how difficult the life of the GM is, and how they put in so much work, although those things are all true.

How the GM spends an inordinate amount of time away from the game thinking about the game: plotting, scheming, statting… No, this is not one of those articles.

I got into the business of GMing long ago because I was a frustrated player. At heart, I am a player. I want to roll dice, tell cool stories, outwit the GM (that dude’s a jerk!), save the princess, rule the kingdom, and look cool doing it.

I could go into a long-winded explanation about all sorts of stuff. But, instead, I have so many other things to say, that will seem to not make sense.

Tangent 1 (if you will accept that the above material was at all related, if you do not accept that, then likely this is tangent number 3? 4?): Sometimes, I think of a list, something potentially worthy of sharing on my Friendster page. Something to directly share with select folks who will appreciate my list and have lists of their own to contribute.

Best Pizza in NYC- Susan.

Favorite Superhero Costumes- Mike, Ellie.

Most Overlooked, Oscar™ Worthy Performances- Jen F, Susan, Jeremy.

So, when I work on these lists, I start jotting stuff down on a post-it or index card. My desk is covered with them.

So, this list I was thinking of, is applicable here (just stay with me):

My Favorite Scenes in Movies. Scenes that gave me the chills, scenes that stuck with me. Lines I remember. Emotional moments.

Boogie Nights– The scene in the pickup truck. The music, the stuff happening with Roller Girl. I was asked recently what my single favorite movie is. This was my answer. This scene, every time.

The Road– Guy Pearce at the end. I thought about this movie and this scene in particular for months. I still do.

The Third Wheel– Yes, this is a not-very-good movie, and I can’t explain why, but the scene between Phil and Matt Damon’s, there is something about it.

Cars– When Lightning McQueen helps The King finish the race, I cry every time.

The Prestige– Borden’s promise to his daughter as he is about to be hanged.

Fred Claus– “There’s no naughty kids, Nick.”

When I run games, I like to have moments that resonate. I like to have Big Reveals.  I fancy myself a director in this regard.

Consider me Orson Welles or Warren Beatty, I would like to direct myself to Oscar glory!

But, most games don’t let the GM actively play, aside from controlling all the NPCs.

We started playing Monsterhearts at Modern Myths. We played one session for the MythSpoken podcast. The players wanted to play more, as did I. We played a second time, and will be playing again.

One of my frustrations is that I want to play! The Skins are cool. As a GM I am getting used to rolling no dice. Ever. Instead driving the plot by having bad things happen.

But, I will be honest, and for those wondering what the quote at the beginning has to do with anything, I am running the game the way I want.

The setup of how to create threats for the game, and all that never really clicked with me.

I /love/ the game design. But I am ignoring this. My NPCs have skins. They can do cool things. I want to use some of the skins. Screw it. RPG Design is a conversation. Joe Mcdaldno made an awesome game. My players all are eager to play, even though ¾ of theme initially did not want to play! The end of the second session has The Chosen in jail for the murder of the jerky son of a senator, who had attacked the Queen who is the Chosen’s enemy yet who he is attracted to and there are a whole bunch of other plot threads out there that I don’t want to share here, because sharing them would tip my hat to my players. It is a horror game.

My strategy as a GM is always to ask myself how can I make things worse, what is the worst thing I can do to my players. Additionally, I want my games to have moments (see my film list above). Granted, I cannot force a player to say “There are no naughty kids.” Can I have an NPC say it? Will it resonate? I try and integrate scenes and scenarios that will be memorable. The Chosen in the Monsterhearts game, it never crossed my mind he would end up in jail, but it ended up that way, because, well, it was the worst thing. Initially, I was just playing off the idea that although this character, the Queen, Paige, had been chosen by the player of the Chosen to be the  “someone who knows that you’re the Chosen one, and wants you dead. The MC gives them a name and two Strings on you.” But the player was also playing up the fact that his character was attracted to her. So, I thought, how fun would it be if she showed up, asking for his help, and maybe some comforting. I liked the idea of a love/ hate relationship taken to an extreme, of a conflicting agenda.

So, she has a Skin. She is the Queen. Am I treating her like a stolen car? No. I am treating her like a car I spent a lot of money on. She is my dream car. I don’t want anything to happen to her. And what about Jonas, the QB? He has a Skin too, though I can’t tell you what it is. He might be more like a stolen car, because, well, he’s kind of that way. I like flipping through the Skins behind my GM screen, playing off what is there to help me ramp things up!

I am also working towards some stuff. Big stuff. Dark stuff. I am planting bread crumbs, I hope it all comes together beautifully.

Other folks would scold me for the way I have interpreted the running of the Monsterhearts, but everyone at the table is having fun. Isn’t that what it is all about?

 *Jeff Grubb designed and wrote a bunch of cool stuff, but is probably best known for the Classic Marvel Role Playing Game.

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