RPGaDay2017 Day 7: What was your most impactful RPG session?
I have decided a week late to join this conversation. Life being so busy with family stuff, kids stuff, personal gaming and convention planning, I totally missed this the first week, despite the fact that two friends – Shane Runkle and Ron Blessing – have started doing this. After looking into this, I decided to try it out.
What was your most impactful RPG session?
There have been so many sessions, so many games in my 30+ years of gaming. Personal games, convention games, and more. I have been lucky to have some great gaming groups from high school through college. I have had some great one-shots as well as conventions. Impactful to me can go two ways – positive and negative. I have had both, to be honest. Both have shaped me in my GM style as well as a person. It may be sad to say that I have used RPGs to connect with friends more than any other social outlet but it is who I am and I embrace it.
A positively impactful session to me is the kind of session that the players talk about for hours afterwards. It is the session you can automatically tell the group had a great time with. I can think of three most remember sessions in my gaming life that impacted me and had the players talking for days.
The first was when I was in high school and playing Powers & Perils with John Taylor and one of my first real gaming groups. I had not invested a ton into this group, the game or the character until this day. I think I can count this day as the day I felt really invested in the story and the game. The details are fuzzy as it was the 80s but I remember the party working together to defend a castle against an onslaught of elves coming at us. We set up booby traps and other tactics to successfully defend the castle. It was quite fun. For the first time, I felt I contributed to the game. It had little to do with the character I was playing and mostly to do with me getting into it and feeling like I was part of the story. I began to really appreciate the experience after that day.
Second equally impactful was in college where we were playing Star Frontiers and I was the GM. I totally improvised a session where the players stumbled across an old Terran base. It basically turned into a Mario-brothers style dungeon crawl through the ruins of a secret based containing something important to the plot. I felt rather inspired that day. I think this is the day I realized my ability to improvise could on occasion carry a game. I did later come to a realization that not every session could be improvised and some planning was needed but this one was one of my best improvisational games.
Thirdly was when the players surprised the heck out of me. It was playing in a Shatterzone campaign and I supposed I had set myself up for this. I gave them all the means to do it. A planet rich in a valuable crystal. A alien war ship with planet busting guns. All it needed was the innovative thought to and me asking “What do you do before you leave the system?” PLAYERS: “We blow up the planet and take the crystal.” GM: “I’m sorry, what?” Well, the rest was history. This was during a period of time that I strived to get that “Oh sh*t” moment in all my sessions, and this time, the players played one on me. I really learned to enjoy those moments more because the players are giving back and contributing to the story.
I realize that #RPGaDay is intended to be a positive conversation but I can’t think of impactful games without thinking of the one day, one of my players drove all the way to our play location (at that time was a college campus) to hand me his character sheet and tell me he was dropping out because he felt people were accusing him of cheating. This was during what I commonly call my magnum opus of GMing – running the Darkstryder campaign of Star Wars d6. In this game, players play 3 to 4 characters and I had 6 to 8 players each session. It lasted something like 3 years. but we got through it. It had is great days and it had is no-so-great days and this was one of them.
John has amazing luck with dice and we all thought it was crazy. But I never thought he was cheating. But some players felt his luck was taking away from the game. On top of this, the campaign itself was not always conducive to party unity, which some expected to have. Intrigue between players was higher than any game I have ever played, which boiled over personally between some players. I had a hard time convincing these guys to not take it personally and it is all about the story we are forming together. It came to a peak when John handed me his character and I realized that I needed to ease off some of the intrigue and someone bring everyone together again. I talked both sides down in this situation and thankfully, John stayed on. Meanwhile, others did quit because it was too much for them to handle but for the most part, we made it through the campaign intact.
This was positive however because it made me realize that I was sacrificing the players collective enjoyment for story. The epicness of the campaign was overshadowing the individual players despite all my efforts to keep everyone involved. I think it helped me grow and mature as a GM. The fact that we both through it shows things changed for the better. We never truly reached the breaking point but I know I lived on the edge for a little while there. It was truly epic!
Impactful sessions are different from one GM to another, one player to another. I think my core group for 22 years would have remembered different sessions than I would have. We all had fun and formed great stories together though. I am thankful for that.