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(TFT) I knew this guy

I knew this guy

Four players with me as the DM. One of the guys is pestering me to run AD&D. None of them have ever heard of TFT and we dont have any books availiable, so I figure 'what the heck.' He is suggesting for a week that I run. He really wants to play, and the other guys have played AD&D a couple of times before. First I run a very efficient character generation session. Everyone is able to roll up a character, choose a class, and buy starting equipment in an hour flat. This has got to be some kind of record for AD&D. 'This is going well,' I think. Everyone's attention is focused. The suspension of disbelief is starting to creep into the air. The players have given their characters interesting names. So we start. The problem comes with the first encounter. Now I have to admit that I haven't run AD&D in a long time. So my memory of some of the spells and monsters is a little fuzzy. Memory of the combat system is hazier than that. They encounter a couple of bugbears and start a fight. We are no more than two or three turns into the fight when this guy, the one who practially begged me to run, says 'That is not right. You're doing it all wrong.' I can feel the sparkle of imagination evaporate from the room. Suspension of disbelief has left the building. I'm not sure what I'm doing wrong. Or more accurately, what I am doing that is different from how his DM used to do it. 'How should it go?' I ask. Apparently he takes this as a challenge. A dark cloud settles in the room as he challenges me on seven different points. A whole litany of mistakes. I don't remember any of the specifics now, it doesn't really matter, most of them were differences in style. 'I see. Why don't you run?' Now I'm planning on making a character real quick, and getting the game going again. But, it turns out that he takes this as a challenge too. 'I will.' He says, and he litterally snatches the Monster Manual from my hands. Then he calls everyone else from the couches over to the kitchen table. Over to the kitchen table with only four chairs. I just kind of sit there on the couch and listen as the game goes on for about a half hour. I get the distinct feeling that he does not want me to come join in the game. Very strange. Kind of insulting, but I push that feeling aside and try to be objective about it. I'll just listen. I chill on the couch and keep both ears open. Maybe I can pick up some new descriptions, or even hear players having fun. But one by one the other players start making thin excuses and dropping out of the game. An hour and a half into it, the game is over. I have just witnessed a complete disaster of a game. The subject of role playing is never mentioned by any of them again.

Years later one of the players in my regular group decides he wants to GM. His name is Merlin Schweitzer, and he is one of the quite players that doesn't say much during the games, but he's really hot to run all of a sudden. First he runs a Runequest game. He really likes Runequest. But he doesn't know the game that well. Unfortunately several of the other players knew everything about Runequest. The 'profesional' Runequest players shatter his confidence and destroy his campaign in almost no time. So he regroups and makes a Traveler campaign. He really likes Star Treck and is just brimming over with ideas. But it turns out he's not quick with details on the technology. The players who are physics majors make soup out of his campaign in no time. I think one of the egg heads even laughed at him. Merlin is tough. He regroups, and makes a TFT campaign. I do a little PR work for him behind the scenes. 'Go easy on the guy.' 'Give him a chance.' 'Let him get the story going.' I say things like this in private to each one before the session. It doesn't help. The characters anhiliate every monster he throws at them, and take little to no damage themselves. His tactics are easily exploited. After two hours of this one can see that he is getting discouraged. But he calls a short break and writes up a new encounter. He calls us back to the table and has us set up in the middle of the board. He then proceeds to get every single miniature in the house and surrounds us with them. It's incredible. Every single miniature painted or unpainted. Our characters are surrounded by this sea of one hundred and twenty undead. He has really got our attention now. There are eight players. Two wizards, polearms, and some high DX guys. We begin beating them. Some of us take damage. But we keep surviving. Row after row fall. The rotting bodies of undead are pilling up around us. We run out of fatigue, healing potions, arrows, and even break one of the polearms. But we keep surviving. We hold out to the very end and slay the last zombie. We only took one casualty. We had a blast.

Later Merlin pulls me aside. He doesn't want to run TFT again. He tells me he's always had a soft spot for AD&D and he wants to run, but he only wants one player; me. So I roll up a character and let him DM me for weeks. We had about ten sessions, before he gets discouraged and stops. I may not know much about AD&D, but apparenty I remember a lot more than he does. I'm begining to realize I'm just as bad as other players when it comes to out witting the DM. It's at the end of the last session and he's telling me about the frustrated feeling he's getting trying to DM any game. It is then that I realize what I should have learned from that disasterous AD&D game I tried to run all those years ago. A DM/GM should know the game at least as well as the player, if not better. Ideally they should know it a LOT better. I tell him this. Further, I tell him it seems to me in the early days of D&D the DMs were very secretive with their campaigns*. And nobody really knew the game that well anyway. So it was easier to start out as a DM back then. Now in days everyone has read all the modules, and fought all the monsters, so its harder. I recomended that he go to the game shop and get a system that no one else has run. Learn it and then run me on that. Which he did. He bought an obscure game called 'Beyond The Supernatural.' Spent some time runing solo fights, and built up some ghastly scenarios. It turns out he is a horror GM, and a fair one at that. Who knew.

Here it is years later and I'm reflecting on all this. If I had to do it all over again I think I would have given him different advice. I mean he GM'ed for quite a while, and his games went well. But he doesn't GM any more, and he hasn't in years. I don't think I really got to the crux of the matter. I don't think I really addressed what happens when players try to eat their GM. In the second to last paragraph of the section above there is an asterix. I feel that sentence touches on the reall issue. My memory of the dawn of role playing is one of DM's who guarded their 'secret campaign' notebook with their life. No one could touch it, let alone look at it. It gave an aura of authority to person when they would consult their binder, even make notes in it, but no one knew what they were doing or what it said. Detailed notes add a layer of authority and keeps players guessing. I realize now that in the disasterous AD&D game I tried to run I didn't have any campaign notes. In fact the very books I was using belonged to the guy who had asked me to run.

    David Michael Grouchy II

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