In Our Heads

Last night, we had the first of (hopefully) many meetings of our pen-and-paper role-playing group. For those unfamiliar to the concept, it involves two main parties – the Game Master and the poor, unwitting peons he subjects to his game. As you can tell, I am currently the Game Master (or GM for short) for our particular campaign. The GM devises a series of challenges for the other players to face. They do so by creating characters (each with a unique style of play and ability set) of a predetermined power level. As they overcome the various encounters put before them, the characters may level up and become more powerful. For now, our party is level 1. Despite the characters’ abilities not being very flashy or powerful, a great deal of fun was had by all.

I would call myself a relatively seasoned role-player, with a number of campaigns under my belt back home. However, this is my first campaign as GM, and it is a remarkably different experience. Whilst as a player, I wondered what lay behind the next dark, shadowy corner; what horror or inconveniently-placed and more-inconveniently-undetected trap lay in wait to spell our downfall. As a GM, I spent most of the time wondering how my players could next attempt to derail my campaign, and how to make sure they stayed on the desired path, or as close to it as I could possibly get.

For example, after they win their first encounter, my party met their first significant story character: a charming, homely halfling (think hobbit) lady who runs a shop in the local village. I had expected them to engage in polite conversation about compensation for their help. Instead, they attempted to rob her. From this point on, I became aware how wide the realm of possibilities for the campaign truly was. The players might decide to go on a complete tangent to the main story, exploring a dense wood slightly to the left of the metaphorical shiny castle gleaming with “LOOT HERE” signs I would like them to enter. And I thoroughly enjoy that possibility.

The most interesting happenings occurred when players used their abilities in ways I did not predict. One of my major combat encounters was made a great deal easier when one of the enemies was charmed to simply howl at the moon for the duration of the fight, despite his best friend being given an uncomfortable amount of projectiles shot in his direction. This forced me to think on my feet a number of times, resulting in impromptu, wonderfully spontaneous story development.

I cannot wait to see how the party will deal with what I will have for them in our next sessions. The creative escape of telling a tale of another world with nothing more than a few pieces of paper, pencils, and some bizarrely-shaped dice makes for a fabulous break for the routine of the work week, and engages all of our brains in ways that trying to keep children in their seats doesn’t quite do. They will give us all something to look forward to – a brief flight of fancy at the end of a hard week, slaying magical beasts of varying danger and absurdity. A great addition to our routine, and another way to preserve healthy levels of insanity.

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