“Now I Am the Master”

I don’t remember the specifics of how I came to be a Dungeon Master for the first time.  I know we’d been playing Dungeons & Dragons for a while, so maybe it was a case where Ray, our usual DM, wanted to play.  Or maybe I’d found a module I thought was cool and wanted to run myself.  In any case, I distinctly recall Ray handing over his battered THACO wheel, so carefully punched out of an issue of Dragon and assembled with the greatest of care, in a solemn passing of the torch.  A great responsibility had come to me.  The details of that adventure have faded with time — I know there was a lizardman named Gyruga who somehow became a sort of unofficial mascot for us for years afterward — but the combination of anticipation and anxiety I felt when it came time for me to run that adventure has lasted to this day.

I didn’t DM — or GM, once we started playing games without dungeons — much after that.  I ran a stray session or two of the old West End Star Wars and Paranoia games, and I don’t think I was particularly bad at it.  But for the most part, I was content to throw all my effort into one character than trying to juggle several.  Besides, I was never one of those guys who seemed to have memorized every obscure rule and reference along with the book and page number it could be found on.  That always intimidated the hell out of me, and made me think that if I lacked that encyclopedic knowledge of whatever system I was running, I was doing it wrong.  So I stayed on the other side of the GM screen, letting someone else figure out what the number meant.

None of which explains why, come Wednesday I’ll be behind the screen running the new Star Wars game, Edge of the Empire.  It happened through a sort of general acclamation, I suppose;  I said I was buying the beta test version of the book, and it was assumed I’d be running it.  And while there was a little bit of trepidation at the start, sitting down the other night to help everyone create their characters eased it quite a bit.  For one thing, I’ve known these people for years.  They’re not the kind of gamers who would pounce on a GM every chance they got trying to wring every advantage out of the rules they could.  They’re in it to play, not to “win”.  And nearly half of them have GMed before, so they know what it’s like to be in my position.  It wouldn’t be like them to give me a hard time.

But the biggest moment of clarity, one that came over me while I was explaining the game’s dice mechanics, was that I’m not there to make sure everyone gets the rules exactly right and follows every table correctly and measures everything down to the last hex.  I’m there to help everyone tell a story and have a good time.  If a rule is giving us trouble, I’m just going to gloss over it in the way that best keeps things going.  If I have to ignore something I planned because a player wants to do something more interesting, I’ll just go with it; they’re sort of doing my work for me.  I don’t have to be the game all unto myself for it to be successful.

So I’ve been merrily planning what voices I’m going to use for which characters, making little cut-outs for the various personas that will show up in the game, and generally trying to instill everything with as much Star Wars flavor as possible.  I’m almost treating it more like an improv show than a role-playing game.  But I’m actually looking forward to something I once dreaded, so whatever works.


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