What was the first role playing game I Gamemastered for anyone? This may seem like a simple answer at first. After all, the first game you Gamemaster is the first one where you serve as the individual "running" the game right? I'm not sure that is true. Whether or not someone has actually "Gamemastered" a game depends upon what one means by Gamemastered.
- Does it mean the person who hosted the game, refereed the rules, read box text, and took on the role of NPCs an monsters?
- Does it mean the person who facilitated an entertaining narrative experience that included the above listed hosting and refereeing?
- Does it mean someone who has achieved what Gary Gygax called Gaming Mastery?
If I use the first category of Gamemastery, then there are two games that vie for my first game. I co-Gamemastered Moldvay Basic with my friend Sean. I mentioned in the first post in this series that Sean and I had done a mash up of Broadsides and Boarding Parties and Moldvay Basic, but that's not the game we co-Gamemastered. The mash up of B&BP/D&D was a 2 player competitive game with campaign rules. The first game that we worked together to run for each other was the famous module Keep on the Borderlands. Neither one of us had read the module cover to cover before deciding to adventure in the Keep and its environs, so our first adventure is best named "The Great Siege of Castellan Keep and Sacking of the Caves of Chaos." Sean and I rolled up a number of characters, probably around 10 each. My characters had names that ranged from Darg to Jamis Kelton depending on how "balanced" the stats of the character were. The aforementioned Darg had an 18 Strength in Moldvay Basic no less, but had very little else to offer statistically and thus had a name worthy of his intellectual capacity. Sean and I took those rolled up characters and began the siege of the Keep. We weren't fools. We had our characters attack at night and had the Thieves climb the walls to eliminate the guards before they could raise the alarm, but if I am to be completely honest our efforts to have life at the Keep "dynamic" were minimal and the mayhem we caused from one building to the next were largely unnoticed by neighbors. Unbelievably so. After slaying all within our path in the Keep, and taking their sweet loots, we headed out into the wilderness and the caves.
I'm quite surprised it never occurred to us that the city might be there as a place of rest and basecamp, but it didn't occur to me until a month or so later.
Still using the first category of Gamemastery, but making it a case where I am the sole person running a game for others, my first foray as Dungeonmaster was running an all night session of AD&D for some friends at a sleepover. The module we played that night was...the Monster Manual. I'm sure there was some bizarre thread that I attempted to maintain to have the evening make any kind of sense. For example, I'm sure the adventure started in a Tavern. After that though, things get fuzzy. From what I remember, the players essentially got into a series of fights wherein monsters teleported in a random or the PCs instantly transported to the monster's location to engage in life and death struggle. The battles started small with a couple of kobolds or goblins - treasure was rolled from the tables in the back of the book - but by morning time the players were taking their high level warriors and wizards to the 1st level of Hell to combat Tiamat. They won. It seemed exciting at the time, but in memory seems both ridiculous and dull. I am actually embarrassed to share the story...except for the fact that the idea of a band of adventurers riding Apparatuses of Kwalish and toting Portable Fortresses of Dearn while wielding Holy Avengers, Staves of the Magi, and the Sword of Kas as they venture into the 1st layer of Hell to kill Tiamat still sounds a bit awesome to me in a perverse way.
It wasn't the kind of play that would have engendered long term stories and fostered friendship though. To get to that kind of Gamemastering, I have to shift over to the second category above. And when it comes to fulfilling the entertaining narrative experience definition of Gamemastering, then I'd have to say that DC Heroes was the first game I ever truly Gamemastered. By the time I ran that game, I had played in campaigns run by several excellent GMs. My friend Sean was the first of these as his running of Ravenloft stressed the importance of setting the stage, my friend Rob who ran excellent Villains and Vigilantes and Basic D&D adventures, Ron who's sense of adventure and pace were extraordinary, Matt for infusing character, Roger for downplaying the role of dice, and several Champions groups who "role" played more than roll played. With experience as a player, and with the knowledge of several systems, I ran a couple of DC Heroes campaigns. Prior to my current group, they were the best time I had ever had playing an rpg. My players immersed themselves in their characters. The rules were loose enough to allow almost anything to occur, and I think I was able to construct some entertaining banter between the players and the NPCs.
Of course in that description of my journey there was that bit about knowledge of several systems, and that is what Gygax talks about in his two books on Gaming Mastery. So maybe it takes a bit of Gaming Mastery...and a willingness to make a fool out of yourself while making funny voices...that really makes a good Gamemaster.