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Storytelling

I started running live-action games in the early 90's. It was kind of new back then, and while the IFL had done games of various genres at science-fiction conventions (and some of them were cracking good, I might add!) the hobby didn't really take off until White Wolf put out Vampire: The Masquerade. Some people will tell you that it started when they published "Mind's Eye Theatre" but the fact is, I'd run several weekend events and had started (with three other folks) a long-running chronicle before the official live-action rules were ever published. That first game, originally called "Twilight Tenebrous" and eventually transmogrifying into "Darkest Before Dawn" due to some legal wranglings, went for six-and-a-half years.



In its hey-day, we got all sorts of people at the games; it was a new and sort of weird thing (with heavy skepticism from the usual jocks-and-cheerleaders quarters) that people from a lot of different quarters were interested in. Gamers and nerds were already on board, but actors and drama-club mavens got into it, goths found the "world of darkness" fascinating, and all sorts of people wandered in, willing to give it a try. We rented out one of the biggest nightclubs in Philadelphia on Saturday afternoons, and our games usually had more than 100 attendees. It was thrilling, really. I recall at one point looking around and realizing that we had at our game a local police detective, two strippers, a dominatrix, several scientists, a couple of lawyers, a reporter, an accountant, a librarian, a FOP lobbyist, a composer, and a primatologist. I mean, it was a weird crowd, but incredibly cool. Also about half female, too.

But years went by, and the bloom was off the rose. The core that stuck with it were either gamers, or people that had been converted to same due to repeated exposure. What was a novelty for goths, actors and attention-hounds eventually got to be a chore. That and a few changes of venue (but always to someplace pretty interesting) meant we lost a lot of players. By the time we were down to 40-odd regular players, attrition and the ST's basically being sick of each other took their toll; we called it a day. But I'm still a gamer, and have kept my hand in in various games ever since then. Almost inevitably, I ended up an ST out here in LA; and my enthusiasm has waxed and waned. The thing is, it's largely a thankless job. The reward I get is whatever I bring to it, in terms of enjoying laying the seeds of subtle plot, getting to play whacky or twisted NPC's, and having the bird's eye view of what all the other players are conniving about.

But it is wearying, man. The thing is, all that's left is gamers, and all of them are opinionated, and all of them are pretty sure they could do a better job being Storyteller - they just don't want to. (And some of them are right, and all of them have a valid point of view.) There are problem players and there are folks that are a joy to see in action; but none of them ever get around to saying thank you. But believe me, when they're upset about something, they're quick to let you know, quick to blame you, and quick to talk trash behind your back. At the end of the day, I'm not always sure it's worth it. Particularly when I took over as "head" storyteller in Los Angeles, there were some shakeups; a number of players that far preferred the style of the previous game-runners. Unfortunately, for some reason, gaming dissension is often taken very personally, and some of them got rather offended at the (modest) changes I made. I prefer a play-style that emphasized political intrigue, machinations and subtle plots; I'm not a fan of the ol' "10 O'Clock Monster", and i'm not big on games that are combat-centric. I'm also generally not afraid to say "no". At the same time, if there's one thing I've learned in almost 14 years of storytelling, (Jeebus!) it's that the game is for the players. There's nothing special about me that gives me insight into the game that someone else lacks - ST's are just players wearing a different hat. Heck, I've run so many games with so many rules-sets that I get confused as to which one is current, and end up looking things up in a book far more often than most people do. All I'm saying is, everyone shows up at the game to have fun, and while I might have a different idea of what's fun for me, that doesnt mean their take is invalid.

So, in addition to everything else, a Storyteller has to be a diplomat. On a good day, I can do that. On a bad day, I tend to just make a call, and don't want to hear arguments. The greatest challenges are when someone is being flat-out unreasonable, but won't take "no" for an answer - and also makes personal accusations against me based on the fact that I don't agree with them. I've lost a couple of friends that way, and it's really regrettable. And it's inescapable, too - it just flares up from time to time, and after 14 years, I'm probably less-equipped to deal with it then I used to be, because I'd far rather promote accord than discord now then when we started the whole thing. Back then, I was proud to be the one that said "no' and chased off the weirdos (and believe me, it did happen once or twice!) but now... shit man, I just want to have fun, and wish it didn't always devolve into so much real, interpersonal drama. (That kind of drama is bad. The other kind, the one where people's characters get caught up in melodramatic, overwrought angstiness? That kind is fun.)

I'm rambling now. Gamers are a neurotic lot on the whole, and I'm constantly learning better ways to make things go smoother without necessarily stepping on anyone's toes. But on the other hand, it's taken its toll; it's always easiest to just say "yes" and don't challenge anyone. And then when I do challenge folks, thus sparking my own interest - I can see the resentment in their eyes when I don't just let them "win". A game with a definite arc would be easiest; you could set up the conflict, then put characters through the ringer until they fought their way through to a resolution. Denoument, roll credits - voila, she is done. But with a chronicle type game, the set-up of conflict is constant, there isn't any permanent resolution, and anytime there's some obstacle to a player's machinations, they're usually half-convinced I'm just messing with them. And you know, some game-runners ARE like that, who's idea of a plot is, "Mess with character X, see what X does." And hey, there's a place for that too, in small doses.

And that's why it's a thankless job, I guess. When a game-runner is doing his or her job correctly, he's an obstacle and stumbling block to the players; who by nature are not inclined to thank him for doing same. So why, exactly, am I doing this again?

Comments

( 13 comments — Leave a comment )
blanchemains
Feb. 20th, 2008 08:59 pm (UTC)
"So why, exactly, am I doing this again?"

Peer Pressure?
thelastmehina
Feb. 20th, 2008 09:22 pm (UTC)
Is it bad that reading this made me want to check out the LA game again?

AS far as why you're doing this - if you're not having fun, stop. If the challenges and asshats aren't as bad as the return you get on being creative, don't stop. I've briefly considered becoming an ST off and on, but it's always the nerd-wrangling that has turned me off.
aghrivaine
Feb. 20th, 2008 09:25 pm (UTC)
The worst of the asshats (and they were the reason you stopped coming, too!) are gone. At this point it's all good people who occasionally have gripes. Just the nature of the beast, really.

I'm constantly amazed at the loyalty and dedication of people that come out to our game.
thelastmehina
Feb. 20th, 2008 09:29 pm (UTC)
I'll fiddle with my schedule, see what I can do.
aghrivaine
Feb. 20th, 2008 09:30 pm (UTC)
Similarly, i'm tempted to try out the LA Cam games, schedule-permitting.
thelastmehina
Feb. 20th, 2008 09:32 pm (UTC)
The main LA game is generally the 1st Saturday of the month.
nephandi
Feb. 20th, 2008 10:11 pm (UTC)
My experience is all tabletop, and considerably less than yours. But I'd have to echo <lj user="thelastmehina>'s comment that your fun has priority.
aghrivaine
Feb. 20th, 2008 10:13 pm (UTC)
It's not as easy as all that, frankly.
nephandi
Feb. 20th, 2008 10:22 pm (UTC)
Do tell.
nephandi
Feb. 20th, 2008 10:37 pm (UTC)
I mean, I don't want to come off as flip, but you did me a great service by reminding me about how attachments can lead to suffering, and that mindfulness can ease that suffering. I wonder if part of the problem rests in some feeling of obligation, maybe to the amount of time you've invested in the game already, maybe to the players, maybe to the memory of games past.
aghrivaine
Feb. 20th, 2008 10:39 pm (UTC)
I do feel obliged to keep at it, until such time as a suitable replacement comes up. Maybe that's pride on my part, maybe it's just being bothered about nothing; but I'll see it through.
passingfancy
Feb. 23rd, 2008 12:20 am (UTC)
Today as I was cleaning, I came across an old rules packet and my first character sheet for Twilight Tenebrous. It made me think of you, this post, and made me smile.
aghrivaine
Feb. 23rd, 2008 12:24 am (UTC)
I remember your first game! You were wearing green fatigue pants and a tight flowered shirt.
( 13 comments — Leave a comment )

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