Rum, Sodomy, and the Lash: Pick Two (aghrivaine) wrote,
Rum, Sodomy, and the Lash: Pick Two
aghrivaine

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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?

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