Toronto Zoo

The Game Master

I think I’ve already mentioned role playing games a few times in passing, but I don’t think I’ve ever written about them seriously, probably because I haven’t been very much involved in them myself. They were mostly my eldest son’s thing. I just played along when he needed someone to fill in for a friend or something.

In fact, although I was very much into collectible card games as a kid, and many of the people I knew through that community also played role playing games, I never got involved with them even then. My parents didn’t exactly forbid them, but there was still some stigma about role playing games being connected with devil worship and suicide, and it just wasn’t worth the grief I knew I’d take from them if I started playing.

Just recently, however, my eldest and his friends all kicked in a few dollars to buy a new role playing game, one that plays a little differently, with the emphasis being on keeping a balanced character and on finding ways to help each other to survive. You play as little warrior mice who have to use their wits and skill to avoid being eaten by all the creatures who find mice tasty (so, so many of them). It looked pretty fun.

My son and his friends all wanted to play the game, but none of them wanted to be the Game Master, or GM, the one who creates the story and leads the players through it. They were too excited to make their characters and see how the game played to take the first turn being the story teller.

So they pestered me into it.

Now, for those of you who are completely unfamiliar with role playing games, the role of GM is no small undertaking. You need to be familiar with the whole rule book (which are sometimes quite big, quite detailed, and quite complicated). You need to develop a story that the players will find interesting, not so simple that they can see what’s coming, not so complicated that they lose track of what’s happening. The plot needs to be structured enough that you get the players through the story, but flexible enough to account for the decisions that the players make, and for the fact that they’ll sometimes fail. The game needs to be challenging enough that the players don’t just sail through it, but not so hard that their characters all die at the first obstacle.

It’s not easy.

And it was my first time.

And, truthfully, I was pretty nervous.

But, man, was it a lot of fun. The kids were willing to get into character and really play up the story. They pushed the story in directions that I completely didn’t expect, but were happy to run with the improvised bits that I came up with on the fly.

The supper got a little burnt because we got distracted by a debate about how and whether to tame a toad as a mount. I was late picking up the rental car because they took so long deciding among each other who should get the bonus point for playing most in character. And I got no work done at all from the time the kids got home from school until the left for youth group at 8 p.m.

But it was a really fun time that involved kids actually sitting around a table together, no screen in sight. And I’m happy to say that we’ll be playing again next week.