My terrible GMing/Swimming metaphor

So GMing is swimming except I didn’t really learn from a book,  I learned from friends, from seeing which ways of swimming make the table react in positive ways. During these years of swimming, certain muscles became strong. These muscles might have been developed because of the people you gamed with, or your own natural inclinations concerning creativity and stories.

Then a game comes along, maybe Dogs in the Vineyard or Sorcerer or Burning Wheel or Apocalypse World or D&D 4E or whatever. And when you run this game, whatever it is, and you use those techniques from your hardened years of GMing/swimming, it doesn’t quite work. Shit, you might even think that your way of swimming is right and others are wrong. Maybe you saw someone swim the other way once and it nearly drowned your friends. Whatever it is.

You play Dogs and try to hide the town.

You play Burning Wheel and make up an adventure before seeing anyone’s Beliefs or linking those Beliefs to your adventure ideas.

You play D&D 4E looking for a character driven drama.

Everytime I play a FATE game I bump my head against Aspects, trying to treat them like Beliefs and challenging them without ever using the other FATE-given compels to set them off and burn up some fate points.

I spent a while when I first got Dust Devils beating my head against the convention wisdom, as I knew it, about gaming. Even after playing is successfully several times, when I was going to introduce my dad to gaming, I thought he would never be able to deal with the narration rights as written in the game. I wasn’t worrying about my dad; I was worrying about myself. The game took my out of my comfort zone and I was chaffing against that.

Its a familiar story, I reckon. I used to read RPG texts with a mind towards what it was that I wanted to throw away and inevitably, what I threw away were things that did not play to my currently bulked up muscle groups, my GMing comfort zone. Now I read RPG texts with a mind towards how the mechanics are going to help me and my friends have a fun night. I know that the load is on us. I know that if someone acts like a total dick, no text will help me.

If I go outside that zone of comfort, if I am a little bit nervous before the game, that can be a good thing. It can mean we are doing something different, we aren’t re-hashing the same game experience, seeking out some mythical night when everything clicked.

If I have to create something and put out an effort (Dogs’ Town creation, Humanity defining in Sorcerer, Monster Burning in BW, etc.) that is fun and fine but don’t make me stop swimming in order to take out a hammer and knock stones out of the river, don’t make me get the game out of our way in order to play the game. I don’t want to have to put out the effort we used to exert when we played D&D 2E or Ars Magica 3rd and 4th.

I want my game texts to be the water’s flow. I still want to swim and put out an effort, even a hard effort but I want to swim with the game and not have to fight the damned current.

(yes, inspired by this SG thread)

3 thoughts on “My terrible GMing/Swimming metaphor

  1. Ha, I do this a bunch. Swim against the game because of old instincts. Not so much these days, but I remember when I ran my first Sorcerer game and used GM fiat rather than rolling the dice in situations where I wanted to see a particular outcome. Bob will never let me forget that one.

  2. I think that same analogy can be drawn for playing. After we know how to do it – we swim/play in a way that gets approval of people who are swimming/playing along with us, because those people shown us how to.

    I used to do that a lot in my younger gaming years – swim in a certain way to get my older friends approval. (older in that time equaled in my mind to wiser, more experienced or simply cooler).

    It was hard for me to drop those habits and learn how to play to enjoy the game and story we create together. It was like learning how to walk again.

  3. It is an interesting notion Judd. I think it depends on the GM skills you learned and how you played games, even older games. I have always been an improv guy when it comes to running games. At the most I would conceive and idea or a situation and run from there, playing off what the players brought to the table. I think that is why the transition was pretty easy for me.

    Plus I’m a damn good swimmer.

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