Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Stepping to the Other Side of the Screen

Played my first game as a PC in Pathfinder yesterday!! I played Magmar Grunion a Dwarven priest of Torag, and the GM was nice enough to let me jump into the game. For those of you who don't know, I run the RPG club at the Junior High School where I teach, and recently turned over the reigns of one of our games to a student GM.

You may also not know that I have been struggling with whether to move to an edition I really feel is closer to my heart--in my case Swords & Wizardry--or whether I should seek some sort of balance between the way I would like to play and the games of this "new game" world. And by "new game world" I mean the gaming industry post 1999. There have been a lot of good things come into the gaming world in the last decade and a half, but we also have adopted some trends that don't harmonize well with my desires or my play style.

Recently, however, I began to think that maybe I wasn't seeing things from a balanced perspective. All my game analyses were from a GM's perspective--since I am always the GM. I hadn't played the game as a player in a long time. Was I even comprehending my player's opinions of the game? Thus was born Magmar, and my first chair on the other side of the screen in quite a while.

Now, to be fair, I don't want to jump to hasty conclusions--this was my first Pathfinder game as a player. But I have noticed a few things right off that answers some of my earlier concerns. For instance, I had experienced quite a bit of frustration with my players not working together, not thinking things through, acting rashly or just downright stupidly. I was able, without being too pushy I hope, to mitigate quite a bit of this much more easily on their side of the table--as a party member. This was a real eye opener to me. And if for no other reason than this, taking some time as a player will be well worth it. This way I can model good playing for them. They are after all rather young players and new to Pathfinder and RPGs in general.

I try and let them lead the way, playing a rather stoic but LG dwarf allows me to assume the role of the sort of wizened adviser who only jumps in when absolutely necessary. But don;t get me wrong--Magmar hates evil and won't hesitate to jump in the fray when he considers it the best choice. They have really enjoyed my roleplaying antics thus far.

As to the actual perspective of the players: my thoughts are very tentative at this point, but a few other things come to mind that bear on my current concerns.
  • There's a certain scary thrill in being a player. You don't know if you are going to live or die. As always, you are concerned you have the right spells, the right equipment, the right weapons. And anything that might help you survive is a plus. True, your wits are obviously most important, but better firepower is always a plus.
  • Creating a player that has lots of options clearly takes more time and constrains you in some ways. For instance Magmar worships Torag, and he took the Earth domain, but could have taken the artificer domain. I kind of had the idea of somehow blending the two, and make a dwarf that would eventually shape the earth into strange and beautiful shapes and designs instead of relying on just hammer and chisel. But technically the rules constrained me to choose one or the other. Sure sans these constraints I could have asked the GM about it and explained to him my ideas. But ultimately it is still up to him to decide if he will allow it and how it will work. In this way (with rules there for me) I can make the command decisions as regards the development of my PC. It puts the power with me--at least some of it. Of course I can still talk to the GM in Pathfinder about creating my own subdomains as well. The point here is the tradeoff between rule constraints in PC development, player control and ultimate imaginative freedom. It took me about 30 minutes to create my PC to my satisfaction.
  • Rules do foster a Gamist approach. Alot has been made of whether more modern, rules heavy games foster roleplay to one degree or another. And to me it is slightly more clear that I'm approaching the game clearly keeping in mind the rules that keep me alive. As a player I'm much more focused on how certain rules work or do not work in my favor than I was as GM. As GM I was mainly focused on creatively depicting the setting, playing monsters and managing hundreds of PC actions per hour. As a player my focus is more limited, and the rules are my friend. I must be aware of how they play out--otherwise I'm running blind. Now, as a GM this is fine--we like our players to be scared, and uncertain of how things are going to turn out. But players like known quantities. At least in the sense that the unknown is a lot less likely to be controllable. So I find myself looking to rules to play the game by, and hoping that if ends up being "up to the GM" that he hopefully decides in my favor. I'd rather rely on a rule than hope for a favorable GM decision.
  • Being a player is fun, and more relaxing than being GM. In fact I would be more comfortable playing in a game I didn't like than GMing one. Being GM is fun too, but it's a lot more work, is more tiring and potentially more frustrating. As a player I could sit back at times, I could listen and absorb and the GM described, and worked. I could focus on imagining the scene, on what my player should do, and on just having a good time with it. It was actually kind of nice.
Now, what all this means is uncertain to me. As I said I'm still absorbing it all. I want to play another couple of weeks at least before I decide that players really "need" (in the sense that it is better for players) more options. That, as a player, I would like play better with more options. But right now, my step from behind the GMs screen has been enlightening to say the least.
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