Building Character: First Time GM
For some fool reason, Dan has decided to hand over the reins of the Space-Biff! carriage to his pal Brock Poulsen, for a new feature they’re calling Building Character.
Hello all! Many of you (a few of you? My close friends and family?) may know me from the “Two Minds About…” series, where Dan and I
argue tend to agree about games, often with a look at the game from a solitaire perspective. Well, this… won’t be that.
I’d like to have this ongoing series focus on people new to tabletop RPGs, or who are interested in reading about the experiences of someone who is new to them. I myself am what you would call an RPG newbie. While I’ve experienced hours upon hours of RPG podcasts, envious of the amazing adventures in Faerun and Golarion, I haven’t actually played all that much.
But! Perhaps a year ago I decided to take the plunge, leveling up my already impressive nerd status to “D&D” rank. I played a session of Pathfinder at SaltCon, and I loved it. I was thrilled with the combat, but also by the freedom it gave me to explore and tell stories. I obtained the Pathfinder Beginner Box shortly after, deciding on Pathfinder for a few reasons:
- It has that catchy name!
- My brother is a huge dork! Oh, and he recommended it.
- It was my first taste, and now I’m chasing the imaginary dragon!
- Lots of (legally) free stuff!
- It looks nice!
I started with running games for my young son, who I’ll call by his character name Myron, because I want him to be a big nerd who loves math. I also think tabletop games in general, and RPGs in particular, are a great resource for building social and problem-solving skills. It’s been fascinating to watch how Myron and his friends approach problems, and they’ve impressed me more than once with clever solutions to obstacles. They’ve also been impulsive and hilarious because they’re seven-year-olds set loose in a magical world where they can do anything.
In one of Myron’s first games, back when I was a brand new GM, I had arranged for him to fight an orc and a giant spider. He had just returned from a goblin cave, where he had found an amulet.
As he approached the orc, Myron overheard him talking about an amulet. So instead of the fight I’d been planning on, Myron decided to return his found treasure and make a friend out of the orc. Suddenly I was coming up with backstory for this fellow, and inventing a reason for him to have a giant spider by his side.
Myron was totally unfazed by the snarling creature holding the mayor at axe-point. He just worried that he had found something that didn’t belong to him. Turns out, I decided, the orc was named Dreck, and the spider was his animal companion.
Whether they’re seven or thirty-seven, players will surprise you. Maybe they’ll befriend the boss, or maybe they’ll burn her whole keep to the ground. Maybe they’ll circumvent your carefully trapped hallway by creating a zipline, and it will be too awesome for you to say “no” to the idea, no matter how ridiculous.
The great thing about these surprises is that they will often be the most interesting and memorable parts of the game. Myron found an alternate approach, and wound up making an imaginary friend. Dreck the orc druid was a member of his party for quite a while after that, and Myron still wonders what he’s up to from time to time.
Imaginary friends? Yeah, we have those around here. We just give them backstories and their own imaginary friends. That’s how we do it.
Keep an eye out for more Building Character in the future. Next time around, a routine encounter with a pack of goblins goes strangely sideways!