Becoming God: An RPG noob now GM

If I was to recall one regret in life, one of them would be not getting involved in RPGs earlier. I’ve played RPG video games like Skyrim, and The Witcher, to name a couple, but the RPG style of pen and paper, or even with miniatures was an unexplored realm to me; even when I started playing tabletop wargaming, it was still something other people did – not me. I think I was worried, that would inevitably be playing with a group that always included “that guy” – the person who would literally believe they are a wizard and criticise me because I wasn’t embracing my character properly or because I was making an action that wasn’t optimal to the meta…or some shit. This was until a couple of years ago, when my best mate said that he, his partner and a couple of their friends had played a game of Dungeons and Dragons, and asked if I’d like to join too. I said yes, simply because I thought if my mate is enjoying it (who has never been much of a role-player himself), then, at the lest, I’ll have a laugh with him anyway. His partner has organised a house party, but which had turned into an evening long DnD session… and you know what – I love it! I was playing a socially awkward Dwarve with poor social etiquette (suited me perfectly), who happened to fart every time things got awkward or stressful. I was also a healer for the party. It was brilliant fun, very laid back, and far easier for me to imagine my Dwarve and engage with him as a character than I ever thought it would.

Skip ahead to now, and I have been involved in a nice little range of DnD games now; currently, I’m nearing the end of a The Lord of the Rings RPG campaign as a Rider of Rohan (mostly me riding around shouting DEATH!), will soon be starting a Warhammer 40,000 campaign as a Dark Angel (the best chapter), and the GM for a fortnightly session within the Witcher universe.

This wanting to be a GM was out of a love for the Witcher universe (book, games, an TV show), and that my friends were also wanting to do some more RPGs – especially over the wonderful time of Lockdown. This is why I wanted to write this blog, in case there are other like me out there, thinking of running a campaign or episodic games, but still unsure about it. I can confidently say that its not as scary as I thought it would be, and, actually, I’m loving it more than I thought – and I already knew I would enjoy it! With lockdown still in effect, too, I’ve found it a great way to immerse yourself in the escapism even outside of the sessions. Having to keep planning ahead, developing the story lines, characters, events, opponents, everything – it helps keep the escapism going – and a very rewarding feeling when people are having fun (even if they’re getting brutally attacked), and looking forward to the next session because of you and your effort.

To give you some context to my party and their current happenings: we have finished our third session and, surprisingly (which I’ll explain a bit further down), they haven’t actually embarked on anything relating to their ‘main’ quest yet. As I said, the RPG is set in the Witcher Universe – which I always wanted to do ever since discover The Witcher: The Role Playing Game – a collaborative product from CD Project Red, and R Talsorian Games. It’s very heavily based on the videogames with the general setting between the events of Witcher 2 and 3, but certainly not limited to this. My players consist of an Elven Bard, and Elven (wo)men-at-arms, a Dwarven medic, a Skellige craftsmen (he joined in the second session), and finally a Witcher from the Griffon school (you may recognise her if you’ve read a previous blog about a Witcher). The party started in Vezima, and after some awkward introductions in the form of a bar fight, Vezima is attacked by Nilfgard and the part must flee into the Northern swamps. Here the encountered a scoitel camp and agreed a trade of helping their injured warriors for a trip across the river on their chain-ferry. All was going fine, but then a refugee mother and child stumbled upon the camp. The leader of the camp was going to kill them both, but, after the mother had already died, the Witcher grabbed the child and headed toward the ferry. At this exact moment, Tabib, the Dwarven medic, decided to try and sneak towards some weapons; he completely fumbled, knocked into one of the elven sentries and combat ensured. In the first session, the party almost died. In the second session, the party make it on the ferry but are attacked by drowners in which two of the party take deadly critical wounds and currently have bleeding hearts. But, because they now have a small child with them, my priority became figuring out a way to remove the child so the party can start the campaign as I intended. If you aren’t familiar with the Witcher, then believe me – it is no place for a child.

As surprising as this was (and slightly annoying as it meant I couldn’t begin this grand campaign that I had been planning), this was also great as it made me properly realise that the party will indeed do things I won’t foresee – and that’s so liberating as I can try and plan out the history of the land as it’s supposed to be played, but it’s very likely it won’t happen the way I intend – and I love that as it means my players are thinking for themselves, are engaging with the situation and choices, and not simply following a linear path because it’s easier and what the Gm had planned anyway. The child being part of the party now had me produce a whole side quest with new characters and town, while still incorporating it into my overall arching plan; The party were going to have the chance to travel to a town regardless, as two of them were on deaths door, and they all looked like they could do with a nice rest.

Jump ahead to the end of our 4th session, has the party uncover a pretty gruesome fate that has befallen the daughter of the ruling family of the town the party are resting in, and the shock that the body had been eaten by pigs, but resulted in a Noonwraith due to the horrible death of the daughter on the eve of her wedding. This was where I ended the session so the party look forward to facing a very angry and very dangerous wraith. Getting to this point involved the party happening to investigate the mystery in the way that I most intended, but it again brought home that, as a GM, it’s impossible to plan for every contingency or thought process that the party will have. Personally, I’m quite happy with my ad hoc murder mystery, and I left clues in the forms of notes; what I didn’t expect is the party to immediate question the style of the handwriting and start a series questions based on literacy of the population. I’ve learnt that trying to plan a story in terms of plot may not work, but rather to plan a story as a series of events that led from one thing to another, and how the party uncover the separate events that link together is up to them – to apply my historian brain, a more post-processualism approach rather than narrative – events happening as a result of processes, rather than History being some overall narrative planned from beginning to end. That’s not to say that the party uncovered everything on their own, and once approaching the big reveal of the Noonwraith, I did need to try and help the party by vague guides; to uncover what really happened the party needed to investigate the pig field and I had to spontaneously place a blood trail that the witcher managed to spot leading to the pig field, thus encouraging exploration there. Some might say that this was because I didn’t place enough hints or trails leading to the pig farm, but I would argue that only needing to add slight guidance meant that the mystery wasn’t too difficult, while still encouraging contemplation and party discussions. I also left a big clue as to the general type of monster in the form of a trace of it on a corpse the party could investigate, but only if one of them achieved an excellent awareness roll – which, naturally (pun intended), one of them did!

Anyway, I you found my initial thoughts of being a new GM entertaining and interesting. My aim, like many I’m sure, is to make the game challenging but still keeping enjoyment and fun as my top priority. The Witcher The Role Playing Game is an excellent game for it grim dark fantasy of the games and books so well translated into an RPG game, and its game mechanics, combats, and huge variety of different monsters and opponents, meant that in itself it offers a challenging experience, even if one becomes a witcher. For any aspiring GMs, I hope this also helps gives some insight into what it’s like and if you’re sitting on the Pontar, wondering which side to sail (bit of lore humour there), then I say go for it and get that campaign set up! You won’t regret it! And if you do decide to run a Witcher campaign, then you and your party remember – no witcher ever died in his bed!

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