Lately, I have taken a brief break from RPGs to embrace the boardgaming side of my geek nature. Tonight I'm playing a full game of Arabian Nights; all week I've been playing Robinson Crusoe with just about anyone willing to try it (we won the first scenario without the dog on Wednesday! That's a pretty big deal, for those of you in the know. I'll explain it some other time).
Next weekend, however, I return to my table-top game of choice: the almighty role-playing game. I am jumping back in on the deep end, running a double-header. On Saturday, I'll be doing Star Trek: Deep Space Nine for a friend's birthday. Sunday, a friend has cashed in a favor I owe him, and so by request I'll be running Iron Kingdoms.
There are two kinds of interesting things going on here. First is the idea of me running an RPG for a reason beyond just wanting to play. The friends involved in both cases have been there for me in a tough time, and so I am highly motivated to make their requested gaming experiences happen, and happen well. In my wildest, most-awesome fantasies, I am a freelance gamemaster who makes a living hosting games for groups of people. I don't really subscribe to the concept of "dream jobs"; my belief is, if you're doing it for money, it's gotta suck, at least a little bit, in some kind of way. But professional, GM-for-hire? Yeah, that would be it for me. These two upcoming games are kind of like that. I'm not getting paid, but they are games that I'm running out of obligation rather than preference. Don't get me wrong; I am deeply looking forward to both games on their own merits. But the reason I'm watching old DS9 episodes and taking notes is not for fun. I'm on a mission.
That's the other little revelation here: I'm taking notes. I hate taking notes. I figure, if it's important, my memory's good enough to remember it. Besides, I never look at my notes when I do take them, anyway. But here I am, scribbling away again like I used to in Mrs. Maki's 6th grade science class. Hell, I'm even doing it the old fashioned way, with a pencil and a steno notebook, like a reporter or something. And you know what? It's really, really helpful. See, the thing I didn't think about when I thought about taking notes is, it's not always about memory. It's about comprehension. Even if I never look at those notes, the physical act of making myself write down the key ideas in every paragraph I read is helping me remember stuff and connect dots better than I've ever done before.
This is especially the case with Iron Kingdoms. Iron Kingdoms is a steampunk RPG with a vast, sophisticated world history, full of barbarians, rising and falling empires, and various religions sprouting up and warring with each other. The history of this world has been meticulously crafted. Normally, I'd either skim this section and get to the rules, or skip it all together, but this time, for my friend, in the name of putting on a good show, I am DEEP reading every page of this book, starting with the history. And I'm taking notes. The illumination I'm getting from doing so is, well...illuminating. Adventure ideas are practically falling off the pages, like subscription cards from a doomed magazine. Little historical details I can use to spice up narratives are filling my brain. I am determined to put on a hell of a show when I run this thing. And I'm quite certain that I'll succeed.
So, yeah, notes are cool. I'm sure any of you out there of an academic or journalistic background are like "duh!", but it's a new thing to me, okay? Now I want to reread all of my other RPGs with a pencil in hand and see what else falls off the pages...