On Saturday, I attempted to play a game of the Dragon Age RPG. I got maybe an hour into the adventure before I tapped out and called a boardgame audible.
What happened? It wasn't the game. Dragon Age, as you'll read in my Geek Native review, is an excellent RPG and the system seemed to be working very well in the short time that I used it. It wasn't the players, either. They were all sufficiently enthused, made their own characters, and were ready and willing to play. It was me.
I wrote before about how important comfort level is for a GM. An uncomfortable GM is a distracted GM, and a distracted GM usually doesn't run an adventure well, or at all, in my case. It doesn't matter how trite or idiosyncratic a GM's tastes are; it's all a part of that particular GM's style, and if those quirks aren't catered to, the game will suffer as a result. I'm not happy about this, but I accept it. It's far easier than trying to change. I'm not even sure if I can change, when it comes to this.
So what are my particular idiosyncries that, being ignored, led to my aborted game? They are as follows:
1. Tech at the table. Including my own, there were three laptops up and on at our four-person table. I know all too well the seductive allure of the internet, and I simply can't be comfortable knowing that my players may or may not be listening or caring about the adventure. I need all eyes on me! I don't mind the occasional glance at your phone, but computers and tablets are the line for me. I don't want to see them when it's game-time. I tried to be cool with it, though, because...
2. No hardcopy. Since the Dragon Age RPG isn't out in hardcopy yet, all I had was the pdf file. This was why I allowed the laptops; since there were no hardcopies of the book, I wanted several copies of the pdf open for quick reference. This proved to be a mistake, for reason 1, above. From now on, I simply will not play an RPG if I don't have a hardcopy of it at the table, whether I own it, someone else owns it, or if it's simply a printout of a pdf. Having tech at the table, as well as fumbling through a 400+ page file, just isn't good enough for my game.
3. Published adventure. I was running "Invisible Chains," the intro adventure in the back of the book. I read the adventure completely and didn't need to reference it much as we played, but I still felt uncomfortable trying to follow work I didn't create. I've struggled for years trying to allow myself to be comfortable running modules. It would make my GMing job SO much easier! Alas, I simply cannot do it. I'm drawn to GMing because of the creative process, its collaborative nature combined with the adjudication of a rules system. The creative side of my brain likes this controlled environment in which to create, and the logical side of my brain likes the rules system that adds strategy and unpredictability to the mix. Studying a published adventure instead of creating my own disturbs that balance, making me uncomfortable, and the game suffers as a result.
Again, I must stress that I'm not happy about these quirks of mine, and if I could change them, I would. But I can't. Or at least, it seems easier for me to live with them than to change them.