Both sides of the gaming table are equally important in having fun in role playing games. With a weak GM, the game does not run smoothly and devolves into the players doing whatever they want, at best. With weak players, the GM is running a game for everything from wild and crazy kids to rules lawyers who micromanage the game for everyone else. Knowing how to play and how to run games makes it easier for both sides to play a well run game and have fun.
The first lesson I had to learn was to be open to letting the whole of the table design the story, which helps both as GM and player. As a writer, I frequently have ideas of how I want to run things or how I want the story to end. However, while RPGs are a game (it’s in the acronym, after all), they are also at heart collaborative storytelling. While it’s important to have your ideas and to tell the story you want to tell, there’s other people at the table adding to the story and to the world. It’s important to let them tell the story too and to not hog the spotlight. In my first D&D games there were times I was nearly running over the GM with how I wanted role playing scenes to go. He never had issues with that because most of the people he has played with focused more on combat than role playing, so I presented a new challenge. The more we played and the more I heard APs online, though, the more I realized it needed to be a more level playing field. When he was moving the story in different directions than I wanted, I needed the willingness to trust in the GM that these stories will work out. I gave him that trust, and he has rewarded me with a lot of fun at the table.
Another lesson is in reading people at the table. Because you’re in a setting where you’re playing with people for hours at a time, you need to get to know who you play with and get a sense of who they are. In one game I’ve been worrying that I’m not engaging a player as much because he doesn’t speak as much or act as much as the other players. However, after playing the campaign for awhile, I realized that the mood was more related to how he was role playing the character at the table, and that he has been enjoying the game and having fun. Being able to tell when to push people and when to lay off is helpful; similarly, knowing when you’re focusing too much on one person is also important. Sometimes there are things only one character can do and you have to do one on one for a bit, but keeping the whole of the table engaged, both as a GM and interacting with other players, is key to the whole group having fun.
Knowing who you are as a player and a GM is helpful in what games to play and run. While I’m great at crafting stories and player engagement, I lack a lot of the ruthlessness and willingness to cause harm to player characters that is necessary for some games. Road Trip and MAOCT is a place where I don’t have to think about killing character or being too dark, whereas Delta Green you need a very bleak and nigh-on nihilistic view point to really get the setting right; something that I don’t necessarily have in me. That doesn’t mean I can’t play or run Delta Green, it means that I need to work on finding ways I can get into the mind set as a GM that would allow me to run the game as it needs to. If / when I run Delta Green, I would definitely start with pre-written scenarios so I can directly see what it looks like and how it runs at the table.
These lessons were good things to show me that role playing games are a communal experience. As with everything else about being an adult, you really need to be in touch with yourself and know who you are and what you want to do. For everyone to have fun, you need to be communicative; tell people what you do and do not want to do, yet be open to new experiences and what other people bring to the table. When all sides of the table come together, a fun night will be the only outcome.