The Best Gamemaster I Ever Played With|
by Richard Aronson
The World's Best Ever Gamemaster (affidavits available on request):
Okay, so you want more than just a name. Well, let me begin by saying that if Geordie ever agreed to come out of retirement, and playing in his game meant giving up my Dodger season tickets, ending my own dungeon (which has lasted about eight years now), and even giving up playing in Lee Gold's once-a-month campaign and playtest (and she's the second-best GM I've played with), I'd do it. No, don't insult the Dodgers, or my campaign, or anything like that: I'd cut out all other hobbies if that's what I needed to do to make time to play with Geordie once a week.
Let's dissect this phenomenon further. As often happens, players tend to play in cliques. I have played with several of the Geordie clique players under three other GMs (myself not included), one of whom ran two distinct universes. And these other GMs ranged from good but stifled by a horrible player mix (why he didn't just let us die, I'll never know) to excellent to wonderful to wonderful (ranking the four campaigns). I'm still in one, and I'd gladly join any of the others if it were an option. So eliminate players as a factor.
Other possible points of disreference. Geordie was not my first GM (the redoubleable Corey Cole was; or should that be the redoubtable GM and redoubleable bridge partner), nor my second, nor even third. Geordie was running AD&D, but other GMs on my list have been running GURPS, ICE, or Lands of Adventure, so I'm not showing a system preference. Not only that, but Gerodie's campaign ended several years ago, before AD&D began some needed overhauls (especially in making fighters more deadly) that have given a fighter a (chuckle) fighting chance versus any of the other character classes. And a nod to Gennie Summers; the more I use Unearthed Arcana, the more I like AD&D. But I digress.
Why, then, was Geordie's campaign good? Yes, you with your hand up. You don't know? To start with, Geordie is a rather experienced combat veteran of the Vietnam era. And he believes (as should all rational beings, I feel) that combat is a tool that too often gets used. His combats had a sense of surreality that made them simultaneous items of dread and desire. For example, we had abused the rules and created Rocks of Glyphs of Warding, with the spell Cure Serious Wounds upon them, as well as other useful defensive spells. This obviously predates the DMG. So one day we were chasing these baddies down this nasty corridor when a marble block falls from the ceiling and traps our best mage beneath it. Since he was last, none of us noticed. Selvass, barely conscious, knew that all he had to do was reach his bag of glyph rocks and he'd feel a whole lot better. For the remainder of that combat, he was inching his hand closer to the bag; then he was trying to get it unlaced; he almost had it! When we found him, his arm dislocated, down about 90% damage, he was twirling the hair on his head as if to open a pouch. Surreal yet realistic, as anyone who has been around badly injured people knows they can act just like that.
But his combats were but one component of his world. His grasp of myths was extraordinary. Take, for example, the Linganger, a supreme hero who predated Miami Vice by five years, yet typified them: the most important thing was not just to be a hero, but to look good while being one. Lingangerland was almost a stylized Fantasyland, where looking good was the best reason for everything. But we found out, deep in the abandoned archives (well, my character was always rather bookish; Walter the Wise had become a cleric solely to cure his sniffles every winter, since his Constitution was only a five, and yes, I know that CON 5 meant that he should only be an illusionist, but another of Geordie's skills was in insisting that disabilities could be just as valuable to a campaign as abilities), the Lingangerland was founded by the Line Gang, the lowliest members of a naval crew, whose job was to keep the sailing lines unfrayed and the knots crisp. When shipwrecked on Linganger Island, only the Line Gang survived, and they had forgotten their lowly beginnings in the intervening centuries.
Another good example: Geordie could roleplay with anybody. From the lowliest road thief to the highest god, he was superb. Well, maybe not the highest god, but our god, Gothrey, who was always rather embarrassed at being worshipped, because he had been just a man who was sent to raise an army, and founded our kingdom instead; by the time his army returned, his homeland was wiped out. But still he was worshipped by us Gretchans. When Walter found a journal, centuries old, Gothrey's own diary, Walter the Wise, instead of just opening it and possibly destroying the faith, cast a Commune spell. Oh Gothrey, I asked, do you want me to read this book? The Commune spell only allows yes/no answers (in order to really talk to Gothrey, we had to visit his plane of existence). And Geordie told me (playing Walter) that I immediately connected with Gothrey, and asked my question, and then there was a long pause (thirty seconds) during which I knew Gothrey was considering my request, and then the one-word answer: Nnnnnnoooooooo.
And then there were his scenarios. What stories he wove! There was Two-Swords, that tripartite being composed of the three highest grey elves, forged in Wishes that drained gods, whose sole purpose was to destroy evil. The gods got together and turned off all magic for a day to turn him off, and then we, in our wisdom, not knowing or not caring, turned him on again. Two-Swords is out there again, still endlessly, unkillably destroying evil, but when all the orcs are dead he'll start on the neutrals, and when all the neutrals are dead he'll start on the goods, and he can't stop himself and someday, centuries from now, barring divine intervention, we'll all die. Then there was the Greyblood, the dwarvish ale, brewed with edelweiss, that aged spell-users twenty years but allowed them access to the spells that the gods forbade. Walter and 5,000 dwarves with Greyblood killed 25,000 orcs in about four hours, using such spells as Rain Giant Poisonous Orc-Swallowing Frogs, or Create Giant Castle-Engulfing Chasm, or my favorite (it saved Walter's life when an enraged demigod threw him down that chasm), Walter to Rock, just before a prematurely grey Walter threw Word of Recall and ran away home.
But there's more. Geordie is an excellent artist, and his maps were things of beauty. The great moments of his campaign were eventually drawn in a style that I think ranks right there with Phil Foglio. "Edward Takes a Tower," when our top fighter outran all the rest of us, letting us do almost all the combat and almost getting to the top fast enough to prevent Walter (serpentine, serpentine) from eating two ballista bolts, shows Edward racing upstairs, past confused soldiers, while behind him the lower fighters and clerics and thieves and mages had real problems. Another classic drawing: Phred, our elvish, uh, squire, gave us the all-clear to enter a deserted mage's room when he was picked up by an invisible golem. Oops.
And other classic characters, in a campaign where we strove to make each character more memorable knowing that only the truly unique would make a mark in history: Albert One-Tankard, the mage who believed in dissecting first and questioning later (not torture, no; vivisection was a scientific exploration). Shardik, the INT 5 WIS 6 fighter whose primary, secondary, and tertiary weapons were all the crossbow, who bothered us clerics constantly at all times to bless his quarrels.
Then there were the almost-useful magic items: Linganger's Axe, that always hit, then returned to the thrower, but swooped so much in flight that it took three rounds to strike. A Wand of Frost, unmarked and unmarkable, that half the time would shoot from one side, half from the other. The Sword of Gothrey, which hated forever being used solely by us namby-pamby clerics as a supercharged holy symbol instead of being wielded by a fighter; serves our little kingdom right for having no paladins!
Then there were the two adventures he had in time travel, both special scenarios Geordie designed to appease his inner demons. The first time we were in Vietnam, reliving an experience Geordie had with his platoon being sent out basically to die to cover movement elsewhere. The second time we were on the Nostromo, and we weren't alone. I could rave for pages more; the depth of his world, the uniqueness of character, makes it raveable.
Geordie's campaign lasted just under five years, through basically two distinct sets of characters (well, when our clerics made Bishop, it made sense to keep them home and defend the homeland). It ended when family pressures cost Geordie the time to run. Those pressures seem to have eased, but I sometimes think Geordie ran to work out the rage that Vietnam left in him, and by the time he ended, he was whole again.
On the other hand, imagine a world map roughly the size of Earth, imagine a party that explored Europe, the Middle East, and a little bit of Africa, and then imagine our surprise when, jokingly (to hide the pain, I suspect), one of our newer players asked, "Ran out of world for us, eh, Geordie?" Geordie smiled, and pulled out a world map and notebook, and showed him cities, rivers, nations, roads, continents we'd never even heard of, and said, simply, "No."
And whenever my campaigners commend me on my game, I just thank them, and smile knowingly, grateful they never played in Geordie's.
(Originally appeared in Re:Quests!, issue #16B, October 1988, pp. 17-19; Mary H Kelly, editor.)
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