For the last couple of years of my bachelor’s degree and a few years after that, I was an avid Dungeons and Dragons player. Or, rather, I was an avid Dungeon Master – I was never an actual player more than once or twice. Somehow, with me ever thinking about why, I seemed naturally to fall into the role. Maybe anyone with ambitions to be a story-teller falls into that role, because the game is basically group story-telling, and the DM is the lead story-teller. But, at any rate, the experience taught me a thing or two I didn’t know about human nature – and that I still partly wish that I had never learned.
The regular group of players numbered six to a dozen, equally divided between men and women. All of them were people I knew from the Society for Creative Anachronism. Several were in the same SCA household, and three were sharing a townhouse in real life.
The result, to say the least, was scary. More than any of the adventures I sent them on (and I had them scampering across the wilderness between two cities, with a side trip to the nether world), what I recall best was how the usual Friday night sessions began to resemble a group therapy session, with me caught in the middle, trying to ignore the unpleasant undertones, smooth things over, and keep the game moving for everyone else.
At times, though, I might have saved myself the effort. When two of the room mates who were arguing in real life started trying to attack each other in the game, I knew that their housing arrangements couldn’t last. And, sure enough, one of the two moved out a couple of weeks later.
I was proud of my efforts to invent entertaining scenarios, and spent time that I should have used for study developing elaborate scenarios and maps. When many of the players decided that their characters were related, I came up with a plausible family tree. If someone wanted to bring a guest, I would develop a plausible scenario to explain how the guest joined the group and eventually left it. If someone missed a session, I would hold special sessions for them to catch up, so they wouldn’t be far behind in points. I was proud of my efforts, and prouder still of my efforts to weave an entertaining story.
Then I discovered that the group was holding another D & D session on another night – one to which neither Trish nor I were invited. Apparently, some of the players wanted a game where they could simply kill things. When confronted, they said that I was too intense to be invited along, and that they wanted a game without me.
Not so intense, apparently, that they weren’t willing to let me work to entertain them, I thought. Or eat our food and drink our juice and wine. Angrily, I told them that they could find another Dungeon Master for their Friday night game. They seemed honestly hurt and bewildered, which made me damn them as hypocrites and freeloaders, and cut off contact with them, even drifting away from the SCA.
The few times I’ve seen them since, they seemed genuinely unsure of what had happened – a reaction that only makes me think that I was sensible to stop hanging out with them.
A year or two later, we started another role-playing session with some friends who had moved down from the Sunshine Coast. This time, it was a post-holocaust setting, and I was Dungeon Master again. But that game died when our friends’ marriage started breaking up, and I haven’t played since.
Every now and again, I do wonder what it would be like to be just a player. But I don’t suppose I’ll ever find out now.