The Red Dice Diaries. John Alan Large has been hosting the show for a while now, and he has many interesting titles. This week I picked four: Potions (new), Magic Items (also new), DMing Rough Spot and Setting Agnostic vs Setting Specific. The first 3 I listened to really made me think of all the games I've played, to extent of not listening (yet) to the last.
Back when AD&D was the big boy game for TSR, we had about 12 regular players but only 3 of us would GM. Mark had an excellent style that was deeply planned out, but he rarely branched out into improvising anything. If it wasn't in the book, it didn't happen. Doug had an excellent game plan, but improv'd his way through everything. The rule book was something for the dice to fall on. My style was someplace between the two, very well planned out but using almost improvisational style comedy to make a point.
Doug was my best friend, so we argued. But it was a strange sort of arguing. If I didn't like something he did, I'd say so, but didn't expect this to change anything at the table. Usually, it didn't matter much. But for one campaign, Doug switched up his style and went entirely by the book. I couldn't get a sense of what he was doing and tried to play characters as smash mouth, in your face sort of people.
It didn't work out at all. My characters would level up the fastest and get the best equipment, but I died six times. My last character was "Reg". That wasn't his name. Doug asked me what kind of character I had rolled up and I answered, "Aw, just one of the regulars." Man, did that make him laugh. And the tag stuck. Reg the Magic User.
As a player, I understood the REASON for the change in style. The issue was Doug wanted to tell a complete story, therefore he needed to drop the goofy, light-hearted improv. My characters kept dying because I didn't know what story they were in.
Reg the Magic User broke out of that by being dangerously wrong genre savvy. He was also help by some incredible luck. I am not much of a magic user type, so I advanced by wit and cunning rather than magic. Usually by the end of the session, I had expended most of my 1st level spells, but nothing higher.
One bit of luck I had was a couple of magical items meant for the party cleric who expired before they could claim them. I could heal. An old man gave all of the characters magic weapons, except me, who received a black rock and a bag of holding. We battle a witch, killed a massive pack of wild animals and generally hunted for loot. We chased a unicorn and bought a ship.
One player found a green ring of regeneration, which I identified for them. At the time, I asked if there were any other magic rings in the treasure.
Doug said, "Yes."
I asked, "What kind is it?"
"What kind do you think it is?" Doug answered.
Doug rolls some dice and says, "It is a yellow ring of flying!"
You totally know where this is going right? For the next year or so, my ring of delusion provided endless humorous to horrifying scenarios.
Doug decided that if my character had time, then he would cast fly on himself while attributing the magic to the ring. Unsurprisingly, my character would discover they forgot to study that third level spell. However, if my character ever tried to fly spontaneously or with no prep time, the ring would fail.
This went on for over a year, the player tagging off the DM to create interesting stories. Suddenly, the campaign ended, as we had completed the story, whatever that was. I had though the whole thing was lost on me due to my style of play. I couldn't figure out what the point was, or what the ending meant, but I did have a lot of fun. That seemed to be the message sent.
Fast forward 25+ years. I was watching a movie with my kids. There was a scene that left me dumbfounded. I picked up the phone and called Doug. "Reg was in Narnia!"
I got it. Being a good DM goes beyond storytelling and being a good player doesn't have to follow expectations.