An interesting inversion hit me this week. Due to trouble keeping a crowd, one of my cohorts who runs every other Saturday (the off-night from my bi-weekly Pathfinder game) is converting his ongoing AD&D 2nd edition Forgotten Realms game to Pathfinder. I've been told I'm invited (I was invited to the AD&D 2E game, too, but it's been hard to make the commitment, as I've been using the off-Saturday night for family weekend time). My thought initially was....sure, yeah, I could see playing Pathfinder, I'll give it a try. But....turns out, maybe not.
I want to imagine it's got a lot to do with the system*, or style of game, or pretty much anything....I think it is human nature to assume an exterior cause to one's problem, the idea that Something Else is wrong, and not us. Anytime I read a blog with strong dissenting opinions about Game X or playstyle Y it is safe to assume that there is nothing actually wrong with said game or play style...rather, the blogger is indirectly revealing more about his own preferences than he is about the merits of the products in question.
So when I start thinking "I can't stand playing 3.5/3.0/Pathfinder" I am not really identifying the issue at hand....after all, I didn't find much enjoyment in the last Savage Worlds game I got to play, right? And if I'd really been enjoying AD&D 2E I'd have stuck with it, right? I have in the past often told people my "player level" of development is arrested circa 1991**, and that's not entirely untrue.
So I'm starting to think that maybe I've run games as the GM for so long that maybe...just maybe...I've ruined my ability to be a player. Maybe I never really had it in me; for ever game I've been a player in, I think I've probably run 200 scenarios as a GM. It's that extreme. I figure this has had a series of possible consequences:
First, I might be a harsh critic. Bad GMing is more evident to me. GMs using their tricks are more obvious. The moments where I think of better ways to do what is being done stick out like a sore thumb.
Second, as a player I have to restrict my freedoms...severely. I am used to running the world, the NPCs, pretty much everything. My schitck is world-building and tale-telling, not playing one guy. Playing one guy feels really boring.
Third, and most significant, I don't know how to be a "group player." I have learned how to entertain as a DM...I make memorable NPCs when possible, and can build up personalities of note, for characters who are designed to step in, provide a service, information or to fight the PCs, and then they are gone. I can make briefly memorable player characters, but their long term prospects are not there....I have fully embraced the art of making other people's long-term character plans come to fruition, but at the expense of being able to do this for myself.
I feel like I need to give it a shot. My wife and son might be along....this would be cool; she and I don't get to play often (well, ever) anymore, and it keeps it a kind of family night. Maybe, having possibly identified the real reason I am a terrible player, I can try to work on subverting my behavior/expectations and actually learn to play again....some solutions:
Harsh Critic solution: try to go in as neutral as possible. Do not think like a DM, or look at the DM and pick apart his style. Take it at face-value....see if I can learn how to suspend disbelief from the other side of the screen once more.
Freedom Restrictions Solution: learn to love the limited engagement of playing one dude. Maybe spend time working on his successor (assuming death is always imminent) or really get in to exploring his family, history, motives and general background as a way of maximizing my focus on the corner of the game I have control over.
Group Player Solution: see if I can remember how to enjoy the moment, and also the prospect of attempting to fulfill my greedy little adventurer's career. Do not ham it up too much, although if I do, try not to do so in a way that impairs my ability to make the character grow.
I suppose, having written all of that, I really should try to give this new opportunity to be a player a shot.....
*In fact the thing that started all of this was me trying to read up on my recent Pathfinder books: while Bestiary 5 is a lot of fun, the Advanced Class Compendium and Occult Adventures were making my head hurt. EDIT: And in the end I remain appreciative of the Pathfinder Core Book (rolled my level 4 fighter). Maybe I should just pretend/declare that there are no other books after Core (+bestiaries and GMG)....
**I literally remember that session with excellent clarity: my buddy in Tucson was running his first AD&D 2E game as DM, loosely set in the Forgotten Realms and involving my paladin against a dungeon managed by a lich. It was an awesome game.....the next time I played a game I enjoyed as much was when my wife ran Swords & Wizardry Complete in 2010. Hmmm....maybe as DM I love complex world building/exploration, but as a player I just want to kick down doors and kill shit? Or maybe it was because in both cases I had a lot of agency....the DMs in both cases pretty much letting the players pick their course of direction, and doing nothing to hinder that. Hmmm.