Then it hit me. I don't think I've ever taken the time to publicly thank the other GMs who amuse, entertain and enlighten. So wrong and I'd like to take this time to fix it. These are the select duo who have always impressed me with their hard work and dedication, inspiring me to make my own skills better. I'm not confident enough to say I've been successful, but my heart's in the right place and that's good enough for me right now.
The first is perhaps the most passionate GM I've ever known and one-half of an inseparable pair (despite the two living in different countries). I've known Derek for over 25 years (ouch) and while we're not in contact any more, I'm not sure there's anyone else I've ever met who invested so much of his soul into his games. He has an infectious enthusiasm to every one of them and prides himself on getting new players to take up the dice. Derek is also a builder; carpentry runs in this man's blood and he's used it to create some truly impressive displays over the years. While I've never been handy enough to consider some of the goodies he's made over the years, it's one story in particular that remains locked in my mind.
We're going way back to high school for this one, back to the days of Dark Sun. While we normally played in his parents' basement, we came over for a midday game (I'm thinking we skipped school because there was no one else home) and gathered around the dining room table for a change of pace. There was a map laid out on the table and we were knee deep in the adventure (not entirely sure which one we were playing as I've never been good at remembering that part) when one of the players discovered a secret passage.
"Grab the other end of the table," Derek said and the two pulled it open as you would to add an insert. Secured underneath the table was a secret underground layer to the map, resting in secret for hours while we played unsuspecting of the awesomeness he had waiting for us. All miniatures and furnishings were firmly in place, waiting to be unlocked. And if you know Derek, you know he's completely unable to keep a secret without having a giant grin on his face. That sense of awe he created by catching us off-guard is something I want to produce in every game I run.
Next, we have the second half of the Dynamic Duo: Dave. Also someone I've known since elementary school, Dave's thing in high school was running Ravenloft and he was very good at it. Not just because there were more miniatures than you could shake a stick at (for which he probably had a stick-waving miniature we never had a chance to see), maps aplenty, and every supplement/adventure published under the sun, it was how his version of Ravenloft became our One True Campaign. PCs died and others lived, but not without scars, stories, and a heavy dose of fear. What I remember most about those long nights of Ravenloft was not how my character was scared but how I genuinely felt that our characters were screwed. In a good way.
What Dave also taught me was that roleplaying games were stories told to an audience smaller than an off-Broadway production of a phone conversation but 1,000 times better. We all wanted to create our own winding campaigns because of his and each of us dabbled in all of the many settings TSR released in their heyday: Forgotten Realms, Dark Sun (as mentioned above), Planescape, even Birthright. None of them ever compared to Dave's Ravenloft campaign. Playing those games was not about the individual session; it was about the campaign, something I miss terribly as an adult trying to get a single story arch told in 6 sessions, let alone an evolving campaign running three years and 15 levels. He taught us to respect our enemies because they had no respect for us and he played all his monsters this way. Mortality was our greatest nemesis and the only way we would learn to respect it was to confront it.
Both of them showed how fun it was to run a game and while it's been years since I've seen them, let alone sat down with them for a game, there's little time gone by when I haven't sat in the GM's chair and hoped I could invoke that same feeling into my players.
So to Dave and Derek, out there in the world prepping their next game, I say thanks for killing so many of my characters and keeping me wanting more. Happy GM's Day, guys.