The Beard and I have been friends for a very long time. When you’re friends, you visit each other’s houses frequently. We had long gotten passed the awkwardness of talking to each other’s parents, and had actually engaged our parents, extended families, and friends in conversations and games. On this day, my brother (Marc) and I, were in the basement with Junior (the Beard) and Abba (his brother). This was a constant for us. Either we were in their basement or they were in ours. Our bedrooms were all in our respective basements. The conversation turned to role playing games. Junior said that he had bought a gaming module called Top Secret and he wanted to have a group of friends to learn how to play together. Since the Beard has often fantasized about being a spy, he said that he wanted someone else to create the campaign. Having no such designs on the genre, I offered to learn the game and GM (Game Master). The GM is the person that develops a fully realized story that the players can visualize.
The following week, I had learned the concepts of game management and how to develop a story. I had a full story set up for the three spies. Before we could actually play, I had to help the players (Marc, Junior, and Abba) design unique characters that could fit into the espionage world I had created. One was the Face (Junior) suave and debonair like Sean Connery. One was the Fingers (Marc) the sneaky thief that could steal your underwear, while standing right next to you like Chris Angel. Last, but never least was the Eye (Abba) he loved that he was a silent assassin, but hated his code name, but he was a dead-shot like Boba Fett. The character creation took so long that we didn’t get to the campaign that week. We had to wait a whole other week to actually play, but the characters were all well-developed, strong, and rounded with (looking back) overly thought out back stories.
With these characters in mind, I now added color to the elaborate story I had created (with the help of the module.) We were now ready to play. I narrated a bit of exposition, so that they could get a sense of urgency about their mission, and explained why these oh-so-complete spies were working together. I handed out Dossiers and Passports. (Yes, I crap-you-not, there were Dossiers and Passports in the packet, to make the experience even MORE realistic.) While on the mission, I was especially pleased to have included an opportunity for each spy to behave heroically. Abba nailed a long distance shot that killed a pursuer of the Fingers which permitted him to grab a file in a wall safe. This in turn allowed the Face to (errrrh . . .uhmmm. . .) pump the femme fatale for information.
So here is where the story gets complicated. After the Face beds the femme fatale, the spies essentially have completed their mission. All that’s left to do is leave Kurdistan with numerous soldiers in hot pursuit, but no. The boys chose to interrogate, torture, and kill the femme fatale. They didn’t get any information from the woman, because she had been duped by the villain. They also lost karma points for behaving in less-than-heroic fashion.
Fast forward to the next week. I had designed a new campaign designed to cause my brothers to behave with more aplomb. Apparently though, my brothers had been talking and they decided they didn’t want to play the game anymore, because their collective conscience had condemned their comportment. They felt it was a poor decision to stay and torture, instead of run with the stolen Dossier. These three young men were troubled by acts that were perpetuated in a game. Imagine that! To a man, they despised their actions as abhorrent. They taught me something important that day. Part of why they behaved the way they did is because they felt paranoid about the GM maybe looking like the enemy. I had thrown the players curve balls that to them felt as if I was opposing them instead of guiding them along. The responsibility of the GM is to tell a story that excites his players, allows them to consider options, and enjoy the imaginative experience. After that, we decided to play a spiritually themed fantasy game that I created like Dungeons and Dragons, but it was called Christians and Crusades. That’s when we learned we had something special and fun.