The Lost GM Scrolls: Will Hindmarch and the Ship of Fools
Back in the fall of 2009, Chris Dinkins and I interviewed a host of game designers and novelists who were also experienced game masters. We sent around too many questions to too many GMs and received far too much material for one article to hold. As a result, a lot of great material got scrapped. Fortunately, gaming wisdom ages well. I recently discovered a folder full of all that cut material (anecdotes, advice, and miscellany), which we will be presenting, here, in the Lost GM Scrolls. Enjoy! —JLCJ
Freelancer Will Hindmarch works as a developer for Green Ronin Publishing for the Dragon Age roleplaying game. He is also the co-founder (with Jeff Tidball) of Gameplaywright, which has published The Bones, Things We Think About Games, and Hamlet’s Hit Points by Robin D. Laws.
Below, Hindmarch tells about a funny incident that took place during a session of the Star Trek RPG.
Will Hindmarch: The funniest game I ever ran might have been a Star Trek RPG demo at Gen Con that got gloriously out of hand. It was a one-shot, four-hour game played mostly by guys who didn’t know each other beforehand, all playing pregenerated Klingon characters on a Klingon ship. It turned, almost immediately, into a slapstick romp. Outside the ship, every NPC was serious and dry, loyal to the Star Trek universe, but aboard that ship was a sitcom of cartoon Klingons battling each other, failing at every task, and trying to talk their way through a hostile galaxy for fear that they’d blow themselves up and not be able to finish the demo.
“Don’t worry,” said one of them, “I know a Federation password that’ll get us into their secure network.”
I put as big a question mark on my face as I could. The player signals to me that he reactivates the communicator and says to a Starfleet captain: “Please!”
By no means should that have been as funny as it was. (Most gaming stories are only good in the lab.) Other tables in the game room had to ask us to quiet down. But for a moment we had this perfect, absurd farce going—a ship of fools warping through perils and antics the adventure writer had never intended to be funny. It was just a great collision of senses of humor, and if I’d tried to force it to be something else, I would’ve ruined it. By keeping the rest of the galaxy serious and dangerous, though, we got both the sense of conflict that kept the game chugging along and the best straight-man we could’ve hoped for.
When you run a game, how do you use humor? Do you inject some of your own as the situation warrants it? Do you use a sense of pacing to help you know when to lighten things up? Or do you let your players fill in the humor blanks? Share your thoughts in the comments below!