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My First GM


Role-play, like many other nerdy hobbies, is weird, sort of silly and incredibly difficult to explain to people who don’t partake. Like Magic the Gathering or an MMORPG, role-play is filled with odd rules (both written and unwritten), a massive amount of varied settings and so much in-lingo and terminology that it can sound like us RPers are talking in another language entirely.

Role-play is and has been for a long time, my favorite hobby. There’s something about it that I’ve never felt in other hobbies. There’s a freedom in it where you can lose yourself in something completely detached from not just your everyday life, but from everybody’s mundane normality. There’s a shared story that we come together to play a part of, like we’re all puzzle pieces fitting into a grand, epic picture. It’s pure escapism, sure, but it’s exciting and a hell of a lot more motivating than trying to write your own novel (which might be part of the PROBLEM, but that’s another story).

One of the most important parts of RPing in most settings is a good GM. This person will be the person to streamline stories, immerse you in the setting, and act as a guiding hand to role-play. People who GM do so for a lot of different reasons – they may have a setting they want to explore, a story they want to tell, or in the case of many IRC freeform channels I’ve been in, simply want to role-play a set of characters and need other people to be around.

My very first GM was a guy named Thurston – “T.” He was the first person to introduce me to that feeling of a shared story, the first person to weave me into storyline, the first person to want to do something for my character. T was the first person to look at me as a very silly (and sometimes very sad) teenage girl and give enough of a damn to get me involved in his very long-running RP setting.

T was a great GM for me at the time – he was enthusiastic and happy to have new players, even when they were terrible teenagers. Especially me, who was the youngest of our moderately-sized RP community. T’s motivations were only marginally setting exploration or storytelling; where T’s greatest desire fell was simply to see his players happy. He knew RP was escapism better than anyone. He just wanted to help people feel like they were getting away from their everyday lives, with the stress or school or work or depression or ill-health.

He was excellent at this.

There’s a magical moment in RP when things hit a sweet spot. A series of events has happened, unraveling in this grand and epic way. It all culminates and there is nothing about this that you, as a player, saw coming. It almost seems entirely unplanned – a weird, awesome serendipity. This huge event that you got to partake in? This is something everyone will remember for months – maybe longer. When people talk about this setting, long after this game is over, they’ll talk about this story.

This moment is RP at its best; it’s the distilled freedom of escapism, of being excited for your character, but also the satisfaction of storytelling done excellently and of absolutely nailing a scene acted out in front of your peers. It’s a feeling of being special, of really mattering – it’s not something that most people get to feel in everyday life very often. Maybe never at all.

These moments are impossible to have without a guiding hand, without someone who cares about you as a player. The best moments in role-play are impossible without an awesome GM to lead the way, often times behind the scenes and with a deft hand. The first of these moments I was ever involved in, was due to that same first IRC GM again, T.

Thurston passed away this past weekend.

T was much more than just a great GM for the teenage me. He was incredibly open-minded and accepting – one of the most tolerant, generous people I’ve ever known. He loved our little IRC RP community and always made every single one of us feel like we belonged. He gathered many of us together at Otakon 2002, the first time most of us had met. He was absolutely the “mother” of us, a description I think he would have loved. T had a huge impact on a place that had a huge impact on me as I was becoming a real person and was getting over being just a shitty teenager – I wouldn’t be who I am today without T and the contributions he made to our little internet community and to our lives.

He was the first person to make me feel that special excitement that incredible RP can bring. I’ve never found a feeling in any other hobby to match it. It could be because I’ll never be that sad teenage girl again, struggling with very severe depression and being alone in a small town that would never understand or accept me. Maybe because I have a lot more in my life now that no hobby will ever feel that important again. Maybe because I don’t need that level of escapism any more. Maybe every time I feel that excitement in RP, a part of me just goes back to that very first time, that moment of time that I’ll always remember like a ray of sunlight that made me feel so overwhelmingly special and happy during a time in my life when that was literally almost impossible.

T was responsible for that feeling, that excitement, that beautiful mix of serendipity and scheme. And never because he had any obligation to. He just wanted to. Because he wanted me to be happy.

He succeeded.

I’ll really miss him.