Growing Up & Gettin’ Old: When Young and Old Collide

Guest Article by Darren Blair

It happened again the other night. New group. New expectations. D&D 3.5.  And the would-be GM asked me what my experience was when it came to gaming before a mutual friend of ours could stop him. D&D all editions. Battletech, d20 Modern, Star Wars d20 and BESM d20. A funky Blood Dawn / Battle Lords of the 24th Century hybrid. The old Middle Earth game done by I.C.E. So there was the GM, deer-in-the-headlight look on his face. I could have put a severed head in his lap and he wouldn’t have been more surprised.

I, on the other hand, have gotten used to it. At the ripe age of 27, I have officially become the old man of the last few groups I’ve been in. So how do you get around such a massive experience gap in between party members?

Advice for more experienced gamers

1. You’re the NCO, not the officer

Yes, you’ve saved the princess. You’ve blown up the dragon (twice, no less). You fought off the Clans at Tukayyid. You even told off a Ram Python without getting killed. You’ve earned your cred the hard way. But the newer kids haven’t. Don’t presume to boss them around because you know more than they do. Rather, let them play things out their own way for a while. Offer advice if needed, and in rare instances lay down the law if things get truly out of hand. Beyond that, let everyone else have a chance to make their mistakes and learn like you did. This is important if you aren’t the one running the game, especially so if the person who is running the game is doing it for the first time.

2. You’re godlike to them, but don’t act like a god

Your experience and familiarity with the books allows you to do things the others do not think about or even know is possible. You might be tempted to railroad the campaign, play the munchkin or break the game system for your own personal pleasure. Don’t. It’s one thing to put something over on the players if they legitimately deserve it, especially if it’s teaching them a new facet of the game. This can make for interesting roleplaying and might even make things fun if used sparingly. It’s another thing to go off on a power trip every five minutes. This makes you seem like a bully and can turn people off the game. I recall hearing of a situation in which a Battletech player put together a pick-up match that was supposed to be about training new players. In reality, it was a way for the guy to beat up on newbies owing to how one-sided he set up the scenario to be (two other veteran players intervened and turned the tables on him in short order).

3. You’re a player, not a storyteller

It might be tempting to dominate the entire game session by regaling the others with tales of glory. Not a good idea. It’s fine to tell a story or two to break the ice or if there’s some unexpected down time. You might even use a story or two in order to clue the other party members in to how they can overcome such-and-such difficulty. But part of the purpose in doing campaigns is so that the other players can have their own stories to tell. You’re part of a team, not the team itself.

Advice for less experienced gamers

1. The old guys don’t need veneration; pizza’s just fine

If an older gamer is taking part in your campaign, especially as a player rather than a GM, it’s not because “the deity has decided to become incarnate.” Instead, they just want to kill a few hours like the rest of you. As we get older, it sometimes becomes harder to get a group together. Old gaming partners lose interest, drop out of sight or even pass away. Younger gamers sometimes don’t want to be with the old fogey. However, we’re kinda like the middle-aged dudes at the drive-in with the convertible who are still trying to lay rubber against the teens and their tuners: we do it because we like it, and know darn well how silly we can look at times.

2. If it’s story time, it might behoove you to sit and listen

Experience means “been there; done that.” If the old guy at the table feels compelled to tell a story or two, and it doesn’t interrupt the flow of the game, let him. Not only is it his way of breaking the ice (“swapping stories” is a pastime for older gamers), it might contain some information you’d want to know about. Alternatively, it could well be his way of keeping the memories of bygone ages alive. In my case, after a member of the group (a friend of mine from high school and mutual friend of several other members) was murdered a few years ago, stories became a way of reliving the time we had together and getting over what happened. Feel free to tell a few stories of your own. That help the vet get to know you, and help him gauge what experiences you have had so he can know how to better assist you down the road should you happen to need it.

3. Give us a few minutes to get ourselves together

Ever have an older-model car that sometimes needed an extra cranking to get started in the morning? One of the downsides to having played so many different games and game systems over the years is that it can take us a few moments to get used to the rules of the specific game system we’re doing at any given time. For example, after about a year of almost nothing but Battletech, I had to stop and look at the books for a few minutes to remind myself how D&D 3.5 was different from D&D 3.0 (We can’t buy boat oars anymore? Bummer).

Respect

For both sides of the issue, the main thing is respect. Give each other some room to get into the swing of things, and all should be well.

Comments

  1. says

    You think you are old school at 27!? You’ve got nothing, kiddo!

    I thought I was old school at 30, just like you, until I met a bunch of curmudgeons that have been gaming longer than I have been alive! Now that’s old! To them, we’re still the young ‘uns, and they can still treat us such.

    We’re the middle ground, the bridge between the old and the new, and to be honest, that is a very good place to be. We know enough to respect the traditions and heritage of our gaming roots, and we’re still young enough to appreciate it. Old enough to have a few war stories of our own, while still being able to be awed by the war stories of our peers.

    I know more than a few people who could actually use reading this article, to understand what respect is actually all about, before they go around with their “disrespect is disrespect” just because you don’t venerate them like like a god because they are older than you. More experience does not equate to better experience.

    This is an excellent article. I enjoyed reading it. Keep it up!

    • says

      Here’s the rub.

      I started gaming back in 1990; I had two much-older brothers, and they introduced me to Battletech so that they’d have someone to play with.

      The end result is that I’ve already accrued about 20 years’ worth of gaming experience.

      So that right there is enough to where I’ve been gaming longer than most people would expect; I’d have been just getting started when their parents would have still been gaming.

      And yes, in one extreme instance, I was gaming before one of the party members was even born; he hadn’t even graduated high school yet, and was tagging along because his big brother was in the group.

      So yeah – I’ve kinda taken on the status as the “old fogey” of the group. I’ve got one friend left who is my age, but otherwise they’re all kids; everyone else has either moved or died.

      • says

        I have accrued 20 years experience myself, although I was largely self-taught, since I am the eldest and none of my family or friends actively roleplayed until after I started gaming.

        Like most British gamers, my experience started with simple board games through that most venerable of institutions – Games Workshop – before actually progressing onto roleplaying in any significant format. Thus, I am rather more of a gamer than a roleplayer at heart.

        Right now, most of my more active gaming friends have moved, so I tend to settle for online roleplaying experiences via IM more than anything else. I really should pick up Johnn’s “Filling the Extra Chair” – but since the British Gaming Scene is so different, it’s more a case of filling the empty table.

        I know an RPG club I used to go to, but not visited it in years – not sure why I keep putting it off… Too lazy to spend two hours travelling each way on public transport, I’d imagine. Maybe later this year?

        What interested me most about this article is that, while on the surface it focuses on relations at the table, it actually has universal applications.

        I linked this to another blog of old fogies (Erin, I’m looking at you!) and the response was that I’d missed the point because this was about respect at the gaming table. Yet, old and young gamers collide everywhere – forums, game stores, chance meetings through mutual acquaintances, you name it.

        Respect isn’t and shouldn’t be limited to just one situation – and the perception that it might be is short-sighted at the very least. That’s why it helps to realise that we’re the middle-guard right now: the translators between the really old and the really new. The people playing since the 70′s that stopped with d20 and the people that just started with 4th Edition Essentials.

        That’s a great place to be, I think. It’s like being old enough to legally drink, yet young enough to still enjoy it! :D

    • Paul says

      I take game design at college, our professor for game design 101 was a 40 yr old guy who would sometimes relate stuff to his own DM experiences and or his player experiences, it’s all bout respect , respect your ancestors and your newbies and everyone will get along

  2. says

    Very good advice. In my group it’s not so much an age/generation gap as an experience gap, but the same advice applies. I’ve been playing about 10 years in a variety of systems, most of the rest of my players have been in it for 4-8 months and have never had a GM besides me. So, now training up two of them to take the reins, I make it my policy to emphasize, “I can tell you what it says in the book, I can tell you what the rules are, but when it comes to what’s allowed and how we’ll resolve this particular situation, that’s the call of the person currently in the GM chair and his call only – and if I ever give any impression otherwise, both you and he are fully authorized to punch me in the face.”

    I try to do most of my coaching/consulting away from the table between games, and only very occasionally will I raise my hand during a game and say, “Dave, not to question your authority here, but ____ might be another way you’d like to consider handling this. Your call, just throwing the option out there.”

    Also, I force myself to play very smart characters, spending those points in Intelligence so I have an in-character reason to be the know-it-all and the character (not just player) that people look to for advice.

    • says

      That’s what I ended up doing during the session that inspired the article.

      We were doing a D&D 3.5 campaign with 5th-level characters.

      Some of the younger players were all bragging about their “prestige class” characters, who were made to be as fancy as possible.

      I had a plain vanilla cleric who got some good dice rolls during the character creation process.

      By the end of the evening, the DM actually asked to shake my hand after I linked the “Doom” (target suffers from a foreboding, distracting sense of dread), “Obscuring Mist,” and “Chaos” (target takes a penalty on all throws) spells against someone, thereby making their life miserable without even attacking.

      I’m sure that from now on, any time anyone else in that group makes a spell-caster they’ll pay more attention to the spell lists.

    • says

      That’s some good coaching, Mark. It’s important to make clear that there is a difference between what is in the book and what the GM decides.

      Discussions of the different types of power a GM wield have come up before, especially in this series here http://www.campaignmastery.com/blog/rules-mastery-1/ (As someone who has studied social sciences extensively, and has a passion for gaming, it’s one of my favourite topics).

      Taking power from a rulebook and simply judging based on a set of defined rules is authority, and often involves an appeal to a higher power. In this case, GMs using authority are subservient to the higher power of they system’s developers. It’s useful for people to get started, and a good way to control the balance of power a GM has, but it undermines much of the potential that the GM has.

      When the GM steps away from the rulebooks, they gain power from their own expertise. They make calls based on their own judgements, and here is where those years of experience really come into their own. Of course, there’s little to stop a GM abusing such power, except player boycott, but in most cases the GMs realise that their role is to make the game fun, not beat the players, and thus only the worst GMs need to actually be controlled in such a manner.

      Thus, it is good that you can and do differentiate between the two different types of power the GMs have. Coaching is all about giving people the experience necessary to demonstrate expertise and become experts. It’s all about taking things beyond the books, once the books have been mastered, but only when they are confident enough to have mastered the books.

      • says

        I just wanted to add something I missed out from my last comment. A big issue, and thus a common counter-argument, is that despite all your best intentions, you ARE challenging the GMs authority/expertise whenever you raise your hand, because you are challenging their thinking.

        This is obvious by the standard disclaimer of “I don’t mean to challenge you here, but…” – as soon as anyone makes a statement in the form of “I don’t meant to ‘such and such’, but…” they actually ARE being ‘such and such’, and mean it. Likewise of the argument “I am not a ‘such and such’, but…”

        What is important here is that you are trying to challenge them respectfully. We learn by being challenged, whether by ourselves, by others, or by circumstances. Some people, however, just don’t take well to being challenged AT ALL – they are simply too arrogant and/or too perfectionist, and take any sort of challenge, regardless of intent, as a direct personal affront.

        The simple fact is that we do not all think alike, and not all of us handle things in the same way. We do not have the same experiences, and we don’t come loaded with the same experiences. Thus, it is quite common for others to see things we do not, and to propose solutions we might not otherwise think of. Whether or not you are open to these and willing to deal with them is another matter, and says more about the nature of the individual and their idea of respect than anything else.

        In an ideal word of shared mutual respect where everybody treats others as equals, there would be no harm in raising your hand and challenging the GM’s ruling or thinking in a respectful manner – in fact, GMs will often defer to others with more expertise in specific areas that others while still being able to retain their own power to make judgements on what they feel is best for the game based on their expertise.

        Yet, when it comes to respect, people’s egos and other issues often get in the way. Therefore you often need to be a good judge of character to be determine whether or not GMs can be challenged respectfully, are willing to learn, or whether it is likely to cause the game or discussion to spiral off-topic.

        Alas, I wish I was a good enough judge of person to know this myself. More than a few times I’ve misjudged who can be respectfully challenged, and who takes it as a personal insult, often too late before things get out of hand.

      • says

        Whenever I GM, I tend to make it known fairly quickly that in the event of a dispute between the rules and myself, the rules and the flow of the game, or the rules and reality, the rules will almost always lose.

        9 for 10, however, I do this for the sake of the party and the game.

        For example, Battletech has an extensive series of supplementary manuals; there’s no way for me to haul everything over whenever the session is at someone else’s house. As such, if there’s a rules dispute about something and a manual I’ve left behind would have answered it, I make an on-the-spot ruling, usually to the benefit of the party. The agreement is that the party will abide by my rulings until such time as I can get home and look it up. In exchange, if the *real* rule is stricter or less beneficial to the party than what I proposed as a replacement, my replacement rule stands.

        • says

          The easiest approach, and the best part of being a GM and making it your game is to understand that you ARE the rules. It’s your call at the end of the day.

          This is where being able to respectfully challenge other GMs comes in, because you might throw out an idea or two when you feel it is necessary, but at the end of the day, it is their call, because they ARE the rules.

          You might get one or two GMs who fail to understand this, either when they are challenged and feel like they must defer to your judgement or be insulted because of it, just like you might get one or two backseat GMs that just don’t want to let go of the fact that someone else is calling the shots and making the calls.

  3. says

    Good article, Darren, though a lot of this should be common sense. If one is gaming to demonstrate their supposed superiority, then the problem isn’t an experience gap–it’s about someone who’s frustrated in real life.

    Since moving around a bit the last few years, I’ve had a steady mix of old and new players in the same session, and to a one, the older gamers I know go out of their way to help newer players along, get used to the system, give occasional playing tips, and (most importantly) help ensure that everyone has a good time so that they’ll come back for another session.

  4. Frank B says

    I have been gaming for as long as you have been alive. Now that my kids are old enough to do the basic math and understand the basics of the game my wife and I have started teaching them to play as well. Some of their ideas are way out there but I let them make their own mistakes, just like I did when I first started playing. Now we have family D&D night as well as a family movie and board games nights.

  5. says

    At the ripe age of 28, I can fully relate to this. I first started gaming when I was 10 years old. I, like a couple of posters above, have begun to teach my children how to game. Our poison of choice is a balanced mixture of Pathfinder, Risk, Talisman, and good ol’ Magic The Gathering. We really enjoy ourselves on family game night. And it’s quite the treat to watch my children walk into the same cliche traps I did as a youth! :-)