“What’s past is prologue…” William Shakespeare, The Tempest.

The Bard, of course, meant this in relation to the events in the play, but it holds true for people’s lives, as well. You past never really leaves you. Inside every man or woman is the little boy or girl they were, the teenager, or the young adult… A person is the sum of their past experiences, and they inform our opinions on politics, religion, science, and even gaming.

In a recent discussion, it was pointed out that watching people playing games gives you an interesting insight into their own character, as much as that of who they are playing. It doesn’t take long for an experienced GM, or simply one familiar with the players, to get an idea of what they will do in the course of play, regardless of what their character might do.

One excellent example was a player who loved to be in charge…until he was. His personality was such that he liked the idea of authority, but not the weight of responsibility. No matter what the character was: the intrepid starship captain, the bad-ass cop, the hot-shit, no fear fighter pilot, he played them the same way: they were risk aversive and when saddled with a situation that wasn’t a simple shoot and scoot…he simply locked up and let the other players do for him. He wanted to be the big hero, but for the same reason his life choices led to stagnation and bitterness, his gaming suffered. Another consistently played the ingenue or “slut”, but preferably one with serious political clout. She had been raised as the black sheep of her family, had a hardscrabble life through her 20s, and after finally getting to be the big fish in her small pond, tended to be authoritarian in desire, if not ability. It showed in everything she played, no matter what she played.

Players tend to choose the role they wish they could have in a game: the tough fighter, the cunning wizard or thief, the charismatic bard. However, these choices are as indicative of the player’s personality, as their style of play. This insight into their personality can give you hooks that will allow you to wrap the player into the story lines. The obvious exception to this is the wannabe actor/tress that wants to play something different every time and loves to act! their part. (They’re fun to have in the game. They’re also often annoy to have in the game because when they center of attention isn’t on them, they get bored and either tune out or get disruptive.)

This personal prologue also informs the role of game master. My experience in the intelligence field has led me to a run modern and science fiction games with a highly jaded eye. Government types are usually venal and not especially competent. In the past, when I ran a superhero game, the “villain” of the piece turned out to be an “anti-hero” who cobbled together a new Roman empire to save Europe (and give herself massive power.) Today, after experiencing the ineptitude and corruption of big-government types and authoritarians wrapped in Progressive platitudes, the supers game feels much different, with these exceptional creatures bound by “necessary” licensure, insurance claims, legal actions, and their own, often mediocre personalities. Our “lead” hero is a corporate tool more interested in his Wheaties endorsement than saving people’s lives.

Our espionage game has the players as members of a special task force that is co-owned by the CIA and DHS. They operate in CONUS as DHS sworn agents, and abroad as part of a special action team. (The first games were set before the National Defense Authorization Act destroyed posse comitatus and due process for “terror” suspects; I have them as the “test case” to get the law enacted.) They are trying to protect the people from bad guys. tjhey also have been bending the laws to use asset forfeiture to roll around in expensive cars and clothes. They’ve engaged in actions that were a questionable legality both in and out of the US. Having the authority and ability to do things outside the spirit of the law means they haven’t broken the law…but they are not always the “good guys.” This is inspired by my libertarian politics, rather than the Progressivism that I hewed to in my teens and early adulthood.

Knowing your own biases and beliefs is essential to crafting your stories and not getting stuck in a rut. As with the players, you will aim for your comfort zone. I tend to run espionage or investigative adventures, no matter the setting. the trick is to use my background where it is constructive, and ignore it so as not to get in a rut where it is constrictive.