Day 13: Describe a game experience that changed how you play.
It didn't go how I expected. I was running Fate. We'd created the campaign in the manner described in the book, through conversation, and had ended up with "first world war veterans vs. cannibal body-snatchers from space." The first session saw a PC death and his body being taken over by an alien, which that player played until its inevitable discovery halfway through the second session. At which point, his new character was introduced as a liaison from a nascent anti-alien intelligence unit. I thought we were heading in the direction of a conspiracy thriller, but with overtones of possibly co-opting alien tech to give the Brits an early start in the space race. When the PCs killed the rocket scientist I introduced, because "he knew too much" I realised that wasn't going to happen.
Indeed that session, I'd prepped a load of leads and hooks which the players (literally) burned through. And I realised that, although the aliens might indeed be real, this was the story of coping (badly) with PTSD, and paranoia. The aliens wore their human flesh like skin-bags, cut them and you could see the chitinous armour underneath, so our crew quickly got into the habit of regularly cutting their fore-arms to prove they were human. The self-harm analogue did not not go un-noted.
I filled a house with clues, and they burned it down, straffing the escaping (innocent) occupants from the air "just in case". I didn't care that all my prep was destroyed in that fire, I was sitting back and enjoying watching the paranoid characters rationalise terrible, terrible decisions. It was the easiest GMing I'd ever done.
Afterwards, my face ached from grinning. I'd had such fun without doing anything. The players were having fun too, and yet we were also affected by the profound trauma the characters were experiencing. These were truly broken people.
What it taught me, or rather reaffirmed, is what they say among the "Agenda"s of Powered by the Apocalypse games:
Play to find out
I am absolutely converted to low prep now, both as a GM and as a player. In my teens, I used to spend hours crafting the worlds and histories that we explored around the table. As an adult with jobs and other responsibilities, that level of work was no longer possible for my GMing, but I still enjoyed thinking about my character's backstory. What I've learned is that all that prep, and a GM or as a player than actually limit what goes on at the table.
All you need (as a player or GM – I can't say this enough) is the situation. Play with show you what happens, play will uncover your backstory.