Sunday, July 19, 2015

Gun Shy

I've been away from GMing for a while.  It's been even longer if you count the times that I've started a game and then had to end it after one or two sessions.  Between changing jobs after 12 years and then going back to school, I think I've really kind of panicked when it comes to time management, to the point to where I don't assume I have time for anything unless I don't have anything pressing on me for the next week or so.

I know I've discussed this in the past.  Part of me really needs to get back into running games on a regular basis, even if it messes with my time management, because, to an extent, it will help me to get better at time management.  In part, it will help so I don't feel quite so focused on just getting school out of the way and looking for a new job.

All of that said, I've been out of the game so long, that while I can think of a million games I want to run, when I sit down to think of what kind of campaign I want to run and how, I start to worry.  I've been out of the game so long that I'm afraid I won't be able to hold up my end of the stick.

I know the story of the campaign is only partly due to the GM, but having the initial ideas, the plot hooks, and the "go to" ideas when everything else stalls out is important, and I worry that I've let those skill atrophy too much.

A few years back, I actually jumped at the chance to run Savage Worlds, DC Adventures, and Fate Accelerated sessions as one shots that I spent almost no time doing any prep for.  Those sessions went pretty great.  I also used to love running games at conventions simply because the players were usually new to me, and didn't do things the same way I expected my regular group to do things, and it forced me to up my game and react to new and different ideas.

Now I'm afraid that I can't adapt, that I can't come up with enough of an outline to push the campaign out on a trajectory, and that I'm going to disappoint my players by needed to cancel a session or a whole campaign because I assume I have more time available than I actually have.

I have even gotten so bad that in the middle of midterms, when I should have been rational and logical enough to realize the course load was heavier than normal, I told my gaming group I wouldn't be able to play at all from now on because I was never going to be sure from week to week if I was free.  It was silly, and an over reaction, based on an unusually high stress week.  I could have called off one week and apologized, but I just felt like I was never going to be able to promise to have free time again.

At one point in time, I was very vehement that if someone doesn't have time to play or run a game on a regular basis, they really needed to be adult enough and realistic enough to cancel that game or drop out of it.  While I don't disagree with this, I think I have become hyper sensitive to this, to the degree that even if I call off at all, even with a reasonable amount of notice, I feel like I need to punish myself by keeping myself from ruining everyone else's fun.

I find myself haunted by the specters of failed games more often than I used to be.  I don't want to be aimless and unable to deal with player expectations other than mine, like in my failed Hellfrost game, or painted into a corner with too many sub-plots that I couldn't manage to make fun for everyone, like my Age of Rebellion game.

I want to run a game like my D&D 3.5 Mistledale campaign, which had it's ups and downs, but felt like it ended with some real character development, and with me being able to provide an ending.  I want to run a game slightly better than my DC Adventures game, where I terribly flubbed the ending, but the overall year long arc seems to be something everyone in the campaign enjoyed.  I want to run a game like my Edge of the Empire game, where I think both "sides" of the campaign resolved pretty nicely, even with an ending that was less climactic than I would have liked for one of the teams.  All of these were enjoyable games, with purposeful endings.

I think in some ways I'm more worried about the games that were going really well that I never finished.  I don't want a game that was going great like my Star Wars Saga KOTOR game, my Rogue Trader game, or my Civil War Marvel Heroic game, where there were so many good moments, but I just didn't have the time and ability to deliver a satisfactory ending for the campaign.

In the end, I feel like I need to get back in the saddle, but I still have that voice in my head saying that it would be better to fade away than to potentially fail and let people down.


  1. Damn, dude. That's depressing.

    Start small. Don't think "campaign" right now; think "adventure". Be in the moment and keep yourself there. Too much projection into the past and future is keeping you from the kind of gaming you want.

    1. Thanks Venger, I appreciate the words.

  2. I think you need to play some and recharge. Like Venger said, do some one shots or 2-3 session games with specific goals.

  3. ...and it is never a bad thing to let your players know there will be no game for a couple of weeks, couple of months, whatever. They know you have to create this shit and you have a life.

    Here is an idea, cause I think of taking a break from time to time, let the players know you are going to be unavailable for a month so they are in charge of the campaign world. They can get together and play some type of one shot in the game world of their own making.

  4. Venger is right on. This is the primary reason why I've tried to suppress my world-building instinct and just run games set in established settings (13th Age and Barbarians of Lemuria). "Big picture" approaches are paralyzing for me. I figure that I need to focus on getting to the next session for now.

  5. I've been running a game of one sort or another for my bunch for the last 20 years or so and when I suffer burnout from time to time my group always says take a break and do other things, play board games, etc., but none of them want to run a game.

    1. Maybe it's time for your players to go behind the screen? Tell them you're not going to run another session until someone else GMs a one-shot. Only fair.