Saturday, June 14, 2014

Losing My GM Mojo

No free stuff today, just internet therapy.

Some time ago when I first discovered Savage Worlds, my head was full of ideas and adventures. I wrote some of my best plot-lines that year, found a group, and was off and running. A year later I floundered. The game I had imagined had changed, one of the players was creating problems both in and out of game, and although my players said they loved my game, they wanted me to change systems to D20.

I lost my mojo for six years. Suddenly I couldn't plan an adventure. I forgot everything I knew about GMing and the biggest thing I lost was my self-confidence.

I spent years hanging out on and browsing the web for adventure and campaign advice. While I learned a great deal about things I didn't know and things I didn't realize I knew, the deluge of information that I absorbed just added to the brain fog. You see I wanted to find the magic bullet, the step by step instructions to GMing success that I could look at and find where I got lost.

No such road map exists. It was time I looked around on my own and find out where I was and how I got there. Warning, Here There Be Dragons.

Dragon #1) Inflexibility
I had a game that I wanted to run, and a table of players who weren't thrilled with the system. They lacked the desire & flexibility to play something new and I lacked the desire & flexibility to run what they wanted to play. I was the wrong GM for this group.

It was so demoralizing to know that these players weren't enjoying the game as much as I was. They said they were having fun ..BUT... There was always that but, and it took its toll on my creativity.

So my advice is always discuss things you would like to run with your group before you start an emotional investment in a campaign. Make sure that your players are as jazzed as you are. If they aren't that interested in the system or setting and you are still determined to give it a go, try running a one-shot: a single adventure with no commitments so they can experience both the system and the setting you have in mind. Maybe they will like it, maybe not. 

What if it doesn't work out but you are not ready to give up on the system?
See if there are any local gaming groups that do play the system. If your schedule allows time, it might be worth running your game at the FLGS (Friendly Local Game Store) for an entirely new group of people. I'm not saying you need to dump your friends. I am saying that there is no rule that states you can't also pursue other interests on your own time.

Dragon #2) Biting off more than I could chew
I was running a weekly game and the adventures I worked on were mysteries. First of all, writing a mystery is no easy task. Writing one a week is a nightmare. Balancing the clues so that your players can add them up and get the right answer...priceless...and a total pain in the ass. Mystery writers have the advantage of knowing that their heroes will find the clues and decipher them correctly because the writer is in total control of everyone and everything. In GMing circles if you try to do that you are railroading your players and that is BAD.

I managed to pull it off for the first four games. Damn they were good. The problem was I couldn't keep it up. I couldn't out-do what I did last week and the more I strained to pre-plan my adventure, the more I drove myself into writer's block. It became a self-powered Maelstrum. I couldn't come up with an adventure so I stressed and the more I stressed, the less likely I could be creative. The pressure was too much and I have no one to blame for it but myself. I forgot that I was playing a game. The pressure was a dragon of my own creation.

My advice- This is a tricky one and I am still working through it. There was a lot that I did wrong. First was trying too hard to make my players like the system. Second, in my desire to make "perfect adventures" I was both taking on more work and removing more freedoms from my players. I was doing the exact opposite of making a good game.

BTW this video of John Cleese on being creative is worth watching. 

Dragon #3) I put player joy over my own
I am not saying that I should put my own joy over everyone else's, but there are two problems with putting your player's entertainment before your own. First, you can't ever be sure what is going to be fun and entertaining for someone else and if you are wrong then nobody is having fun. Second, the process becomes work when it should by fun.

Strangely enough, I find the best thing to do in the circumstances is don't worry about what your player will think is fun. Just ask yourself "Would I think this is cool?" Odds are good that if you think it is, so will your players. Don't be afraid to go a little wild and indulgent. Just remember that the players want to be the coolest characters in your setting, and you can help them earn it. A perfect example is the Penny Arcade live play of D&D from PAX 2013 where the heroes piloted a giant statue against a Kaiju. When was the last time you did something that cool in a D&D game? 

Next time I will list a few things about how I prep, GM, and links to advice that has helped me get my mojo back.

BTW, I have received a request form someone to make some supermarket standees for his Zombie Game. Of course I will post them for free downloads as they get finished.

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