Friday, August 26, 2011

Off nights

Last night was game night, and I just felt off. As someone who has occasionally been active in theatrical performance, I recognize that this happens to everyone. During the course of a show, there will inevitably be a night where things just seem to go wrong. Your energy is low, maybe you forget a line or two, or are late on an entrance, or maybe the audience is just not as responsive as you have come to expect, but regardless, you feel like you failed to deliver. Thoughts of, "have I lost my edge?" "do I suck at this?" inevitably start to creep into your head like a mindflayer's malevolent suggestions.

In a lot of ways, a GM is like an actor delivering a show to an audience, with the unique twist that the audience participates in return. And so, a GM can similarly have off nights. They should be expected. They will happen. Nevertheless, when they do happen, you feel just as awful. That was me last night.

Last night's game began with a bar fight. It should've been exciting. It's something I have wanted to run for a long time, but I felt like I just didn't click into it. My notes were a mess, I spent a lot of time looking up rules and even more trying to find the right sheet in a disorganized stack of books. This threw off the rhythm, drained the energy and slowed down what should have been a fast-paced, exciting scene. The problem didn't come about for lack of preparation. I had my notes and quick stat cards. I had thought things through. I think the real problem was a lack of calm.

Let me explain. By calm, I mean that quiet time before the game begins. This is the time in which I get into my GM mindset, organize my space behind the screen and focus on the task ahead. Last night, I got tied up for an extra half hour at work, so by the time I got home, my players were about to arrive. The group had decided we would fend for ourselves for food, so I had to order pizza for the GF and me. The laundry I had laid flat to dry on the dining room table was still in place, along with the detritus of several days, which needed to be moved to make room for the battle mat. I had also just received a package containing a new dungeon tile set that I REALLY wanted to use that night, so I had to punch out those cards. Oh, and despite having taken good notes, I hadn't printed them out. All this led me to feel rushed and my focus scattered when 7pm rolled around and it was past time to start the game... and I think it showed.

My takeaway from all this is summed in a mantra repeated ad nauseum by my high school theater teacher: "Leave your day at the door." Last night really made me realize just how important it is to have time before running a game to take a deep breath and just clear out all the mental clutter that life brings.

Next time, I will try to remember that so that I will hopefully be less concerned about starting "on time" and more concerned about starting at the "right time."


  1. We had a like session yesterday- mostly based on a sinus headache that appeared in late afternoon and only started to go away when people arrived. We ended up doing a session of the Microscope rpg instead of the normal session- one of those few lucky times when I'm able to catch and assess that the game's going to lack energy- usually I try to bull through and end up regretting it.

  2. If you feel overwhelmed, it's always good to pick someone from the playerbase (usually the one with the most DM experience) and say, "Player, I'm making you my lieutenant, you're in charge of helping me run this or that part of the game right now."

    Very useful in fights where a character has no interrupt actions, so they have nothing to do on "not-their-turns"

  3. Yeah, unfortunately my player who I often rely on as my rule lookup assistant was absent last night.

    Another thing I'm seriously considering to help with some of the delay of game issues is to declare that players must be masters of their own spells. I often find myself looking up spell rules for them after they say what it is they're casting, but don't know the particulars of how it works. That is totally something that can be a "not-your-turn" activity. I have a feeling I might get some flak from my GF who loves to play and blow things up, but hates to memorize tedious rules mechanics. I guess I'm just a bit of a spell Nazi.


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