Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Chaotic DM

One of the most wonderful and horrible things about reading lots of game-mastering blogs is that it causes me to constantly reflect and revise my own approach to the practice of running a game. This is wonderful, because it helps me keep things fresh, and grows my own DM toolbox and techniques. It's horrible, because I feel like I am never quite able to settle into my own style as a GM. As soon as I start to hit a groove after trying something out, something new comes along to steal my focus. The shifting sands of my GM record (game notes, NPCs, maps and such) appears as a jagged, uneven wasteland. I have disparate files spread across physical binders, OneNote, Evernote and other assorted tools. I have drawers of half finished paper crafts and monster tokens, primed but unpainted minis and other detritus jostled overboard by collisions with new ideas.

Lately, my course has been set towards efficiency: Speeding up combat, minimizing prep time and playing loose with the rules. I run a weekday game with short sessions and my stress levels at work have been spiking. As such, I don't have a lot of time or energy to devote to game prep. While I have discovered or developed several useful techniques which help me run a more efficient game, lately I have begun to yearn once again for a more meticulous approach to GMing.

My campaign is nearing its climax after a three and half year run and my mind is seeking ways to make the ending deservingly epic. I feel like I need to draw maps and develop sets on which my PCs can do truly epic battle. I enjoy doing these things. I daresay that mapping and plotting were the very things that drew me to the world of gamemastering. Unfortunately, with my busy schedule, I am hard-pressed to justify these pursuits when I can run an exciting game without them.

I think I am really craving order among the usually chaotic fluctuations in my GM style. I want to organize my notebooks and minis, build more sets, draw out maps and plan dungeons and really refine my approach to running a game-smooth out the rough bits and all. Alas, when faced with a choice between fleshing out necessary NPCs for the next week's game and building a functional dungeon of doom out of cardboard and sewing is a time-pressed GM to indulge?


  1. I would say, talk to your players. if you're getting stressed I'm sure they'd be cool with taking a week off to recharge everyone's batteries, especially of you hint that the time will be well spent on your part.

    It could also be that the players have different expectations of you, than yourself hold. Maybe they'd be fine with more efficient way you've been running things, and understand that time is a commodity that can't always be spent on the game.

    Just a thought though, and I wish you luck.

  2. Thanks Shortymonster! I'm fairly certain that most of the anxiety over how I prep is mine. I try to touch base with how my players are feeling and they love both the fast and loose sessions and the meticulously prepped ones. This almost makes it harder, because the only person fretting over the potential change is me. I am itching to draw me some maps!

  3. Notes everywhere, dozens of unfinished projects and a wasteland of digital scrawlings?

    Sounds like you've settled into the style of a GM just fine!

    On a serious note, take a break or limit your games to once or twice a month. With extra preparation time, you can create those monumental adventures you desire. You'll de-stress a bit and your players will probably appreciate all the extra effort.

    As far as creating an epic climax to your campaign, my advice is to "Cheese it up!" I'm serious! Slap down props, terrain, voices, the whole nine yards. Adding interesting terrain, especially to a boss encounter can change any battle into an epic one.

    Chandeliers, spiked walls, collapsing floors... hell, it's the end of the campaign - have the whole dungeons begins to collapse during the final battle!

    Jeez, I'm starting to ramble, sorry about that. Anyway, I'm sure you'll do great, good luck!


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