I guess we’ve all had it. That time where you get frustrated with gaming, throw your arms up and say forget this, I’m not playing anymore… Especially if you’ve been playing for a long time like me (close to 25 years soon) you might just have had that feeling more than once. Strangely enough I’ve only been about to quit once. So if you’ll indulge me I’ll tell you about that time of yore and reflect on how I dealt with it, there may be some learning involved for all of us…
In my senior year of high school I had already been playing RPGs four years. I had begun playing with my neighbors and the group eventually became too large (a common bane in my campaigns, but I’m getting off track here) and I switched groups and began playing with friends from high school. Those were fun times, we played all sorts of campaigns, tried out all types of games, and the only one that lasted was the Star Frontiers game we played during lunch in school. All others became a series of one shots or infrequently played campaigns.
The players fluctuated between four core players and a floating group of four or five occasional players. For some reason two of the core players, good friends to this day, became really antagonistic. They tried whatever crazy scheme they could come up with to sabotage adventures, and went out of their way to get me to lose my temper. They often succeeded…
I remember a Gamma World Adventure where they massacred the wise old man of a small village they visited. The locals in turn lynched them. A long running, but sporadic, AD&D campaign was derailed when the human ranger decided to pee on the dining table of the elven ambassador they were visiting. That and other misadventures cost the elven member of the party, who was a noble about to become the leader of his people, not only his title, but his family’s honors and lands.
The player/game master relation became strained and as happy I was to play; I ended up most session feeling frustrated and wondering why I was even bothering. In retrospect I realize that as a result of all this I was also disruptive of one of the player’s games, which was not the most mature thing to do.
Right about that time I also began my first significant relationship. I had girlfriend before but this time I met and started going out with someone more seriously, spending most of my time with her and her family and less and less gaming. I call that my year and a half gaming hiatus. I never gave up on it completely; I kept buying gaming books, but played only once in a while.
I eventually got back to gaming. I realized I missed it and wanted to get back together with my friends. But I sat down and looked really hard at what was it that I missed, what I enjoyed, and started from there. I’ve mentioned these conclusions before, but I’ll repeat them here. I realized one game a week was ideal for me. It kept the narrative flow going from week to week, sometimes longer breaks between games meant people forgot what had happened previously, and gaming more than once a week had burned me out before.
The retrospection also made me realize that constantly changing games and systems meant I was not as invested on my games and my players really had no stakes on what happened to their characters. I decided I would concentrate on longer campaigns and systems I like and would avoid trying every single game that came out. I realize that may not work for everybody but it seemed like the right thing for me.
Lastly I decided that what I enjoyed the most about being a game master was telling stories. Creating worlds and populating them for the players to visit. I was unable to truly enjoy GMing campaigns or worlds created by others or based in existing properties. From that day on I would only game in campaigns of my own creation. I’ve broken that rule on very few occasions but have stuck with it since 1993.
That was the year my gaming hiatus ended, and it’s worked well since then… This whole post actually sprung from a conversation I was having with Michael over IM and that entire story brings me to this. If you feel burned out with games, take a break, do something else. Sometimes it easy to forget how much hard work being a game master is and some people take it for granted, so be appreciative for what they do. Likewise, as a GM be aware that people coming to your games are also spending their time to come enjoy the game, you are not doing them a favor running a game for them; you are all doing this together to have fun. Sometimes people are not in the mood to play, don’t be afraid to stop the game and do something else, learnt to laugh at things and go with the flow.
If there is tension at the table, talk about it, that’s the surest way to get to the bottom of things. But if people are angry or frustrated, take a step back, don’t discuss it immediately, take a breather and come back to talk after everybody has calmed down. I prefer discussing troublesome issues face to face if you are playing around a table, conversation over e-mail or IM can easily be misconstrued or misinterpreted. It works in any relationship!
When I got back to gaming my players had changed as well, we had matured, lived and got back to gaming with a different attitude. Players come and players go, but the friends you make around the table last forever…
So all this advice has been dispensed before, probably by people who said it more succinctly than I did, but it’s always good to remember it. After a break from gaming you may come back or you may not, but the important thing is that you have fun no matter what you do!