Category Archives: Legacy D&D

Ending The Break–Or How To Deal With GM Anxiety

Back in June I decided to take a break from running roleplaying games. I have been wearing the GM’s mantle for many, many years now, and I just needed to step back from that position for a while. Running games was just not fun for me anymore. It felt more like a job, a burden I had to take. Eventually it was even a source of anxiety. I was never the most self-confident person, but back then I thought that every game I started was doomed to fail anyway. Sometimes I even pondered to stop playing roleplaying games for good.

I’ve dealt with mental health issues for a long time and over the years I luckily learned how to deal with certain aspects of this predicament. When I noticed that I reacted with anxiety even when just thinking about running RPGs, I knew that I had to change something. So I decided to take a break.

It was pretty hard at first. But over time I was getting more relaxed and I enjoyed being able to just play for a change. I’ve a lot of fun playing in games like Shadowrun, Mutant: Year Zero, Traveller, and John Sinclair (which is a German game based on a German horror pulp novel series). Several members of my regular gaming groups tried their hand at being the GM for the first time, and felt some satisfaction when they immediately noticed that this job can be pretty hard at times.

But of course I was always thinking about what games I could run after the break. I wanted to find something I was comfortable with and which allowed me to ease me back in. I didn’t want to burn out on GMing again. Unfortunately this is more easily said than done. A lot of games I once felt quite comfortable with are now tied to some very unpleasant memories. Some of my attempts to get campaigns going in the first half of the year or even before that ended in disaster.

A couple of weeks back I took a hiatus from my GMing break when I ran an Index Card RPG one-shot game using the Warp Shell rules. The game was fun, the rules worked well, but I felt it wasn’t the right game for me. Perhaps I was also not in the right mindset for that game, or for GMing in general. After being on a break for so long, I now struggle to find the best way to end it.

I promised a few friends to run a roleplaying game this weekend, but I am still not sure what to run. I also feel that the longer I think about it the more anxious I get. But I don’t want to give in to anxiety again. It would be so easy to just play a board game or ask someone else to take over, but I actually don’t want to do that…

Long story short, now that I’ve been on a break for about half a year it’s becoming increasingly hard to get back into the GM’s chair, especially with my old friend anxiety looming somewhere under the surface. If you folks have any advice on how I could deal with it, it would be appreciated.

Contagious Excitement

I have to admit that I am easily excitable. When someone comes up with a roleplaying game which tries to tread new ground, makes things a little different, or just has inspiring artwork, I am immediately excited and make plans to try it out. I focus on the things I find interesting and tend to ignore the problems. Often I don’t realize my error before actually playing or running the game.

This was the case with Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition. I was very excited as it came out, applauded some of the changes, but when I eventually played it, I quickly realized it was not the right game for me. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad game, just not a game I particularly enjoyed playing.

Back in the day, a lot of people – me included – were excited about 4E, and it was – in a way – contagious. Sometimes it’s hard not to get excited in something when everyone else is telling you how awesome that thing is.

The same happened to me just recently with the Index Card RPG. It has a couple of cool ideas, and the author’s videos on YouTube and Hankrin Ferinale’s (that has to be a pseudonym, right?) artwork made me extremely excited about the game. I thought the effort mechanic was a stroke of genius and I particularly enjoyed the wild creativity within the core rule book.

Unfortunately this was another case of contagious excitement. The game sounded awesome and in the end it turned out to be perfectly suited for what it was designed for … which was unfortunately not my style of running games. In the ICRPG the player characters have to be on their toes all the time. The game works best if they never stop, there’s always something going on, there’s always a timer ticking down, and enemies breathing down their necks. Phew, even thinking about it, makes me get out of breath.

Personally I don’t mind some action from time to time, but in between the action scenes, I prefer to run things a bit slower. A lot of the adventures I’ve designed have a heavy focus on investigation. There’s time for the player characters to do their research, interact with NPCs, discuss options, and prepare for what’s to come. Unfortunately this doesn’t really work well with the ICRPG. Its strengths are wasted if the game is not moving at a high speed.

The effect of contagious excitement is something we have to keep in mind when planning campaigns or even when reviewing something. From now on I will avoid making huge plans for a game which I haven’t played before. I was actually planning to run a fantasy campaign with ICRPG before I realized that it might not be what I was looking for. I also tend to be very excited about a lot of games I write reviews about and a lot of these reviews are based on me reading the book, since I don’t have the time to actually play everything.

Will I try to be less excited about games in the future? Definitely not. I think being able to have sometimes childlike excitement for a new game is something wonderful. The important part is not to let the excitement turn into anger when things don’t turn out as we hoped. I think I’ll still use the ICRPG for one-shots (like con games) in the future. It will just not remain standing on the pedestal I put it on awhile ago. This position is reserved for the next exciting new game that comes along. Zwinkerndes Smiley

P.S.: The image I use above is from that video meme with the young boy excited about getting a Nintendo 64 for Christmas. I am usually not that excited about new games, but sometimes it’s close…

More Thoughts On The Index Card RPG

Last Saturday I finally had the chance to give the Index Card RPG by Runehammer Games a try. My players were interested in a space opera/space fantasy game, so I thought Warp Shell – which is one of the included settings – would be a perfect fit. So I sat down and wrote an introductory adventure including an ambushed bonding ceremony on Xevos 1, a damaged warp shell, the search for a piece of  “Plotonium”, weird NPCs, strange locations, a labyrinthine mine, and a fight against the player characters’ evil doppelgangers from a different timeline.

Character creation was extremely quick but also showed a problem with the games’ classes. The Alfheim classes are pretty much modeled after common fantasy tropes. Unfortunately the Warp Shell classes are not that easily recognizable. What exactly is the difference between a Blip and a Shadow? How’s a Zubrin like? We eventually just made stuff up as we went along, but some more hints would have been nice.

The effort mechanic worked fine, especially when the characters were pressed for time or in a combat. If they had all the time they want, it was pretty pointless to roll for effort, since it was basically unavoidable that they eventually succeeded. At its best, the effort system (especially in combination with timers) can be very effective – but often it falls flat and feels like pointless dice rolling. The trick is to keep the player characters on edge all the time.

Combats were fast and always felt dangerous, but I should have put more preparation into both the opponents and the combat areas, since combat ended up being not that mechanically interesting. But that’s basically my fault and not the game’s. Overall I got the impression that the game works best if you keep a high pace at all times. There has to be action and excitement at any moment, because when the action comes to a halt, some mechanics just don’t work their magic anymore.

Personally I am a bit torn after my first session. On the one hand I appreciate a lot of what the Index Card RPG does. It’s fast, furious, simple, fun. On the other hand, I feel as if I have to drive the players from scene to scene at a break-neck speed to get most out of the mechanics. Sometimes I prefer a more relaxed pace which other systems might support better. I’ll definitely run the Index Card RPG another time, or at least reuse some of its ideas in other games BUT it probably won’t become my go-to game.