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.

Conan II

I have based this look at the Conan rpg on the quick start rules and the Conan Free RPG Day 2017 version Pit of Kutallu.

When Michael reviewed the full rule book the overall impression I came away with was ambivalence towards the game but then Michael is not a real Conan fan. Conan was my way into RPGs in the first place.

So putting the 2d20 system aside (more about that later) how has Conan and Hyboria been treated? With the greatest respect is my impression. The books are littered with vignettes taken from Robert E. Howards original works and these set the scene and bring the setting to live. The quick start book even starts with an essay on what is canon and who Howard’s creation was taken and expanded upon.

I have read through two adventures; Pit of Kutallu, which showcases the dark Cthulhu-esque shared background of Hyboria and To Race The Thunder which is set on the very edges of Aquilonia.

I may be somewhat biased here but these adventures are written in the same style as I tend to write my own. I am not a lover of maps and room by room descriptions. These adventures describe challenges or encounters and the GM may use or ignore them as they see fit or are needed to challenge the players. There is another quality to them and this is ‘relative encounters’.

‘Relative Encounters’

In many classic published adventures; a location will be described and then you are told there are 5 guards stationed here, what they are carrying and any treasure. When the PCs roll up they meet or avoid the guards depend on their choices. These static encounters have the danger of being over powered or under powered depending on the make up of the party. We play a game based upon dice and random things happen.

All the adventure encounters in these publications use a more relative way of describing the numbers encountered such as ‘one less than the number of characters’ or ‘three times the number of characters plus two more’. It doesn’t matter how many characters are in the party, the danger level of the adventures self-regulates. I don’t know if this is a Conan ‘thing’ or just a modern adventure writing ‘thing’, either way it is excellent and I will adopt it for all my future adventures.

Another feature, this may just be because the sample I have looked at are intended to be single shot adventures, but NPCs are designated as being suitable for use as PCs. Should a player die in the game session they can take up the reins of one of these NPCs to complete the adventure. This points to the adventure being well written. It also gives the GM a free hand relating to danger. I am not a ‘killing’ GM. I do not go out of my way to stack dangers against the PCs. At the same time I like to let the dice fall where they may. I am running a game set in the Forgotten Realms right now and the party have two possible options for raising a fallen character, both of which are single use, one is a scroll and the other will be consumed when used. Giving them that ability means that my hands are free to play my monsters and NPC opponents to the best of their ability. Seeding the adventures with potential pregen characters also frees up the GM.

So, as published Conan is a 2d20 system but Modiphius also publish a d20 to 2d20 conversion document to help those moving from the Mongoose Conan game. WotC incidentally publish a D6 to d20 conversion guidelines document relating to the StarWars franchise. This means that junking the 2d20 system, the only element that I don’t like, and adopting either d20 or an OpenD6 system are viable options. My D6 bookshelf has grown to 5 books now and I like what I am reading.

Conclusion

So will I buy Conan: Adventures in an Age Undreamed Of core book? It is a relatively cheap book and certainly good value for money at nearly 500 pages. I think this is a good possibility and kills two birds with one stone, to use the cliché, I could tempt my main group of players with Conan and feed them the D6 system at the same time. So right now Conan is on my ‘I want to play’ pile.

Exploring Modiphius

I have started to look at Mutant Year Zero as part of my following up on the suggestions I was given. The WEG d6 games are contenders but I can feel my house ruling fingers twitching, on the other hand my WEG bookshelf has already grown to 5 books.

The first impression was so great that I blogged about it own on my Rolemaster blog holding it up as an example of how things should be done.

I have tendency to treat games like the ‘net as a whole and surfing from one thing to another. MYZ is a Modiphius game. I was looking at the MYZ starter book, which I will get to eventually, and I started to look into Modiphius. From there I discovered they had created the Conan game. If any of you read my blogs you will know that it was Conan and the Conan books that got me into role playing games in the first place. I could not resist taking a look at their Conan game.

As Conan is based upon the 2d20 system rather than the MYZ d66 variant, this continues my ‘coming out’ tour as I look beyond d100 systems.

So I want to split this in two halves. Firstly, my impression of the 2d20 system. The second half will be about the Modiphius treatment of Conan.

2d20

I freely admit that I have only read the rules and not played this system but, to put it bluntly, this looks dreadful!

The basic idea of roll under the target number is fine, the idea of focus giving you a variable chance of a critical success is fine but from there on in is all down hill.

Bean Counting

This system is using a pool called Momentum. Points of momentum can be spent to gain additional 1d20s to improve your chances of success. The more dice you roll and the more of those that are under your target number the more successes you get, if you get more successes than you need then you pay the unused successes back into the momentum pool. If you get more critical successes then you can pay them back into the momentum pool as well. Every turn the pool loses one point of momentum and it has maximum level of 6 points.

That already sounds too complicated to me but it get worse. If you don’t have enough points of momentum you can buy points by spending Doom points. Doom points are just like momentum points but controlled by the GM. The basic idea is that yes you can buy an extra 1d20 but it will come back to bite you later. More about that later!

So we have Momentum points and Doom points and now we have yet another type of bean, these are Fortune points. Fortune points are exactly like Momentum points but better, they give you an automatic success rather than an die roll.

Now I would normally think that rolling under your skill target number would mean you have succeeded but not in this game. Success isn’t enough, well sometimes it is but not always. Where other games would probably vary the target number up or down depending on the difficulty of a task, this system demands multiple successes from no successes to 5 successes. So a skill that doesn’t need any successful rolls to complete, supposedly, still needs to be rolled. I can almost stomach that, I guess it allows you to test for critical successes and failures but to be honest if the success is automatic barring randomly bad dice rolls why are you making the character even both rolling? I am thinking role play not roll play!

This game actually has a mechanic that penalises players that take time to plan their strategy! If the longer the players take in planning the more Doom points the GM gets to throw against them. It even tells you to tell the players that they are getting a time penalty!

Critical Failure

So now we come to critical failures. This is actual example from the rules “For example, the Pictish warrior Dakeyah might successfully use Ranged Weapons to shoot an enemy with his bow, but on his test, his player rolls a 20. The arrow strikes the target, but the gamemaster might declare that Dakeyah’s quiver is now empty of arrows, and he must find more arrows, or seek other means of killing his foes.” So did the arrows evaporate? Did he go out this morning and forget to put any arrows in his quiver? I am sorry but if a player had 20 arrows in his quiver and he shoots 3 then he has 17 arrows left in my opinion.

In other examples the number of Doom points are used to alter the players reality for no good reason except to use up the Doom points.

As a GM I am perfectly capable of making up challenges for the players and making them logical and if the players confound my plans then good on them, that is one of the great things about table top games. I get as long as I need as GM to prepare these challenges and the players are put on the spot and have to solve them and they will.

Zoning Out

Movement and distance are measured using a system of ill-defined ‘zones’ of no specific size. Characters may move freely around their current zone without penalty. The rules state quite clearly that zones can be any size and distance is not important. Except it then goes on with additional rules about how if zones are too close together then additional empty zones can be put between zones to make them further apart. I am sorry but if distance is not important then don’t then make up additional rules to make that decision fit. In a game all about action and combat then distance is going to be important at some points.

Imagine your character staggers into a room, he has a punctured lung, a sprained ankle and the knee of his other leg has recently taken a direct hit from a great big hammer. On the opposite side of the room steps forward the champion of a Pictish tribe. He fresh and ready. Between you on the ground is a dagger, the only weapon between you. Who would you expect to get to the weapon first?

Yep, you got it, the PC. Why? Because in this system the PCs always win the initiative and move first. With the zones of movement a crippled PC can move, grab the weapon and attack before the champion facing him or her can even get to act!

Hammer-time

So lets say you do want to hit someone. Each attack now has to go through 10 dice rolls, calculations or table look ups to be resolved. 10!

I said at the beginning of this that I have not actually played this game and the reason is that I don’t think I could bring myself to even try. I think I would be embarrassed to have to explain the rules to my players.

Next time I will ignore the rules and look at the actual theme and content of the game. Conan!

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