GM’ing is hard work. It takes a lot of time and effort to write, prep and run a good game. Sometimes in the haze and panic of prepping a game for play we forget that we (gm’s) are players too. We spend the time and effort to make a good game so we can have fun with the other players. I’ve recently had conversations with a couple of gm’s who were struggling with their games for different reasons mostly having to do with a fairly simple precept, “Make sure that the players have fun with the game.” That sounds good on the surface. We want to make sure that our players enjoy the games that we put in front of them. That said, if we’re not having fun with the game we have a (at least one) problem.
Sometimes we forget that as gm’s we are players too. We are all playing a game and we are all trying to have fun. So, before I take another step in this article let me quote a good and very wise friend who gave me some very good advice a bunch of years ago, “If you’re not having fun stop doing it.” I’m not saying that you should quit playing, but if you find yourself looking on the tasks that go along with gm’ing as chores that have to be accomplished it might well be a very good time to take a step back and be a player for a while. I find for myself that taking a break from gm’ing and playing a character for a while does a number of very useful things for me.
- It allows me to relax my creative gm’ing muscles for a while and allow them to recuperate. Muscles need to be exercised, but they also need to be rested from time to time.
- Focusing on a character for a while reminds me how the game looks from the player’s viewpoint and that more than anything else is useful when I’m creating games.
- Being a player for a while allows me to be less stressed to get things done by a particular time so we have material for the upcoming game. Less stress is always a good thing.
- Looking at the game as a player allows me to think about different aspects of the game and different areas of the mechanic than I tend to focus on as a gm. Namely it lets me drill more deeply into things like character generation, how mechanics impact characters and how specific mechanics relate to similar mechanics in other games. (If you only play one game that last one probably won’t mean much.)
- Not having a gm’ing schedule to keep (running a campaign week to week is a fairly significant effort.) allows me to put ideas that are half formed onto the back burner to cook a little more before I serve them up which makes for a better game in the end.
If, however, you are not in a position to take a break from gm’ing (Maybe you’re the only gm in your area or maybe you just don’t want to take a break, or for whatever reason.) Let me suggest a couple of things to make gm’ing more fun again. These suggestions are not in any way intended to change your game or the nature of your game. They are designed to return a sense of fun to your gm’ing and to make the tasks a little less onerous.
- Relax your game schedule a bit. If you play every week back up to every other week and do something else on the off weeks. This is a great night to do one off games in other game systems, or break out the board games or maybe a movie you’ve been wanting to see. Possibilities are limited only by your (and your player’s) imagination(s). In addition to making gm’ing less stressful this gives you a chance to interact with your players in a different context and get to know each other better.
- Change up your game. In the middle of a gritty street level game? Relax do a sidebar that is much more light hearted and dare I say maybe whimsical. You will relax, your players will relax, and the change of gears will help all of you recharge your batteries a bit when you go back to your gritty story line.
- Set your current game aside for a bit (not forever just for a couple of weeks or so). Maybe the game and the characters you’re playing right now don’t allow for a whimsical side bar. Time for a commercial break and go do something else just for a night or two. Again, a great opportunity to explore new game systems. Always wanted to play “Munchkin” here’s your chance.
In short (too late JiB) change things up do something different for a while, maybe a different game, or a different system, or be a player. Whatever will work, change things up and when you come back to gm’ing or you come back to the game you’re currently playing you’ll feel refreshed and your game will be better because of it.
My best wishes for your gaming efforts. May your dice roll well when you need them to.