Monday, November 14, 2022

Dungeon Mastering 101: Its okay to not be okay

I have always dealt with Gaming ADD and as the primary Game Master for most of my groups it really bothers me. Between November of 2021 and about May of 2022 it was my turn to be DM for our Friday group and I ran 3 or 4 different games because I just couldn't stay focused. On top of that, I ran a game off of the rails because I decided that the direction the players took in sessions 1 & 2 were wrong and I railroaded them on a different path. After that 2nd session ended I knew I had just f#cked up. Hard.

Most of my inspiration as a Game Master has come from action movies and comic books. I like high action with explosive results that focus on the players and their characters. I want the players and their characters to be the stars of the show. But somewhere in the last few years, I started focusing on "challenging" the players and in all honesty started trying to kill their characters. I worried about Encounters Per Day and Challenge Ratings and The Math Behind The Game, things I'd never focused on before. If you grok those things or love things that is awesome, I just lack the brainpower to figure it out, I just don't find it fun, and it was contributing to my lack of focus in its own way to the games I was trying to run.

As I handed my time off to another DM in our group I honestly felt defeated. In the past I had run one 5E game from level 1 to level 20 and a second from level 5 to level 15 and I felt like I'd never have that experience again. 

It was then I decided that I would just start running a game and only focus on the first adventure. No promises beyond that. I also took a smaller number of players from our Friday Group to help make things more manageable. I love our Friday group. All of the players are amongst my best friends and having them has helped  me through some truly dark times in my life in the last several years. Unfortunately, there are eight of us and sometimes that is a lot. So I just saw who could make the other night and kept a cap on 5 of us.

I've been playing and running 5E for over 10 years now and it's a great game but I'm bored of running it. I have always loved Deadlands and while I had disliked Savage Worlds for not having Hit Points in the past, I have found that no longer bothers me. That first adventure took about 5 sessions, about 2 sessions per month and it felt SO good. We had very little combat in those sessions and that adventure's success reinvigorated my interest in running games. However, while I kept notes about future plots I still focused on this one adventure here and now. When I finished that first adventure I took a week to see if I had another adventure in me and I did. So we started the 2nd adventure next.

We are approaching the finale of the second adventure soon. After that we will break for the Holidays and I'll see if I had have another adventure I want to run.

For the finale I'm really focusing on the player's goals and their accomplishments. There are things I'd like to emphasize and throw at them but those haven't been priorities to their characters and so they stay in the toolkit, possibly for the future. 

I'm a lot happier as a GM again.

Yes, I had reached a point where I just wasn't sure if I could be a GM any longer and it really hurt my soul. I take pride in being a DM and I've always felt like I was a pretty good one and these little victories means an awful lot to me.

DMing is hard just from creative, organization, and logistics issues and its even harder as an adult running a company with a wife, kids, and grandkids. Not that being a player is easy for the same reasons. I'm really blessed that my group meets mostly once a week and that I've been able to eke out another session about three times per month with all of it in person.

If you are having a tough time as a DM you are not alone and while Critical Role has given us millions of new DnD players it has also asked many of us to be compared to Matt Mercer and most of us just aren't him.

And that is okay. 

If you are primarily a player feedback to your DM is essential and please keep in mind that there are things about the game that require a lot of time to work out and that means your GM is taking that time from something else in your life. And don't forget to let them know that you are appreciate them or that you are having fun.

My solution to all of this was just to break it down into smaller chunks and be honest with myself about my own shortcomings. That is never easy and it took time to have the courage to do it.

One last thing, sometime no gaming is better than bad gaming. I'm blessed in that I haven't had that issue in close to a decade, but sometimes you need a break and that is okay too.

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