There will come a time, through no fault of your own, when you will be expected to run a game or exercise your GMing prowess and you will feel…lacking. We speak often of player and NPC motivation within the context of constructing a game or campaign, but very little about what keeps a GM motivated and returning to the table, week after week (hopefully). Some ideas to get through that darkness and into the light….
Fake It Until You Make It
You’ve probably heard this one before and for good reason: it usually works. Be it public speaking, combating shyness, or exerting yourself, just faking it — making the attempt even though you don’t want to — can, over time, lead to success. The key component of that statement is “over time.” Don’t fake interest in your own campaign for five sessions; just pull the plug. However, if you find yourself dreading the thought that game night is approaching and you don’t have anything ready (again) keep at it. Repetition breeds success. Over time that prep doesn’t become quite as hard, take quite as long, or seem like such a burden. Encouraging feedback given by the players helps a lot here too, as it highlights the payoff at the end of a session.
Power Through It
In many ways this is similar to the above with the exception that it’s a one-time deal. You’ve had a bad week and have to run a game that you’re normally engaged in. For four to six hours you can probably suck it up and just power through it, although be careful that its not to the detriment of the game. If you can’t keep a clear head about you and leave those feelings outside the door, then you might need to take the week off.
One interesting component of this strategy that I have found is that after a bad week, when I don’t want to run a game, within about 30 minutes of running said game, my mood has dramatically improved! Don’t underestimate the power of being with your friends and engaging in what is, presumably, a fun activity! It’s a game. Games are meant to be fun!
This is the positive version of Power Through It: you focus your attention on that negative energy and turn it around for your own purpose. Playing your favorite music dialed up to 11, re-reading the campaign notes that got you excited to run the game in the first place, checking online “actual play” tales to inspire you. Whatever it takes!
For me, it’s usually those campaign notes or key NPCs. I develop a strong attachment to NPCs and if I’m not feeling it for a session, sitting down and putting myself in the NPC’s shoes and mentally walking through the adventure typically will turn that frown upside down! At that point I want to see that mental story come to life with the other players.
Use Your Lifeline
Sometimes the best thing to do is to confide in another that you’re lacking the motivation. This sounding board can help reinforce the things that made the game attractive in the first place. Ideally another GM, but even just one of your players can help with that extra bit of nudging and feedback that can get you back to the table.
Admittedly I use my wife who pretends to be interested (bless her soul) and that’s usually enough. Sometimes her advice is to just cancel the game, which, to me, feels wrong, and thusly, I can now find a way to Psyche Myself or Power Through It.
There’s no shame in calling the game. Be open and honest: you’re just not into running a game today. Now that doesn’t preclude your group from still getting together and engaging in some other activity or some backup game. However, if you end up having to call sessions more often than not, then you should really reconsider the game as a whole.
Also, if you’re going to call a game, be polite and give your players reasonable notice. Players psyche themselves up to play too! Sometimes your game is the highlight of their week; pulling the plug 30 minutes to game time is a kick in the nuts.
Have any tips to share on what helps motivate you as a GM? Share them below!