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“Damnit Real Life, I’m Trying to GM Here!”

Posted By Patrick Benson On May 18, 2012 @ 12:04 am In GMing Advice | 9 Comments

At the end of last month I was laid-off from my job of 13 years. I have been given a severance package, and I have been on several interviews since then. I am very confident that I will probably have a job before the end of the month. You never know, but for various reasons I am highly optimistic given the situation.

But my GMing plans have suffered. All of my free time has gone into networking, job hunting, and preparing for interviews. Plus there are all of those little tasks that need to be addressed as well Рclosing my old retirement fund, applying for COBRA to keep my health insurance coverage, and even just responding to queries and concerns from family members and friends is draining. Add to that the stress and uncertainty that comes with the situation and I am finding myself in poor condition to run a game.

Let’s face it: My game is not a priority right now, nor should it be. I have a real life issue to deal with, and we all know that real life comes first.

But my game is also my steam valve. It lets me vent away some of the pressure in my life. Running a game makes me feel better, and right now I can really use that bi-weekly dose of happiness that GMing gives me. I cannot prioritize my game, but I want to give it some of my attention. How do I balance this equation?

Well here are a few tips that have helped me, and if you find yourself in a similar situation perhaps they will help you too.

Tell Your Group About Your Problem

Pride might tell you to keep your problems to yourself, but your pride can recover after you have resolved the issue that plagues you. For now let your group know what is wrong, or at least that something is wrong and that you have to focus your energies elsewhere for the time being. The game might be put on hold, or it is not going to be as good as it could be for a while.

Scale Back Your Game Plans

I was hoping to run an Open D6 game for my group right before my job was eliminated. That requires a lot more work on my part though, because I was going to have to do a lot of game design as the system uses a generic setting. Plus my group was going to have to learn a new set of rules. I do not have the mental bandwidth for that at this time, so instead I am going with a MicroLiteD20 game. We know the basics of the system, and the game is much simpler and ready to be run as is. I can always take a stab at my Open D6 game on a future date.

Focus On the Fun Parts

Indulge a little and throw game balance out for the time being. If you enjoy more roleplaying in your games then focus on that for now, or focus on combat encounters if that is what makes you happy. Just be sure that your group understands why you are doing this. Everyone needs a time when they focus on themselves and what brings them joy. You will eventually adjust back to your normal mode, but for now have that second slice of GMing cake whatever it may be.

It Gets Better

It really does. You will sooner or later see the silver lining to whatever dark cloud is passing over you. Just keep your chin up, focus the majority of your energy into dealing with your real life problems, and try to use your game as a stress reliever and not let it turn into another point of stress instead.

I hope that helps any of my fellow GMs out there who might have hit a patch of bad luck. Do you have any tips for dealing with GMing a game while dealing with a serious personal problem? If so, share what you have learned with the rest of us by leaving a comment below.

About  Patrick Benson

Patrick was born in 1975, and is more or less your typical American male for someone of his age. Except he is a tabletop RPG gamer and a damn fine game master! What else matters?




9 Comments (Open | Close)

9 Comments To "“Damnit Real Life, I’m Trying to GM Here!”"

#1 Comment By danroth On May 18, 2012 @ 11:43 am

As an addition to the first point, I would say remember that your gaming group is (for most people, anyways) a group of your friends. These are people who do care about you and your well-being, and will be there for you through times of trouble.

#2 Comment By Patrick Benson On May 18, 2012 @ 11:48 am

@danroth – Absolutely! My gaming group was one of my first points of contact that I reached out to regarding the bad news, and they were also the first to respond with job leads and offers to help. That is not because they are great gamers, but because they are great friends. :)

#3 Comment By Tegemea On May 18, 2012 @ 12:15 pm

I can get behind this advice 100%, but only because I completely failed to follow it in a similar situation.

A few months ago when my marriage turned into a separation, my regular game was approaching the final sessions of a long-standing campaign, and the climax of a pretty epic plotline. The personal situation had me stressed and angry and depressed, but I felt I owed it to my players to try and deliver on the end of this campaign – they drive as much as 3 hours for our monthly games, and we’d been playing through this one for almost 2 years. Anyway, I wish I’d followed the advice above, because instead, I could find zero motivation for getting the final sessions planned, and as a result the players unwittingly dived through holes in my story, and arrived at the conclusion a session before I was ready. Unable to work out a solution on the fly, I half-improvised the end of the campaign, and the whole thing ended with a dull fizzle instead of a bang.

So go back and re-read it. Thats good advice!

#4 Comment By Bow Nuke On May 18, 2012 @ 11:30 pm

I was wondering why you have not been writing something. I hope everything turns out alright for you.

#5 Comment By Patrick Benson On May 20, 2012 @ 11:47 am

@Tegemea – I’m sorry to hear about your separation, and I hope that both you and your separated spouse are happier however things turn out. Thanks for endorsing the article based upon your real world experience!

@Bow Nuke – Well if someone noticed that I was missing from action I must be doing something right! :) Thanks for the kind words, and I am sure that I will be gainfully employed once again in the near future. I’m lucky in that I have a lot of options in front of me right now, and I am being very selective so as to make sure that my next job will be a great fit for myself and thus benefit my future employer as well! I’ll be sure to include a note in a future article to let readers know when that happens.

#6 Comment By Piikki On May 21, 2012 @ 12:07 am

I am going through similar phase in my life. Huge stress in real life and no time to do gaming related things. As mentioned gaming is also my steam outlet and this cumulating stress needs to be released somehow. My wife has noticed that I spend every free minute of my life now with a notebook in my hand scribbling notes for three diffrent campaigns from which only one is even being played at the moment. My stress has caused my GM instincts to go on overdrive. Bad side of this is that i get way too little rest and relaxation time, good sides are that I soon have couple extra campaign ready on my drawer.
I guess there is no real purpose for this post. I just needed to share this since it seemed relevant to the topic.

#7 Comment By Patrick Benson On May 21, 2012 @ 3:57 pm

@Piikki – As far as I am concerned I think that is all of the purpose that you need. Thank you for sharing, and I wish you all the best with whatever is troubling you at this time. Good luck and keep gaming!

#8 Pingback By Friday Knight News – Gaming Edition: 25-MAY-2012 | Game Knight Reviews On May 25, 2012 @ 5:00 am

[…] hopeful that Patrick Benson @ Gnome Stew has found a new job since posting “Damnit Real Life, I’m Trying to GM Here!” but I haven’t seen him virtually celebrating as yet. (As a result, I’m still […]

#9 Comment By Miri Daisuke ManyNamed On June 12, 2012 @ 9:53 am

My group has had the opposite problem. My schedule has freed up – but with my boyfriend getting a new job, my two gaming friends entering finals week at high school and appling for college, etc., everyone ELSE is having problems making it to the computer desk (we play via Skype).

We’ve decided to solve it by taking a break from our homebrew, in-depth frontier exploration game and break out a couple of good old-fashioned dungeon crawl modules and pop players in and out as needed until schedules quiet down.

I hope your IRL issues clear up soon and good luck!


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