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“I’ll never be able to do this justice” Syndrome

Posted By Martin Ralya On March 29, 2011 @ 12:05 am In GMing Advice | 15 Comments

Back in the year 2000, I played a Star Trek RPG event at GenCon that was fantastic. It used the Last Unicorn Games rules (also fantastic), and featured multiple simultaneous groups, each playing their own scenario in a different Trek setting/era, which then converged for the latter half of the event, becoming a 30-person semi-LARP for the finale — something not spoiled in the event description. It was awesome.

So awesome, in fact, that I went home and started stocking up on Star Trek RPG books so that I could run the game myself. I jotted down ideas, came up with a series framework I liked, devoured books at a breakneck pace, and was in that fun, exciting zone all GMs know so well: when you’ve discovered something new and amazing and ideas are flowing fast and furious.

Except that after a few weeks, something funny happened: I started intimidating myself out of running the game. First I realized that while I was a Trek fan, there was a lot I didn’t know — so I bought the Star Trek Encyclopedia and Star Trek Chronology…and then felt like I had to read both of them before I’d have a prayer of doing justice to Star Trek or to the GenCon event I’d played, or even just of making this a good game.

You see where this is headed, right?

I had forgotten one of the key tenets of good GMing: In order to run a fun game, you need confidence in yourself and your ability to run a fun game.

Six years later, I wrote about that on Treasure Tables — and six years later, I still hadn’t run my Star Trek game.

Fast forward to 2010, and I decided “Fuck it, I want to run this game whether it’s perfect or not.” This despite the fact that my group (all Star Trek fans) includes one of the authors of the excellent Decipher edition of the Star Trek RPG, Don Mappin, a Trek superfan who puts me to shame — and if that’s not intimidating as a GM, I don’t know what is!

Have I read the Chronology or the Encyclopedia? Nope. They’ve both come in handy as prep and table reference books, though. Have I read all of the rulebooks cover to cover? Nope, just the Player’s Guide and Narrator’s Guide. Do I always know what I’m doing? Hell, no!

But, and this is a big “but,” this is the best game I’ve ever run.

Unless they’re lying, my players love it. I love running it. I even enjoy prepping for it, which isn’t something I’m known for enjoying.

It’s not the best game I’ve ever run because I’m an amazing GM. I’m a good GM, and I have moments where I cross into amazing, but I wouldn’t characterize myself as an amazing GM.

It’s the best for two reasons: my players are jazzed about it, and were excited to play it, and on my side of the screen I said “Fuck it, let’s just have fun and not worry if it’s perfect.” It’s not perfect, but it’s a blast.

I have exactly two barometers for this game: 1) Are my players having fun? (and on the prep side, “Will this be fun for my players?”), and 2) Does it feel like Star Trek? If the answer to both of those questions is “Yes,” I’m doing it right.

So if you’ve been sitting on a homebrewed world, a super-campaign, a favorite RPG, a grand idea, or even just a game you don’t think you’re up to the challenge of running, the time has come to say (altogether now):

“Fuck it! It won’t be perfect, but let’s try it and just have fun.”

You may just find yourself running the best game of your life.

About  Martin Ralya

A father, husband, writer, small-press publisher, former RPG industry freelancer, and lifelong geek, Martin has been gaming since 1987 and GMing since 1989. He lives in Utah with his amazing wife Alysia and their awesome daughter Lark in a house full of books and games.




15 Comments (Open | Close)

15 Comments To "“I’ll never be able to do this justice” Syndrome"

#1 Comment By Razjah On March 29, 2011 @ 6:29 am

I’m currently running a “Fuck it! It won’t be perfect, but let’s try it and just have fun” game. My players failed to stop a demon in a campaign I was running this semester. So with that game wrapped up in everlasting torment, we moved to a different game.

We had a brief discussion about what the players would like to play and we are now running a monster hunter game. I was really worried it would turn into a “who’s who” of the monster manual. This campaign has been awesome. The players love what is going on, I enjoy prepping and look forward to the games, and later today the party of 3-4 level characters will take down a Sea Dragon (dragon turtle) with the help of a magic dagger made by a giant. After that they will be back on track to chase the rumors of a vampire in the northern wilds of Fleinn.

#2 Comment By Trace On March 29, 2011 @ 8:58 am

That’s pretty much how I run all my games. To quote Frank Sinatra, “I did it MYYYYYY WAYYYYY!” And the players rejoice.

I once set up a Star Trek campaign where the players, over the course of about nine sessions, slowly realized the were in the Cthulhu Mythos. They didn’t make it out alive, and had a great time dying.

#3 Comment By Roxysteve On March 29, 2011 @ 9:14 am

Absolutely 100% right on the nail.

I use this philosophy in all my games. Occasionally someone will question lack of canonicity and I will gently explain that we are playing *my* version of whatever it is with all my prejudices, lack of knowledge and suppositions.

Sometimes I will offer to step down and let someone else run (not always: there are games I feel – rightly or wrongly – very proprietary about) but I’ve never had anyone tale me up on the deal.

Which is sad because I really am not an expert in Dresden Files (and I have things that are canon that I will not go near due to personal bias) and would love for someone else to offer to run – maybe on a rotating basis – our twice monthly Dresden Files RPG session, so that I could have a chance to make a character and play.

I think that creativity coupled to a smidgen of control freakism is worth a library of support documentation when it comes to RPGs. Yes you have to know what the setting looks and feels like, but beyond that it’s all jargon and dungeoneering really.

Star Trek has to be one of the settings almost any gamer would want to game in thanks to the ubiquitous nature of the setting. Hell, I’ve never played in a ST RPG but I’ve got a tricorder, phaser and communicator for the day I find the time and the GM.

And I think that group chemistry trumps anything in everyone’s eyes. You really can’t beat a group of players in which the chemistry is right. I have the good fortune to be involved with one of those right now (I GM a Delta Green D20 game) and the energy those people bring leaves me shell-shocked after five hours, and looking forward to the next session ten minutes after they’ve left.

Never put off a game simply because you don’t know enough about the setting. You can learn more “on the job”, when the player energy inspires you to provide deeper, more accurate detail.

#4 Comment By BryanB On March 29, 2011 @ 3:12 pm

“In order to run a fun game, you need confidence in yourself and your ability to run a fun game.”

This is absolutely true Martin. I have stumbled mightily in this area during the past year or two. All evidence to the contrary, I have felt like I’ve lost the GM mojo. Part of it is having unreasonable expectations that I place on myself. Another part is feeling the need to take things beyond some imaginary and impossible boundary for what constitutes a successful game when the reality is that FUN should be the most important result.

I call it paralysis by analysis. Instead of focusing on the good things I have in store for my group, I focus on what might go wrong or what if I’m not completely prepared for what will happen. To be loose and confident, a GM can’t focus on what can go wrong or feeling that they will not be meeting the expectations created by their own success as a GM in the past.

Recently, I had struggled mightily with Spirit of the Century. Was I confident enough in my rules knowledge? Did I get Aspects and how they can be used in play? Did I understand the Fate Point economy? Would my adventure be adequate for the RPG Meet Up event at the Squirrel Game Store? Would my players enjoy themselves? Would I be able to teach a system that I had never run before? I was also unfairly expecting myself to equal or exceed Scott Martin’s successes with the game. Scott runs a great Spirit game! If he played in my game, would my game be good enough for him? Unreasonable of me to think that way, but it was going through my mind.

I finally decided it was time to stop dilly dallying and get the game on the table. Sink or swim, I was going to run Spirit. I worked up the adventure based on a plot seed I borrowed from another source. I planned out the game for a four hour one shot. I made sure I had character sheets, note cards, and Fudge Dice. I made sure to take my rulebook and GM cheat sheet to.

I was nervous about it, but I also focused on making the game fun, no matter what happened that was my first concern. By doing that, everything else fell into place. Scott did get into my game and it turns out that I only had to ask him for help with one rules clarification during the entire session. More importantly, everyone had fun and it was a success. We had a lot of creative back and forth between the players along with very unique player characters from the background creation.

Sometimes you just have to get out there and do it. :)

#5 Comment By Martin Ralya On March 30, 2011 @ 8:17 am

@Roxysteve – “Never put off a game simply because you don’t know enough about the setting. You can learn more “on the job”, when the player energy inspires you to provide deeper, more accurate detail.”

This is fantastic, fantastic advice. It’s amazing how much I can get away with not knowing about Trek because I’m the GM. ;-)

@BryanB – “I call it paralysis by analysis.” In board gaming, this is usually trimmed to “analysis paralysis,” IE taking way too damn long on your turn as you overthink everything, and I suffer from it. Great analogy!

#6 Comment By SavageTheDM On March 30, 2011 @ 9:05 am

This is one of the best articles I have read on here and I must say thank you. I was thinking about running my zombie outbreak game similar to Resident Evil only using 4th edition rules and now I think I will just say” Fuck it! It won’t be perfect, but let’s try it and just have fun”.

#7 Comment By Scott Martin On March 30, 2011 @ 10:09 am

We all have to get to that point–and it’s hard. As a teenager, I felt like I knew everything, so simulating a world was wonky but I had the confidence.

The older I get, the more I realize that my ocean currents are pretty lines, not based on real analysis, as are where my mountains run–even my rivers sometimes go uphill on the map. Putting aside the endless detail that goes into a world and just running is rewarding when I get there–but sometimes I visit wikipedia a few times too many along the way.

#8 Comment By Martin Ralya On March 30, 2011 @ 5:41 pm

@SavageTheDM – Laser high five! That’s awesome, Savage — I’m glad I could help!

@Scott Martin – Don’t get me started on worldbuilding! I love it, but it also fills me with crippling dread. That could probably be an article all on its own…

#9 Comment By Roxysteve On March 31, 2011 @ 8:11 am

@Scott Martin – Uphill rivers? That is why we never should have moved from the sand table to hex sheets via the Outdoor Survival board.

If you understand the provenance of the references take 3000 XP for knowing the D&Ds.

#10 Comment By Redcrow On March 31, 2011 @ 6:51 pm

I’ve definitely run games where I had serious doubts about my knowledge of the setting. I just do my best to get the right “tone” for the setting down and that usually hides my lack of knowledge about the intricacies of the setting itself. At least as far as my players are concerned. YMMV.

#11 Pingback By Ravenous Role Playing » Blog Archive » Friday TEN: 2011-04-01 On April 1, 2011 @ 4:52 pm

[…] “I’ll never be able to do this justice” Syndrome […]

#12 Comment By lomythica On July 2, 2011 @ 7:16 pm

Thanks for pointing out this Article on google+!

I am right there with you. For me it was a doctor who campaign. I started watching old episodes, hitting Wikipedia; all in an effort to make sure that the story I was telling wouldn’t contradict something else (and this from a series that seems to contradict itself whenever it is convenient to do so).

I finally determined the tone and what elements had to be in the game to emulate the franchise, then just started. The original campaign idea is over a decade old. Now I can say that I am in episode 5 of 13!

#13 Comment By Martin Ralya On July 3, 2011 @ 2:15 pm

@Redcrow – Tone and your confidence as a GM are definitely more important than actual setting knowledge, especially if you have mature players.

@lomythica – You’re most welcome! Some level of research is good (I get mileage out of my Trek reference books, the Concordance and the Chronology), but there’s a pretty big line between “some” and “too much.” ;-)

#14 Comment By Wulfgar On December 27, 2011 @ 9:48 am

I know I’m getting to the party kinda late here, but I had to throw my 2 coppers in.

This article really helped me. I’m currently in the exact same situation that Martin describes, but with Firefly.

All my players are Firefly nerds, so I thought they’d call me on every little mistake.

Also, how can I possibly catch up on all the canon on the web, and the hundreds of worlds, and all the Chinese language, and the deck plans of the ships, and the Alliance presence on Core worlds, and the Reavers, and…and…and…

Martin just gave me permission to say “Fuck it. As long as my players are having fun, and it feels like Firefly, I’m doing my job.” And it’s going to be AMAZING!

#15 Comment By Martin Ralya On December 27, 2011 @ 1:42 pm

@Wulfgar – Awesome, Wulfgar! That’s exactly what I was hoping for and going for.

I’d love to hear the follow-up once you get started (it sounds like the game isn’t going yet, right?), be it here, via email, or perhaps as a guest article.


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