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Rule #1: Relax

When I was younger, I thought I could stand on my own.
It wasn’t easy; I stood like a man made of stone.

“Something About You” by Boston

We humans get tense under stress. Mentally and physically, we lock up in an attempt to control ourselves and our environment. It’s a natural stress response, but locking up is often the worst response we can have to a rapidly changing environment. Ask any soldier who has seen combat, or anyone who’s ever been in a fight. Remaining relaxed is important.

Relax [1]There are very few activities that don’t reward the person who approaches them with a relaxed attitude. To be honest, I’m having trouble thinking of any activity that isn’t done better by someone who is more relaxed and comfortable.

Of course, it’s not exactly intuitive or easy to relax during a stressful activity. But the times I’ve managed it, I performed better. When you watch an athlete smoothly react to a changing environment, or when you stare in wonder at the video-gamer effortlessly fragging your character, you’re watching someone with a relaxed mind.

GMing is another activity to add to the list. When your players pull something completely unexpected, and you find yourself reacting to the stress by clenching up physically or mentally, take a few minutes to relax and clear your head. Don’t worry about upsetting your players; they’d rather have a good GM in a few minutes than a stressed-out one right now. With practice, this will become a natural reaction.

Experienced and confident GMs with years under their belt may never be stressed, but it’s far easier to take a few minutes to relax than it is to take a few years to be a more confident GM.

Besides, why stress? It’s just a game. You should be enjoying yourself, too!

Agree? Disagree? Got a sure-fire way to relax? Sound off in the comments, and let us know!

6 Comments (Open | Close)

6 Comments To "Rule #1: Relax"

#1 Comment By MaW On March 17, 2011 @ 2:36 am

You’re absolutely right. Staying relaxed helps me react well to the players, and it’s a good general rule for all of life as well. It’s certainly something my aikido instructors are very keen on, because if you’re relaxed you can react and move very quickly, which is obviously beneficial if you end up in a fight. Training people not to seize up in a confrontation is a major concern, and also quite difficult.

As for how to relax, I usually find that just backing off for a moment, taking some deep breaths and letting whatever it is float off is usually enough. Sometimes it requires a trip to the bathroom to get a bit of privacy though.

#2 Comment By bif On March 17, 2011 @ 3:42 am

There’s a sweet spot where relaxed and enthusiastic overlap. It’s the best place to be.

At work I find these exercises (especially the first one) enormously helpful in relaxing, and they’re unobtrusive enough to be useful at the gaming table, too:


#3 Comment By aukeslotegraaf On March 17, 2011 @ 5:28 am

Good piece; absolutely agree. Particularly:
“Experienced and confident GMs with years under their belt may never be stressed, but it’s far easier to take a few minutes to relax than it is to take a few years to be a more confident GM.”

#4 Comment By lomythica On March 17, 2011 @ 6:54 am

Thanks Kurt! Great article. This is just what I needed as I am going to be running my first con game this weekend.

Impeccable timing.

#5 Comment By Patrick Benson On March 17, 2011 @ 8:22 am

I think that this is the best advice I’ve ever seen come from the Gnome Stew site. Great work, Kurt!

#6 Comment By Squeejee On March 19, 2011 @ 1:45 am

Awesome bit of advice, the chief reason why I suggest a break every hour or so during game time. I remember in my first regular gaming group, which DIDN’T have any breaks and would run from 6pm to about 2am – sure enough, some time around midnight every night people would reach the end of their rope, and the fun of the game would start to become laced with annoyance from the players and sluggish response from the GM. Things just got more tense and less enjoyable.

Then I joined a group that broke halfway through the session for dinner (well, midnight snack is the more appropriate term), and noticed that phenomena wasn’t occurring at all – that, in fact, we were playing longer sessions (assuming nobody had weekend shifts, anyway) and maintaining the fun all the way through. It was mostly the same people as before, but the break helped keep the GM “in the zone” and the players friendly, and everything as a whole relaxed.

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