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The GM’s High
Posted By Phil Vecchione On March 16, 2012 @ 4:00 am In GMing Advice | 17 Comments
I am frequently tired on Monday’s after I GM. At first it would be easy to say that my source of fatigue is from gaming until midnight on a Sunday. If I just went to bed right after the game, perhaps I would be less tired. The key word is “if”; if I would go to bed, or perhaps better stated, if I could go to bed. Today’s article is not so much about advice, but about something that I observed lately from being a GM, and a discovery about why I enjoy GMing so much. It just might be the reason you like GMing as well.
When I started GMing, I really liked the work that went into creating worlds. I loved to be creative and think about locations and cultures, or what stores were in the town. All of that is great, and I still love doing that today.
Years later I thought that what appealed to me about GMing was creating and telling a story to my players. I love crafting the rising action, the plot twists, and those jaw dropping reveals. To keep my players on the story arc, I had mastered the ability to subtly guide them through the story, and to anticipate their reactions so that the story always stayed on track.
As my GMing style evolved, I realized that while I liked to craft a story and have it play out to the players, what I liked even more was when I collaborated with the players and we cultured a story from the bit of sand that I brought, and watched it grow into a pearl through their input and actions, countered by my reactions. To me this has become the pinnacle of my enjoyment: collaboration.
As I mentioned, I game on Sunday nights, often from 8 to about 11:30. I run one of three ongoing campaigns, and am a player in the other two. On the nights that I am a player, the game wraps up, I clean up the game room, stay up for a bit, and then go to bed. On the nights that I GM, the game completes and I am buzzing. I am full of energy and creative ideas. I often have to sit and watch some TV to let my brain cool down. In those cases I wind up staying up too late, and thus come Monday morning I am tired.
I started to call this phenomenon the GM’s High (see, I got back to the title). I guess it would be like a Runners High, but honestly in this case I am a more of a stereotypical gamer in terms of physical activity. Regardless, it is a high of some sort. My wife will often tease me because I am talking to her a mile a minute, telling her about the game. It is quite real.
So I started to think about where this high came from and why I don’t have it on the nights when I am a player. My conclusion is that it has to do with stimulation. When you are a player you are engaging the game at a specific level. You have your times in the spotlight; you have your turns in combat. You have a lot of downtime as a player, but when you are a GM you are always on.
A GM has a lot of things to manage during a game: the players (both as a group and individuals), the NPC’s, the campaign world, the evening’s story, the rules, the pacing of the game, the timing of the game, etc. There is a lot of mental activity taking place in your mind. When the game ends, all that stimulation does not just turn off. It slowly fades, and thus you wind up too excited to just go to bed.
I don’t always get the GM’s high when I run my sessions. A tough session, where the chemistry is off, or where the game plodded along, does not produce the same level of stimulation as an intense game. So the GM’s High becomes kind of a barometer for how your game is going. If your game is running on all cylinders and your players are fully engaged and interacting with you, then your brain is fully lit up. If you don’t like your campaign, or you are having a bad session, then your mind is not as active and thus the high is lacking.
The GM High is also addictive. That feeling of excitation at the end of the game feels great. It feels so good that you want to get that same feeling again. Which can be a good thing, since you can use that as a motivator to work hard to produce a good session. But if it becomes lacking you can become restless and start looking for a different campaign, something that will produce that GM’s High. This has for me, on more than one occasion, lead to me ending a campaign to start another.
The GM’s High is a great feeling, and surely one of the reasons I enjoy GMing. I love the mental challenge that GMing brings, and the endorphin-laced rewards for my labor. Though when I don’t get my fix, I start to look in other places, at other games. This can be frustrating to players, who may have never GM-ed and not experienced the high that comes with a great session.
Have you ever experienced the GM’s high? What symptoms do you have when you get the GM’s High? Have you ever jonsed for it after not getting it for a while?
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