January 14, 2009

The Zen of Gaming

STOP. Think for a minute. Relax.

How often do you do this for your game?

How often do you do this during game play?

For both players and dungeon masters of roleplaying games, sometimes the best advice is to simply stop and think about the game, the story, the characters, or whatever else you might be struggling with. We all seek to have fun while gaming, that's (hopefully) everyone's universal goal. But gaming involves group dynamics, and even in the best games can get sour if even one of the players is having a bad time. Everyone can feel it when it happens, but the DM feels it the most. They are the ones who invariably feel that it is up to them to make things better for everyone, but the biggest problem is that they can't share their plot hooks and cool ideas with anyone lest they spoil the story. It's a difficult situation, and often times the only other option is to throw in the towel (the horrors!).

When I'm frustrated with the game, or I'm having the DM's equivalent of writers block, these are the steps I generally follow. If this doesn't help, then its usually a sign that the campaign may have taken a turn for the worse).
  1. Stow away the distractions. Put down the rules and the the sources of inspiration. Shut down the desktop and close the laptop. Put away the miniatures, the power cards, the stock photos.
  2. Find a good place to think. Get up from your desk; its a place that says "work". Get away from the game table; its a place that says "go, now, play". Take a break and take a walk. Find a place to sit down. Take a notebook and pencil with you.
  3. Shut out what is in front of you and focus. The world is a hectic place, and focusing on what's in front of you can prevent you from thinking about what is bothering you. Close your eyes if you have to, but the goal here is to relax while staying focused on the thing at hand: the game.
  4. Relax and think for a minute. OK, maybe a few minutes, but I'm a person who believes in gut instincts and the first ideas jump into your head for first few minutes are often the best ones.
  5. Jot it down. Put it to paper. Write down the first couple of things that come to mind, and then close the notebook and put the pencil away.
  6. Walk back and get blind feedback. Take the long way around if need be, but try to clear your head along the way and focus on having an open mind. When you get back to the group, get some feedback. Blind feedback. Ask for honesty and blunt opinions. Questions like "if you were the DM, how would handle this current situation?" You might be surprised by what you hear.
  7. Review your notes. After talking "blindly" with your players, look back at what you wrote down. How do your ideas now look in this new light? Have your players had any impact on how you see your ideas taking shape?
  8. Wash, repeat as necessary. Hopefully this little exercise has helped. If not, try going back to Step 4 and start over with your newly minted - yet still half-baked - ideas. If you still can't get past whatever problems are ailing your campaign, then get out of the DM's seat for a while and let someone else play that role.
Sometimes problems come up that are in-game and storyline related. I'm talking plot, hook, background, and setting. Other times problems can crop up of the more mundane variety, like scheduling conflicts, interpersonal conflicts, group size, play styles, or player expectations (to name a few). Roleplaying gaming groups are sometimes like little families, sometimes like clubs, and other times are more like chess-in-the-park meet ups (RPGA, I'm looking at you). In all of these situations, the DM is burdened with an extra degree of responsibility, whether real or perceived, in resolving problems that crop up. After all, we all just want to have fun.

How do you find think through difficult game-related issues? What is your method to the madness?

1 comment:

  1. I find my way through bad gaming sessions by breaking out the booze (though this method is not approved for readers not of age to drink alcohol as determined by their local law) and food.

    The game becomes more of a social event, we all have fun, we eat and everything begins to relax at the table, the trick is not get totally smashed...

    Really though, I think the key involves something you mentioned earlier. Group Dynamics. While we have our share of "gaming group drama" I think it is generally low-key bs and none of us allow it to get to us.

    So to keep the frustration to a minimum you need to start by picking the right people to game with, which is far easier said than done.


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