The pressure of being GM

Being the game master, dungeon master, referee, storyteller, or whatever you may call that special position can be a lot of fun. But it also carries with it a certain amount of pressure, and if things go badly this pressure may ruin the fun for everyone. While a lot of people claim that everyone at the game table is responsible for everyone else’s fun, in reality most players rely on the GM to entertain them. And even if they don’t, a lot of GMs I met, feel that they have to work harder than everyone else.

In fact a lot of GMs also put a lot of pressure on themselves. Some GMs not only run the games, but they also write the adventures, or even create the whole game world. Heck, there are quite a few GMs who actually wrote their own house rules or even created whole systems from scratch. So it’s just natural that they feel pressure when they present their creations to the group.

Over the years I’ve noticed that running games has turned from something that was fun into something that I subconsciously tried to avoid. I love coming up with awesome game worlds, I’ve written several RPGs, I’ve written (or improvised) the vast majority of my games, and I am pretty sure that my players enjoyed themselves most of the time.  But while my players were usually very patient, understanding and helpful, I felt that I put more and more pressure onto myself. I always liked to try out new systems and new worlds, but over the years the campaigns I ran got shorter and shorter – mostly because I thought the games had “jumped the shark”. As you can imagine, the unexpected success I had with Warrior, Rogue & Mage back in 2010, didn’t really help. The pressure slowly became unbearable.

Looking back I now realize that I probably already suffered from depression back then. One common symptom is that you feel that nothing you do has any worth or that it is not good enough. This feeling has caused me to stop working on quite a few game design projects and it’s also a reason why it’s currently so hard for me to start running games again. Being a GM with depressions is probably a special case, but I am sure that a lot of you GMs out there feel that pressure from time to time, too – especially if you have very demanding players.

So what can we do to deal with these feelings? I think the first step is to openly talk about this issue. Roleplaying games are pretty social games and often your players are also your friends. So talk to them about it. Sometimes talking a break may help or asking someone else to run a game for a couple of sessions. Another way to reduce pressure is to switch to another system and/or setting you’re more comfortable with. Or just run a beer-and-pretzels game for a while, before you get back to more elaborate campaigns.

What are your thoughts on this subject? Do you feel a certain pressure, too, when you are running games? What are your methods to deal with that feeling? Please share your thoughts below!