My evil brain

Evil Brain In A Jar My evil brain is messing with me again. For a while several campaign ideas have been on my mind, but for some reason I’m unable to turn these loose threads into something coherent. Everything I come up with sounds pretty awesome at first glance, but when I start to think things through it all feels “meh”.

After taking a break from GMing for way too long I really wan’t to get into the DM’s chair again, but it seems my brain is doing everything it can to prevent me from actually doing so. A while back I have talked about my depressive episodes here on the blog. I can gladly say that I am feeling much, much better than back then. I haven’t had bouts of anxiety for weeks now, I sleep much better and the dark thoughts are in mostly check. But alas I still feel overwhelmed and intimidated when I think about GMing.

I sometimes guess that I am putting way too much pressure on myself. I want to have more roleplaying games in my life again, but I am not content with making a few cautious steps. For some reason I always end up making plans for epic campaigns that almost immediately fail while still in an early planning phase. The fact that scheduling games is a hassle doesn’t actually help things, but even if I had a couple of players on the call, I wouldn’t be able to get anything done. I can’t make up my mind what kind of game I want to run, I keep coming up with new ideas while discarding old ones. Heck, I can’t even decide what system I want to use. First it was Fate Accelerated, then I was thinking about Mekton Zeta, a little later I decided to give BRP another look.

I also constantly fear that the game my players would love to play is not the same thing I would love to run – even though they have repeatedly proved me wrong. The only thing I know for sure is that I don’t want to hang up the GM mantle for good.

How have you guys dealt with similar issues in the past? Do you think I am just a bit burned out and should give it a few more months? Please share your thoughts in the comments below. Every comment is highly appreciated!

Michael Wolf is a German games designer and enthusiast best known for his English language role-playing games blog, Stargazer's World, and for creating the free rules-light medieval fantasy adventure game Warrior, Rogue & Mage. He has also worked as an English translator on the German-language Dungeonslayers role-playing game and was part of its editorial team. In addition to his work on Warrior, Rogue & Mage and Dungeonslayers, he has created several self-published games and also performed layout services and published other independent role-playing games such as A Wanderer's Romance, Badass, and the Wyrm System derivative Resolute, Adventurer & Genius, all released through his imprint Stargazer Games. Professionally, he works as a video technician and information technologies specialist. Stargazer's World was started by Michael in August 2008.

6 thoughts on “My evil brain”

  1. I think you could use some more rest from GMing, if you feel ok with it of course.

    If, OTOH, you still want to give GMing a shot, I’d say you should start with baby steps: one-shots, or very short arcs (3-4 stories top). Plan for short, episodic games, with self-conclusive stories you could continue or move on according to your needs.

    I’m in a similar situation myself, except I don’t have a problem GMing, but scheduling a regular or semi-regular game. I precious little free time lately, so I don’t want to start another game I couldn’t seriously commit to finish it, at the very least. So, I’m looking too for a right balance between unbridled storytelling ambitions and shallow pickup entertainment, but it’s not easy.

    Currently, I’m looking at Fate or FAE for my upcoming game, but the rest is still a haze of possibilities.

  2. I think I am exactly where you are at the moment – I want to run everything RIGHT NOW, but struggle to even get my group of gamers together. I sometimes feel like I am second guessing myself and / or my players, regarding the types of games I want and they want.
    My solution? Give it back to the players- what do they want? To be honest, I just wan to run SOMETHING. I am happy to defer to them if it gets us all to the table.
    The other part is to have big ideas, but not getting carried away. I’m pretty lucky that my group enjoys pretty free form games that don’t demand a lot of prep, like Dungeon World.
    My suggestion, if you get back in that saddle, play it loose, go with the flow and just see where it takes you.

  3. I have two suggestions. If scheduling is a pain, then you could select a regular weekly or biweekly day (in my case every second Wednesday) and declare it game night. Pick a night that works for you and the bulk of your players and stick with it, recruiting new players if necessary.

    I’d also suggest running a game where your really can’t plan long term. Run a shady trader Traveller game, for instance, where what your players do is largely determined by where they choose to jump to for the next session. All you can plan for is a few scenarios that fit the nearest system. Games like Pendragon or highly mission driven games are also worth looking at as they kind of force you to focus on the next mission or session and let go of the long term plan.

    Its kind of scary to let go of the notion of sketching out a campaign arc, but it can be quite liberating.

  4. I feel exactly like you after a long time without DMing. My solution is to take some time, find a simple game, propose it to my gaming friends, try it, and if it work, go for a regular scheduling, but not to tight.
    With time, you will feel more and more confortable, and the pleasure you and your friends are taking at gaming together will boost you as a GM !
    Happy to see you’re going better, by the way.

  5. I enjoy coming up with campaign ideas, thinking them through, discarding them and ask that stuff. Helps me find good sleep in the night. Just don’t expect from yourself to run the idea. Sooner or later an idea will stick to your mind and you actually want to dm it. It just comes naturally. And it’s early enough to decide on the system to use just then our even later. And if that doesn’t work, try to find a single scene, conflict our event out whatever simple thing you may come up with and do a one shot for just that to release the pressure and lower the barrier between you and the dm seat.

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