Everything is not rainbows and butterflies when it comes to roleplaying games in the house of the Stargazer – far from it. If you’ve followed my blog over the years you know about my struggles with mental health and my constant fears of failure. The fear not to be able to please my players has become so bad that recently I started getting bouts of anxiety when I thought about having to run a game, or when I tried to do any prep. In the end I decided that no game in the world was worth it, and I cancelled the game. Permanently.
This comes directly after I ended a year-long GMing hiatus. I had high hopes that leaving the GM’s mantle to other for a time would help me to relax, to allow me to look at things from a new perspective. So when I decided it was the right time to make my comeback I managed to drive everything down the cliff in just a few weeks.
Inspired by Matt Mercer’s series Critical Role I wanted to give Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition a try – a game which I like a lot. Unfortunately playing 5E is quite different from actually running it. I also made every dumb mistake possible. When introducing new players to a game it makes a lot of sense to keep things simple. A one-shot with pregenerated characters in the setting you intend to use, is a good start. Of course I decided to jump directly into the campaign. Instead of starting with a small group and adding more players over time, I invited seven players to the game which had none experience in D&D. Instead of limiting the character choices to make things easier for all of us, I didn’t want to limit the players’ creativity and ended up with a very exotic adventuring party which didn’t even include a single human. My last mistake was to decide to switch from Matt Mercer’s Tal’Dorei setting to Eberron basically at the last moment. Yes, you got that right, I basically set myself up for failure – even though I wasn’t aware of this at the time. When it finally dawned on me that I bit off more than I could chew, panic set in. I had cancelled campaigns before, but I think it never went to extremely high excitement to total panic and despair in just a few days.
After I finally mustered all my courage and talked to my players I was positively surprised. I feared they might be disappointed, but instead they all supported my decision to cancel the game. They told me that it makes no sense to continue on, if not everyone at the table has fun – including the GM. Several players offered to take on the GM’s mantle for a time. With a huge burden taken away from me, I could finally breath a sigh of relief. But one thing was immediately clear. I really want to run games again. It’s something I LOVE and it’s something I was always good at.
One thing is pretty clear: either I reduce the size of the party, or I switch to much simpler mechanics. D&D 5th Edition is not a complex system, but it’s not that simple either. Personally I’ve always had the best results with dead simple mechanics like OD&D, or the Cypher System. Especially the latter is something I can almost run in my sleep. I am also extremely honored that so many people want to play in my games that I just can’t reduce the number of players without feeling terrible. So simpler games it is.
My plan at the moment is to take another short break and then I’ll try to get back onto my feet – so to speak. I haven’t decided on how I want to continue from here on out, but I’ll probably stick with a fantasy game since that’s what most of my players are excited about. I’ll keep you updated.
By the way, if the same thing has happened to you, or if you have any advice for me, please share your thoughts below. As always I every comment is highly appreciated.