Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Slow Burn

Welp, looks like my Saturdays are free again...

There is a very interesting conversation going on over at Penny-Arcade regarding the relationship between players and game masters. Specifically, how the vagaries of herding cats managing players while they run roughshod over your carefully crafted world can burn a GM out quicker than a dollar store light bulb. They pay too much time obsessing on red herrings, they don't take things seriously enough, they take things too seriously, they ignore plot, they don't respect the setting, they don't get it man, they, as Tycho puts it, dick around and eat pizza, and eventually the whole gaming experience for the game master can be summed up with this wisdom. It's true, players can shit up a game quicker than anything, and will do so at their earliest convenience. You know what though, that's their job.
On the other hand, it gets wearing after a while. Every GM who has ever sat behind the screen knows the feeling Gabe is talking about there in the first comic. The sinking feeling that comes to every GM at some point where it's like pulling teeth to get up the energy to run the game and you feel like everything that was good and bright and hopeful at the beginning of the campaign is gone and there's nothing left but aggravation and the feeling that not only are you bad at this, but you were never any good at it. I've never actually quit in a huff, or sent a hilariously damning letter to my players, but I've put more campaigns on "indefinite hiatus" than I care to think about. Sometimes I even pretend like I'll go back to them some day, but we all know that I never will.

I don't know how Munin does it. We've been playing Harn for what feels like twenty years now with precious little in the way of interruptions or problems. My campaigns typically collapse under the weight of my own bullshit and general player malaise. I have had one or two gloriously self-destruct due to some ugly player-vs.-player action, but those have been thankfully rare. The sad fact of the matter is that, for the most part, more campaigns fail than succeed. No matter how promising and shiny a campaign is at the beginning, no matter how fired up people are, every one is subject to the same kinds of outside pressures that destroy everything from friendships to new businesses. 

Running a game is like a second (or third, or fourth) job that you pay for the privilege of having. Not to say that it's not worth it, 'cause it is. When you're on and the ideas are coming and the players are into it and everyone is having a good time there are few greater feelings. Those days when you're slow and thick and everyone has had a bad day and you see more laptops than smiling faces, those are the days when you just want to throw up your hands, say fuck this, and take up stamp collecting or something. The best thing you can do is not let it get to you. Remember, it could be worse. You could have no group at all.

*PS: Since I know a few of my Rogue Trader players are regular readers, don't worry. Nothing in this post has anything to do with you.


A.L. said...

Up until about 2-3 years ago I had never actually finished a campaign. Players got bored, I got bored, the game just fell apart. it was very dispiriting, and I almost gave up on Gming all together. I gave it another shot with a group of folks where I am now, just a short game that only ran for a semester. The players wanted more, so I did a sequel.

I've since ran through several full stories, and it feels fairly good. The thing is, none of these have been particularly long games. They've been stories, told in 8-12 months of every other week sessions. Even then, the wear can get on you, but at least there is also the sight that you are working towards a goal, an end point for this story.

Zorak said...

Yet. It has nothing to do with us yet.

This is why I've gone so indie. I'll make the world and the NPCs but I won't make up plot just so people can crap all over it. I want players to take responsibility for finding things for their PCs to do.

I also like a campaign with a limited time horizon and a satisfying end. It can be very invigorating to pack up and start over.

NMI said...

Hopefully, this isnt about some of your rarer Palladium peeps!

Although I do agree with what you say there. One day, a campaign/story idea that seems like it would rock the Under-Verse to its core pops into your mind. 5-8 sessions later, you are like "WTF?".