I am on the record as having called myself, “the flakiest GM in the world”. It turns out that the behaviours which are associated with this rather derogatory self-labelling arise from a rather severe ‘Generalised Anxiety Disorder’ and a deeper, only slightly less intense, ‘Social Anxiety’. I am in therapy and, right now, solution-focused. This is a good thing.
I recognise today that the behaviours I have used to GM have not been effective in much more than cycling me through an ever-downward spiral of anxiety. It’s a bit like living the hobby equivalent of Groundhog Day but with me also choosing a different campaign idea to screw up each time.
This negative worry-fuelled loop has cost me friends and acquaintances (who have quite understandably given up on me as GM), many hours of prep wasted on abandoned projects, and thousands of good ol’ British Pounds spent on RPG products I abandon or (worse) never play with. I choose to work towards changing this set of behaviours.
I am only part-way through the process of learning about Worry and Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD), only just beginning therapy, and dipping my toe in the water of taking a few fresh decisions. That said, hope is strong: this is beatable.
I can lessen my sensitivity to the uncertainty which cripples my thoughts and drives such unhelpful behaviours. I have support from therapists, family, and remaining friends. I just need some patience with myself and everyone’s forbearance.
I am making some changes at work and in my hobby. I want to preserve and evolve both those arenas with healthier patterns. Of the former, it’s not appropriate to talk about it here. The hobby, however, is totally what I get to talk about here. So I shall.
The way I have been GMing for 30+ years is no longer working. It produces very short-lived games that leave me burned out and feeling crappy about myself. It’s driving off good players too – the antithesis of everything that Roleplay Rescue is about.
To this end, I have decided to change one of the most powerful of my unhelpful strategies: too much information gathering.
I get interested in a game or setting and then collect everything out there so that I can deal with the worry that arises from being uncertain: “What if I don’t understand it enough to run it? What if I missed some rule and it comes up in play? What if the adventure idea I have has already been written up?”
There are endless questions that arise when a worrier like me begins to explore a new game system and/or game world. The problem is that I have a very high sensitivity to uncertainty and a very low tolerance for said uncertainty. Underneath all these questions lies a belief that I am choosing to challenge:
“The GM should know all the answers.“Webster’s Worry, 1977-2020
I am beginning to believe that this is simply not true.
There are occasions, when I am burned out from the stress of all that collecting and reading, that I do the opposite: I choose a game and try to run it with no real preparation at all. Perhaps it’s a one-shot free-trial adventure. The key is that, in these moments, I do absolutely no information gathering. The belief I resort to here is that the GM shouldn’t have to know all the answers. You can see the inherent tension, right?
These no-prep games usually stress me out quickly. I cycle back to wanting more info for the next project. And so on…
Learning New Styles
One of the lessons I have learned during this past week is to introduce new information to challenge the beliefs we hold. In the case of believing that the GM should know all the answers, I have discovered a rather curious antidote with which I plan to run a behavioural experiment: the works of Monte Cook.
I have decided to learn about a new (to me) style of roleplaying from the pen of award-winning game designer Monte Cook: “Your Best Game Ever” (YBGE).
While clearing aside some books to find my Traveller stuff last week (on an anxiety-reducing, familiarity-hunting whim), I found my hardback copy of Your Best Game Ever. I remembered that I had a strong negative reaction to this book when I first tried to read it, several months ago, and I got curious to find out why.
“Your Best Game Ever” may turn out to be the best $50 I have ever spent. This is because it represents the generally opposite view to my methodology of GMing… but it is also the most appealing of the alternative approaches I have explored in the past. You see, I trust Monte Cook as a designer. I have had good recommendations for his work from friends (especially Dave Aldridge), and I am drawn very strongly to at least two of his settings.
The basic plan is to learn how he would run a game and then emulate it. But this time, I have decided to place some limits around what I read.
I am going to take it in steps, piece by piece, until I feel as though I either got what I needed from his methodology… or I can prove that he’s entirely wrong about how I want to run games. I rather suspect that my approach will be exposed for all its unhelpfulness and that Monte might just know a thing or two about gaming. I intend to learn what I can from him.
Step One is to finish reading Your Best Game Ever with an open heart and mind.
Because the Cypher System Rulebook is billed as the companion book to Your Best Game Ever, I have placed using it on the reading list – that gives me not just Monte’s methodology but also his prescription for playing a good game.
For reference while I am learning, I have chosen also to look inside The Strange to see how this method has been officially applied – this is the Cypher System world I like the look of most. I do not intend to run The Strange, at least not at this stage: limits.
In time, I aim to use Monte’s GM advice and the rules of the Cypher System to build the science-fiction game I have been longing to run… and I aim to bring it to a table somewhere during 2021.
When you are a recovering worrier, goals are key. To be honest, I haven’t worked out all the details of my SMART goal for this yet. But I will. And I will have Monte Cook to thank should I ever be able to wrest myself off the looping track of my unhelpful habits and find a new way to play.
One thing is sure: this is going to be an interesting period of learning.