Taking Stock As GM

Roleplay Rescue is the podcast about rediscovering our lost tabletop roleplaying games hobby. It started more than three years ago and it has been a journey which began from my frustration with other people’s busy lives and ended up revealing that, in fact, I had become a giant hypocrite: my life, like the lives of most people I know, became jam-packed with too many things which bubbled over into full-blown anxiety and, at times, depression.

Season 10 began with a theme in mind: how can I help the anxious, over-worked, and generally over-whelmed gamer get back to the table? To answer this I decided to first look in the mirror: I’m a 50-year-old white male with a busy career – I am a British high school teacher – and I am staring down the barrel of the later third of my life. What can someone like me do to get back to playing and sharing the activity I have loved since I was very young?

Today, as I sit and ponder the content for Season 10, Episode 20, I find myself at another key juncture in my career as a GM of roleplaying games. I realise that even though I am experienced and enjoy the act of play, I have lost touch with the roots of what makes this hobby so rich and rewarding. I have been feeling less rewarded and more anxious about my games. But two key insights have nudged me back towards nurturing what Eastern philosophers might term the, “Beginner’s Mind”.

Passion & Choice

As cheesy as it felt when I completed the “Passion Statement” task proposed by Kenny Norris about two weeks ago (itself from his 2015 blog post entitled, “How to respark your missing roleplaying passion” available in The Collected Archives), it did re-engage me with the core of what had attracted me to RPGs back in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

The details are perhaps not important (although I may end up unpacking them in Episode 20) but my main learning has been that – putting nostalgia aside – certain features in my gaming come around again and again. But I haven’t paid enough attention to them because I so often allow the desires and tastes of my players to crowd out my own passion.

That being said, I have also begun to internalise perhaps the simplest truth of all about roleplaying games: most of the problems I face as a GM arise from a failure to prioritise the primary strength of RPGs. This was brought home to me very clearly this week while reading The Alexandrian’s 2015 series entitled, “The Railroading Manifesto“.

Most of the problems that arise from railroading are the direct result of negating the primary strength of the RPG as a medium: Player choice.

The Railroading Manifesto – Part 3: Penumbra of Problems

I have focused an awful lot recently on my methodology while at the table with players, but under-estimated the importance of figuring out my methodology for preparation of the game. A side-effect has been that my games are much too limited in choice for my tastes. Put another way, I am sure that I would not enjoy the games I run half as much as I might have imagined.

But diagnosis is a good step. Going forward, I have decided to return to the position of the beginning GM and seek to clarify for myself the most effective and rewarding methods for preparing my games going forward. How can I prioritise both my own passion for the hobby – and the elements that ignite my love of roleplaying – plus give the players maximum meaningful choice in my adventures?

As I roll towards the end of Season 10 of the podcast, I can see the challenge of building a more complete methodology needs to become my primary focus… and perhaps will even give birth to Season 11. For now, I am glad that I have returned to first principles and I hope that I will have the discipline to stick to them

Game on!

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