For most of my gaming life, I have always felt bad about taking breaks in my gaming. It always felt like I was letting down my friends if I couldn’t keep running a committed campaign for months on end. In reality, what would happen is that I would quickly burn-out and abandon games anyway because the pressure was too much.
Recently I have been re-evaluating this attitude. Largely, the impetus to examine my beliefs around being a Game Master arose out of my own significant mental health challenges about 18 months ago that led to me seeking therapy. But you don’t have to let things build to a crescendo to reconsider your own attitudes toward play.
As I understand it, within the theory behind Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (or CBT for short), our Thoughts lead to Emotions and, in turn, to Behaviours. Thus, what we do is rooted in what with feel and think. By extension, what we think is rooted in a litany of Rules.
In common parlance, we might simply say that these Rules are our Beliefs. Looking at my Game Mastering behaviours would allow us to look at the beliefs that might lie beneath them. From there, we can ask: is the rule true and is the rule helpful?
Newly Detected Rule: The GM should be running a committed game on a regular schedule until the campaign ends.
Is the rule true?
For me, the idea of a committed roleplaying game that runs for months or even years is a strongly appealing one. But it’s not the only way to play RPGs.
Consider how popular and common it is to play one session convention games, one-shots, and single adventures. On top of that, consider the idea of an Open Table.
With the popular approach, the game isn’t committed to anything beyond a few sessions or a single adventure. With an Open Table, the GM might play a great deal but there is no commitment to a specific schedule; you simply play as opportunity arises with whomever wants to play.
Is the rule helpful?
It’s not helpful to set up a very high expectation for attendance on a schedule over an often undisclosed period of time. Life changes. Things happen. Heck, sometimes we lose people and the group cannot maintain its cohesion. It’s likely that setting up the idea that you should be running a committed game for a long time is to set yourself up for failure.
Be suspicious of “shoulds” and “musts” in your thinking.
In my experience, it’s natural to run into periods in life where we simply don’t have the energy to give to our hobbies. We can’t always attend. We don’t always have a game to offer. And that’s ok.
Proposed Amended Rule: The GM could choose to run a committed game on a regular schedule but it’s ok to take a break when things get hard.
The corollary is that when you take a break you risk the group evaporating because, again, people are busy. Once an event comes out of our schedule, it’s very hard to put it back in.
I have taken to trying to keep the slot of time active while accepting that it’s ok not to play every session. We could just chill and chat instead. Or someone else can run today.
My suggestion is that setting yourself up to run a committed game for a single adventure over a pre-determined period of time is healthier. It’s ok to run a one-shot for a session or three and then re-evaluate. Do we want to continue? Great… let’s do another few sessions. And so on.
The mistake I’ve made for far too long is to imagine that once I begin a new game, I am committing myself to playing it… well, for how long? Forever? That’s simply not realistic.
Take a break when you need to. Players will understand.