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aldantefax
Oct 10, 2007

ALWAYS BE MECHFISHIN'



How to Run Multiple Games A Week

Since COVID lockdown started and I couldn't go outside anymore in March 2020 or so I started running a lot of online games. I usually try to shoot for one game per night, and on weekends I do one or two games per day.
These games are all separate games with separate play groups with minimal overlap. I run the majority of these games and none of them with external help - I am the only GM for these games. In order, they are:

  • Sunday: GURPS Dungeon Fantasy - Epoch of Kumari Kandam, 4 players; D&D 5e - WILD FRONTIER, 4 players (retired)
  • Monday: LANCER RPG - Howlin' With the 'Pac, 4 to 5 players
  • Tuesday: D&D 5e - Hot Modrons (fortnightly, but was weekly for awhile), 6 to 7 players; Hack the Planet - Technicolor Wonderland, 3 players (retired)
  • Wednesday: GURPS Dungeon Fantasy - Epoch of Kumari Kandam - Dungeon Reclamation Services, 4 players
  • Thursday: D&D 5e - Delicious Adventures - Truffle Hobos, 4 to 6 players
  • Friday: D&D 5e - Enchanted Lands of Fantasy and Mystery, 3 to 9 players (retired); GURPS Dungeon Fantasy - Epoch of Kumari Kandam, 4 players
  • Saturday: Feng Shui 2 - Slumbering Dragon Emerges From the Lake, 3 players; D&D 5e - Fire of Unknown Origin - The Answer - 4 to 6 players

Typically when I list out the games the general response goes from admiration, nervousness, shock, and suspicion in that order. Invariably, there is a question that comes up:

"How do you run games without imploding?"

This thread will be an examination of the system I have created for myself in order to answer this question. I've mostly been dragging my heels on this because I've been out of commission for a little while due to health issues and I have been a bit lazy in doing so.

Who is this for?



This is mostly just a writing exercise on my part but since there have been multiple people who are curious to know about my process, this is for the people who want to know how to get any number of games up and off the ground. If I was running only one game, I would follow the same method as outlined in this thread.

Also, this is one of the ways I would like to provide encouragement to people who have posted in the 2021 resolutions thread that they want to run games this year.

Why should YOU do it?



Running a game in general is fun and there need to be more people that do it. The more you run games the more skills you train for yourself, the more you discover about your tastes and your players, and figure out all the ways to streamline your work process.

Running a game every night of the week or more means you have to be really on point to ensure that you are delivering an experience that you and your players are happy with. You will find what works for one group will fall flat for another group; similarly, you will find out who is interested in coming to play. The line of "I can never find anybody to play" stops being an excuse because you can pull strangers from the internet regardless of your availability and they will absolutely want to play.

Why should YOU AVOID it?



You should probably not try to run a lot of games at once if you have truly no idea what you're doing and need to start somewhere. There are many resources on how to get your first games off the ground and started and many, many videos and articles are dedicated to that beginner's craft.

This is by no means a trivial task. If you are thinking about running a large amount of games at once, this is because you have some kind of driving need that is pushing you to run these games. If you cannot put up with constantly thinking about the many plates you will end up spinning in the air while dealing with everything else that is going on with your life -- don't. Take time to re-evaluate if this kind of activity has meaning and true value for you.

Why do I do it?



I do a highly demanding technical engineering work in my day job where I have to work with customers and other people constantly. I'm on the phone or diving into esoteric problems or trying to manage customers who are more interested in getting a problem with no instant solution fixed yesterday with every form of words to say to communicate their frustration.

I do this activity on a regular basis because I prefer a social creative activity compared to exclusively a purely solitary one. I previously had a vehicle for this where I would hang out with people and we'd do group watches of mostly anime or movies or whatnot, but once that fell apart I was left to my own devices.

In some ways, this is my emotional and creative recharge battery that allows me to fully tune out of work and provide some enjoyment for other people that are in the same boat as a measure of escape to a fantastic, wonderful, and possibly cruel and unfair place that remains hopeful.

In other ways, this is my coping mechanism for not being able to physically socialize anymore, where I would normally be going out at the end of the night with coworkers having dinner and drinks and walking about town having a laugh, entertaining visitors, and the like.

In absence of those things, I use this as my mental happy spot.

An Overview of Parts

These are mostly ordered in how I will post about and approach these topics in greater detail. Expect many words about this in the future, and each major topic will have one or more posts associated with it. This will serve as a general table of contents and provide some anchor links when I do end up talking about these points in detail later.

These are structured as mostly a series of questions related to one parent topic, which I will answer from my perspective and how this works for me. Otherwise, they may be specific observations or action items that I leverage. I will make as much attempt as possible to go into the how and why these things are integral to my personal system and workflow to get these games into the air and constantly running.

Logistics



  • When will you run your game?
  • What time will you run your game?
  • How many players will be in your game?
  • What are the minimum number of players for your game? Maximum?
  • Will you add more players over time? What about if they leave?

Energy



  • How much energy do you have to run the game?
  • How much time and energy do you have to plan the game?
  • How much work will your game require?
  • When will you be able to dedicate time outside of your game to prepare it?
  • How much mental fortitude do you have to run your game?
  • When will you give yourself a break? Will you give yourself one?

Game Design



  • What game system are you running?
  • What is your Campaign One-Page concept?
  • What do you want out of the game as a GM?
  • Who is this game for, and what is its purpose?
  • Who is this game not for?

Executing



  • Start with running one game and get it to be sustainable
  • Session Zero every new game
  • Give one to three weeks of planning before Session One
  • After Session One continue with a weekly cadence
  • Start new games after the previous one has had time to keep running
  • Maintain player engagement before/during/after game sessions
  • Check in with players 24-48 hours before a game

A Picture of A Dog

If for some reason you have gotten this far, then I will now post a picture of a dog as is the custom of my 2020-2021 posting style.



A Heartfelt Invitation to Post

Feel free to dice up and agree/disagree in or out of context the things I will be putting in this thread. It's my belief that this is something that should be released out into the community to encourage people who are on the fence about this side of the hobby that has seemed daunting, gruesome, undesirable, or otherwise spooky to get out there and run those games. Be the GM you seek, and post about it!

aldantefax fucked around with this message at 01:50 on Jan 27, 2021

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aldantefax
Oct 10, 2007

ALWAYS BE MECHFISHIN'

Reserved to highlight any questions, interesting resources, etc.

https://enginepublishing.com/online-store pretty much all these books are good

aldantefax
Oct 10, 2007

ALWAYS BE MECHFISHIN'

Logistics



In terms of even before trying to figure out what games to run, it is the most important thing to me to get my poo poo in order. In order to do this I need to know how much time I have, how much time I'm willing to commit, and how many people will be impacted by my schedule as a result. I need to know conclusively what the thresholds are for running or not running a game so that I can make a decision for the specific week to run or not.

A word of warning about communication

I need to ensure that I have a communication pipeline so that players stay well informed. It's even better if they can reach out to each other if needed to communicate about the game. This generally means Discord in this day and age. You need to make sure all players are on the same page.

Consider that if you are running a live game you may find that you see the same people every day. Other people may show up only to play the tabletop RPGs. Either is fine, but you absolutely need to have the same way to contact everyone. In the past, some people I've run games for don't have phones with data plans and have no computer or internet at home, so I need to send them text messages and hope that they read it. Others do have data on their phone but no computer at home.

Always be mindful of your players and if they have any special restrictions which would prevent them from communicating in a way you take for granted, such as posting on an internet comedy forum or some kind computer-based communication method.

  • When will you run your game?
  • What time will you run your game?
  • How many players will be in your game?
  • What are the minimum number of players for your game? Maximum?
  • Will you add more players over time? What about if they leave?

When will you run your game?

This assumes that you will run a live game. If you are running a play by post or other asynchronous method of play, the best I can offer you is to try and stay consistent with a schedule similar to a live game.

Pretty much from now on I will always run my games on a weekly basis. Doing fortnightly (every other week) just does not work for me, and I've tried over this past year to keep it up, but I am going to be resigning from all those games as a player or GM and focusing on running only week-to-week content.

By having a weekly game you can tolerate missing some sessions here and there. Unless you are a machine there will be some times where you need to cancel your games, or your players will need to do so, and if you cancel a game that runs every two weeks you can easily go a month or more without playing, which is not a great feeling at all.

Doing week to week also means that you can recover from a bad session and keep momentum going. There will be times where things donít feel so great and you feel like quitting, but pushing onwards through the doubt is the key. If youíre sitting there stewing for multiple weeks about a shaky outcome in a game then it has a tendency to cause trouble.

What time will you run your game?

The easiest way for me to visualize this is to use a dedicated Google Calendar to know when I am available and not available. Generally speaking, I am available after taking care of normal human being duties at around 9:30 PM US Central time, but if needed I can do a game at 8:30 PM or 9:00 PM instead as the start time. Starting any earlier is an impossibility, as I work until 8:00 PM.

Generally I will not wake up early for a game on the weekends, so I will also use the opportunity to ensure that I have the time appropriately carved out both during games and in between games so I can take care of any human errands.

I will also make sure to pay attention to how long I can run a session for. Generally this is two to four hours, but I try to push for running the game as much as possible. Three hours is a spot that most of my players are happy with across the various groups since they are also mostly adults with their own responsibilities, and this is a good chunk of their time already.

How many players will be in your game?

I think this is dependent on your tolerances of playing games are. More players means you are working to keep things moving as snappily. Less players means you have more time to dedicate to each player for role playing and the focus is less on things that involve the whole group. Engagement also is higher as well.

For me, the sweet spot is 4 to 5 players. 6 is a little too unwieldly, 3 is tough because if one person isnít there that week then there is usually a deep continuity error for them (this was common enough I had to invent an in-game reason to explain their character specifics).

What are the minimum number of players for your game? Maximum?

Even though I have a preferred amount of players I will run with more and less players as the situation dictates. Usually, the minimum is 2, but it will often reflect playing multiple characters. I have run one session with 9 players but for most it was just not that interesting so the balance ended up at around the sweet spot anyway.

This poses an alternate question of ďhow many players you need in a given week to playĒ. This depends on each session and each group, but in general the player base should be consistent enough to continue with 3 to 4 players per week.

Will you add more players over time? What about if they leave?

Inevitably time and people will change so you need to consider this as part of your core assumptions before you get to designing a game. You need to come up with a plan up to and including retiring that game either temporarily or permanently due to players coming and going. Alternately, come up with a backup plan to fill those slots for players that depart. It depends on the system and timeslot but with a wide enough net you can find people to join.

Begin Pre-booking

Once I know what the specifics are on my timeslots, I am going to pre-book that time slot as a recurring event and see if I can spend that time focused on the development of that specific game idea and game space. I can use the time to begin seeking out people, talking to them, making connections, and then getting people organized. Note that this happens before ďSession ZeroĒ, which is covered elsewhere, this is laying the foundation to enable all the other stuff to happen.

Common Questions

Why would you handle logistics as the first and most important topic? Shouldnít you do one of the others first?

To me, it is more important that the routine and calendar time is established. I am dedicating a very specific piece of my time to executing on the game itself and I need to know that both for myself and the players who will form the core of the game that we are all treating this time slice with the same level of respect as one another.

How do you handle people who have spotty attendance or are otherwise late all the time?

Some people will treat it more seriously than others, and others will always show up late. It is chiefly the responsibility of the GM to make sure the game starts and runs on time - if youíre sitting around waiting for people to show up when they always show up late, then that means you donít start on time and have a shorter session and everybody else has to have the same type of experience. It is an extreme drag, so I treat the games like airline flights - we get started with very little wiggle room or we come to the decision mutually to cancel for the day.

What happens if youíre sick or otherwise unable to attend?

I will try to overcommunicate to my players as much as possible if I think Iím going to have an issue with being able to run the game, as early as possible. Sometimes I must do a last minute cancellation, but as long as that is not the norm and instead an exception, players will be understanding that real life does happen.

I would recommend if possible to try and hammer out a plan B sooner rather than later. Maybe someone else is available to run a one shot or there's an impromptu board game night, or other video game activity. Players that enjoy each other's company without you being there as the only glue to keep them together is a good thing.

What happens if you want a vacation?

I did this during the US holiday season and took about 3 weeks off. It is worthwhile to make sure you are telegraphing this well in advance with players and make sure they know what the expectations are when youíre not playing. Ideally, the players will find something else to do with each other, but itís optional, since players need a break too.

Taking more regular time to have a break like one week off every certain number of sessions is a good idea too. Be respectful of your energy, which will come up some time next.

aldantefax
Oct 10, 2007

ALWAYS BE MECHFISHIN'

Applying Logistics

People who are well aware of the rigors of trying to get a game together already may perhaps read the above and go:

"Well, no poo poo!"

This is generally because the logistics portion of planning multiple games is not that different from planning a single game. I'll repeat that and add emphasis:

The logistics portion of planning multiple games is not that different from planning a single game.

However, it still remains as the first and most important topic to making games work. If you do not have the time to actually sit down with other people to play a game, then the game cannot happen. Simple as that. This is not a profound revelation or anything, but it is necessary to point out because some people, especially some players, will eagerly sign up to a game and then the time comes to meet up and, somehow, their schedule has magically reconfigured itself to make that timeslot no longer available. Forever. They also didn't think to tell you and that you'd just figure it out.

This is kind of a crumby move and I will absolutely admit that I have done this in the past. Being unabashedly honest with your willingness to commit to something like this is hard.

Organization and Logistics

The key difference in logistics between one versus many games has to do with organization. If you don't have an orderly and predictable lifestyle to carve out for your game, then this is also something that will cause your game to come to an abrupt halt.

When I was getting back into playing role playing games after a long hiatus, I joined someone's game that was going pretty well on a weekly basis, but then it abruptly stopped because the GM's priorities changed away from the game and they needed more work in that timeslot than playing the game. That's fine, but also at the same time, that is part of the GM not being truly honest with their time. They didn't mention that the game could end at the drop of a hat because of their work situation, and so five people and all the effort that was put into that game frittered away into the sunset.

The above short anecdote is not a unique one either. However, there are ways to avoid doing that, which I will attempt to document below:

Use a calendar

Block out all of your time that you are awake and asleep and the proposed time you are going to use to play the game. Make recurring events for everything and review your schedule.

Generally speaking, I use Google Calendar because I can access it on a wide variety of systems, but you could certainly use a physical one if you prefer. The main idea here is to know and understand the time you truly have available. It's unreasonable to expect that someone will be able to immediately transition from work mode into GM mode in 30 seconds. The absolute minimum that I need is 30 minutes, and I have baked that into my schedule.

I also make sure to color code when games are happening and keep my schedule as up to date as possible. I treat my free time seriously because I do not have a lot of it, but I try to make the most out of it through doing this.

This may seem odd to people who do not currently use a calendar at work or in their personal life. That's okay -- I offer this again as part of the way I make this work for me. My argument is if you aren't using something to keep your time organized, you are going to run into a disaster sooner or later.

Have the majority effectively communicate using the same method

I put this in the introduction of this section, but having a way to get in touch with all the players at the same time is key. In Discord, I have a server set up for my games and I use roles, categories, and channels to help designate all the variety of groups I'm running. If I need to confirm, I will do an at-mention of a role in a schedule channel, and the players know that they should respond. The ones that do not I will expect they will never respond or show up, or they will arrive late.

Making sure that this is the same method that everybody uses is key. One or two people may need to be contacted by phone or something, but that's on the duty of other players to keep tabs on them. As a GM I will put out the general alert for a game, and that is me fulfilling my end of the social contract.

Create and use a sustainable workflow

If you are starting a new game and it's the only game you're running, then it's likely some to all of this is brand new information for you. That's okay. You will want to create and personalize your own workflow that best suits your needs. There are many things that you can do that aren't otherwise covered here that help make the logistics and organization a key component even before you get to the table. This description at length of my personal system works for me, so bits and pieces can likely be adapted for your usage.

Atlatl
Jan 2, 2008

Art thou doubting
your best bro?


this is all really good information, listen to this guy

aldantefax posted:

Organization and Logistics

The key difference in logistics between one versus many games has to do with organization. If you don't have an orderly and predictable lifestyle to carve out for your game, then this is also something that will cause your game to come to an abrupt halt.

So I'm in grad school now and my schedule is chaotic as hell because most of my lab work is based on short-term contracts and I also used to have to do a lot of traveling before lockdown. If you have something like this going on, there's an alternative option where you GM for a "West Marches" or "Living Community" style game, where each session is a pickup game composed of whatever players can make it at the time (or whoever you pick depending if there are a lot available). This way you can maybe run a game once per week, three on a slow week, or take a week off without interrupting too much. You just prep the notes like you normally do and run it when you have an open spot on the schedule to sit down and play. While I wouldn't necessarily recommend this for a newer GM, all the scheduling and workflow are pretty much unchanged from everything Fax has described so far, so all this stuff still applies.

Discord has made this way easier to organize than in the past, but keep in mind large group dynamics can be very different from having a "home game" where you're with one gm and the same group of people all the time.

Tulip
Jun 3, 2008

I have no country to fight for; my country is the earth; I am a citizen of the world.




I'm genuinely impressed with what you're doing. I absolutely cannot even imagine this, my energy levels are at "can run one game, once per week, for about 4 months before the campaign becomes too tangled and stressful to be worth it." The big problem is that I have terrible discipline/organization for stuff like NPCs and antagonists.

Atlatl posted:

So I'm in grad school now and my schedule is chaotic as hell because most of my lab work is based on short-term contracts and I also used to have to do a lot of traveling before lockdown.

I'm used to highly chaotic scheduling - I'm in two groups and one group is heavily retail based and another has a guy in a uniformed service and another whose schedule involves "hey, you're doing a 16 hour shift on your day off, good luck" levels of chaos (plus I worked retail and restaurants for years in that latter group). Unfortunately the best solution tends to be "have everybody discuss the next session at the end of every session" and we get a decent number of missed weeks.

aldantefax
Oct 10, 2007

ALWAYS BE MECHFISHIN'

Atlatl posted:

this is all really good information, listen to this guy


So I'm in grad school now and my schedule is chaotic as hell because most of my lab work is based on short-term contracts and I also used to have to do a lot of traveling before lockdown. If you have something like this going on, there's an alternative option where you GM for a "West Marches" or "Living Community" style game, where each session is a pickup game composed of whatever players can make it at the time (or whoever you pick depending if there are a lot available). This way you can maybe run a game once per week, three on a slow week, or take a week off without interrupting too much. You just prep the notes like you normally do and run it when you have an open spot on the schedule to sit down and play. While I wouldn't necessarily recommend this for a newer GM, all the scheduling and workflow are pretty much unchanged from everything Fax has described so far, so all this stuff still applies.

Discord has made this way easier to organize than in the past, but keep in mind large group dynamics can be very different from having a "home game" where you're with one gm and the same group of people all the time.

Good call out. You can intentionally schedule blocks where your time is open too if you have a constantly changing schedule like that. If you have a rotating player pool and you want an easy way to advertise when you're available then you can calendar "open time for a session" and then share that with your player group as well.

Shared calendars have a side benefit of being able to have multiple people participate in the scheduling process too (if you're running multi-GM).

hyphz
Aug 5, 2003




There's a lot of interesting ideas here, but I hope it doesn't go the way of "the standard generic GM advice, plus have a ludicrous amount of energy and time."

aldantefax
Oct 10, 2007

ALWAYS BE MECHFISHIN'

hyphz posted:

There's a lot of interesting ideas here, but I hope it doesn't go the way of "the standard generic GM advice, plus have a ludicrous amount of energy and time."

If I was going to do that I would mostly point people to the very excellent resources everybody else has put out there. I recognize that there is something specific about my process that enables games to get started and be sustainable at scale, so that's the general purpose of this thread.

aldantefax
Oct 10, 2007

ALWAYS BE MECHFISHIN'

Energy

After you've figured out if you actually have time to run a game you need to figure out if you actually have the drive and fortitude to commit the time to plan and execute the game. Of course one can just pick up and play a one-shot in a system they're familiar in or pick one of the many wonderful small RPGs that exist on one or two pages and just wing it for a night, but this thread is about how to run many games for a long time.

The introduction of this section mostly has to do with three key words: discipline, fortitude, and passion. I'll contextualize them in greater detail below.

As you may expect this is will be a fairly lengthy one.



  • How much energy do you have to run the game?
  • How much time and energy do you have to plan the game?
  • How much work will your game require?
  • When will you be able to dedicate time outside of your game to prepare it?
  • How much mental fortitude do you have to run your game?
  • When will you give yourself a break? Will you give yourself one?

How much energy do you have to run the game?

There are many types of energies that people have in different buckets but the ones that are most relevant to running a game for a long period of time has to do with recognizing your limits in terms of energy units, usually expressed in terms of sessions, hours, or similar.

For me, I know that as it gets later into the night my energy tends to go up as work wraps up. I've always worked later shifts and been a night owl and it ran in the family while I was growing up - my mom worked graveyard and slept during the day during her shifts and through college and my professional work history I've always worked the later shifts just because that's how it went. My activities also were mostly during the evening.

When you combine the logistics of time and the energy capacity you have to run a game, you need to ask yourself, "Can I keep this up for two to four hours every week?" That question is not really well defined, so what does "keeping it up" actually mean?

When people think about running games the role of a GM is generally a combination of world builder, performing artist, orator, tactical mastermind, coach, referee, and fan of the game. That's a lot to take in and be, but not impossible. However, for most people it has to compete with the same energy reserve as other activities and responsibilities. This is typically referenced elsewhere as your emotional and/or mental reserve (use whichever term works best for you, since the energy pools are separate but also the same -- more in a moment).

If you are examining your energy and how it fluctuates through the day, and you find that you have more energy when engaging with other people and solving problems and doing creative activities, then you are in good shape. You are likely the type of person who makes decisions when everybody is trying to figure out what toppings to put on a pizza and calling it in. Realizing that this is a finite bucket also means that you should know your limits.

Attention and Engagement

When talking about this energy, how much time are you willing to dedicate to focus on something?

If you have a hard time focusing on doing things like planning or other discrete tasks, then you should start really small and work your way up. Energy reserves can be refilled over time and the actual amount of energy you have at your disposal changes from day to day and hour to hour, but it can be trained.

Energy, and your ability to focus it, is a skill.

This may be counter to what other people say where if you have a short or nonexistent attention span or have trouble with reading or listening or whatever that it's impossible to overcome these circumstances to run a game. Similarly, if you are always strung out because of other factors and you can't bring yourself to process things about your game, this is something that I believe is due to taking energy management for granted.

Consider that if you did truly have no attention at all you wouldn't be able to read more than a single sentence or group of words because your mind may have wandered off completely, even if it's something that interests you. Your brain would be similar to that of a goldfish where you're paying attention to everything and nothing and no information is being retained.

However, if you are reading this thread, you are not a goldfish, you are a person capable of learning, and skills are things you can learn. Thus, you can learn how to increase your energy reserve and your ability to focus it.

Discipline and Energy management

Have you ever gotten so upset or sad about something that you can't even get it together to do anything for the rest of the day, week, month? Maybe it is something someone on the internet said about current events or your favorite doodad or something that really gets your goat. If you are this kind of person, then you are like 99 to 100% of other people out there. We are all burning our energy on these things and at great expense.

In these situations, if your response is that you begin to shut down and ignore the world or become exhausted and need to rest, then we need to break down what is going on in a systematic way in order to avoid losing energy to things that don't help our mission of running games. This requires the first thing, "Discipline", which will help build the foundation for the rest of this entry.

In this context, having discipline means to be able to be highly selective of things that you use your energy on. If there are things well outside of your control and they make your feel negatively, then the energy you spend paying attention to those things is an ongoing effect that will impact not just your ability to run games, but also your ability to function.

Building Fortitude to Save Energy

If we extend the concept of energy as being finite, sometimes it is good to visualize. In this case, consider energy being like water in a glass cup. Your energy stays contained and ready to use, but as you sip at your energy, it will eventually cause your energy to drain out and you are empty at the end of the day (or earlier).

Using "discipline", we can hold this cup a certain way and drink from it in a certain way in order to prevent drinking too much too fast. Using "fortitude", we can prevent the cup from being tipped over through forces outside of our control.

In short, you need to firm up your mental fortitude to not have things take your energy away without your permission.

To return to our earlier notes on external factors, it is important to recognize the events and triggers that cause you to lose energy to focus on the things that you enjoy. Thus, you can manage those things or remove them from your headspace before they have taken away too much of your energy. This is a concept in meditation known as "Noting", and it allows for people to let those "energy vampires" go.

You don't need to meditate in order to learn these sub-skills for energy management, though. You can do so in an active way by removing things from your life that you don't need through making it more difficult to access. If you have many distracting things, reduce them or ignore them. If there are events outside of your control that you can only consume passively, find something else to occupy your time. This is all mostly pep talk type bullshit so I'll have some suggestions of what you can actually do below.

Recapturing Energy through GMing Passionately

If you have energy to spend on fun and enjoyable activities then there is a certain psychological component that builds up some expectation and release of tension while you're "in the moment". I mentioned previously that running games for me actually recharges the energy that I spend through the day on other topics. This is 100% true and I actually feel kind of lovely if I don't run a game for an extended period at this point.

As you get into the ritual of preparing and running a game you will find with the right group that your energy will be reciprocated by your players. You need to validate your players and their energy spend, and they also need to do the same back to you.

This is something that is tricky, because the more energy you put in to a game should equal the amount of energy that is reciprocated or more, right? But this is not always the case.

Players are notoriously bad about saying what they like or dislike. People are naturally conflict averse and negative emotions are something that are kept in secret and to be avoided; it seems weird to externalize emotions or sentiment to others, particularly if you're having a good time. We are in a "Culture of Cool" where you are dispassionately going, 'it was okay, I GUESS', when internally a player goes, "That was the coolest thing I've seen all month".

When you run a game you are putting a lot of yourself out there but players may not feel the same way. In my games, I make sure to let the players know that in order for the games to be successful, they have to give back. If I am putting both my energy and material resources into the game, the least a player can do is tell me they appreciate what I'm doing.

Take a moment to let the above paragraph sink in. Even thinking about the above paragraph and making a demand of a player that they externalize that they appreciate you sounds really self-centered and embarrassing, right? But, isn't showing up and playing their character enough to show that they want to continue to be a part of your game?

For me, it isn't.

Energy in must be reciprocated by the group, even if it is just a couple of people.

"Passion", in other words, must not be one-sided. To have it be one-sided means that a player is tuning in to me jerking off for three hours about donuts. Maybe they are having a good time, but I can't keep that kind of performance up indefinitely. I need to know that this is something they are getting something out of because that's how my brain works.

The upside of this is if I receive encouragement and validation that what I'm doing is enjoyable and provides worth to my players, that actually increases the amount of energy and desire I have to run that game. It makes me excited and eager to engage with that play group and socialize with them and create fun things for them so that we can enjoy our time together as much as possible on that specific slice of time we've carved out every week. It's not a perpetual energy thing, but it does mean that I am at a net positive after I run my games so I can go about the rest of my day to wind down and do other stuff.

Creating Positive Feedback Loops

There are specific controls that I put into my games which ensure I am "reading the group" and retrieving this feedback, even if players are not necessarily used to giving it. Positive feedback is just as important to a GM as negative feedback is. Here are some ways that I have attempted to collect the feedback:

- Setting the expectation early and checking in often that if people are having a good or bad time to say something
- Encouraging active participation in the actual game context. If people are not paying attention and losing the conversation, showing up late or unready, or completely ghosting, then I have better things to do with my time.
- Having a mechanical way to get feedback from players. This is a trick that I use in GURPS and D&D. Players at the end of a session or during the session get experience points or spend other resources that they only get that session. I have a category of award that I give out that I usually just call the "Awesome" award, and that award is for people to recount what the best moments of that session was. In GURPS, it's a single point, we just call it the Awesome Point. In D&D, it's the end of session experience award, or resources spent in the session via FATE points. Having something in the mechanics that players use as a feedback mechanism is actually sorely underrated and I wish more systems would use something like this.
- Being very clear about your intentions. During the checkpoints or in private I will discuss my ups and downs with my players and also seek to understand what they're getting out of the game. I will also tell them directly that if they're not having a good time, I'm not having a good time until we can make the game better or we get a compromise of some kind. Because people do not like to vocalize these things, you have to be the one to go after it, and that may be really uncomfortable. However, it is something that is important enough to continue checking with your players.

---

To summarize:

- Energy is finite but capacity can be leveled up over time
- External and internal forces can take away your energy
- It requires discipline to these forces so your energy is preserved
- With your energy, you can use it to focus on activities that give you a net positive boost
- Commit passionately and wholly to running your games and make sure the players are reciprocating this in turn

I'll put up some more about energy management in another post and specific tactics but I wanted to wrap this one up because this only answers one of the questions in this category.

aldantefax fucked around with this message at 00:15 on Jan 28, 2021

Firstborn
Oct 14, 2012

i'm the heckin best
yeah
yeah
yeah
frig all the rest


So any openings in these games or what??

aldantefax
Oct 10, 2007

ALWAYS BE MECHFISHIN'

Firstborn posted:

So any openings in these games or what??

I'll probably be retiring the Tuesday games and creating a new one in the next couple of months.

Benagain
Oct 10, 2007

I WILL DERAIL ANY THREAD TO DEFEND PEOPLE WHO CHEAT ON THEIR SPOUSES BECAUSE I THINK THEY CAN DO NO WRONG. DO NOT LISTEN TO ME. I AM FUCKING STUPID.


Fun Shoe

Thanks for posting this it's always nice to get a view of someone's process

Firstborn
Oct 14, 2012

i'm the heckin best
yeah
yeah
yeah
frig all the rest


aldantefax posted:

I'll probably be retiring the Tuesday games and creating a new one in the next couple of months.

I am the sort of DM who tinkers and ends up putting about x3 times the hours of any actual session into planning, writing, and that's counting just thinking and brainstorming. I'd like to play in a game with someone who was invested or as crazy as I am.

aldantefax
Oct 10, 2007

ALWAYS BE MECHFISHIN'

Firstborn posted:

I am the sort of DM who tinkers and ends up putting about x3 times the hours of any actual session into planning, writing, and that's counting just thinking and brainstorming. I'd like to play in a game with someone who was invested or as crazy as I am.

Get at me on Discord, fax#9863, and I can hook you up with some further details on what's in flight.

I'll perhaps work on doing more of the Energy-related posts later this week but if anybody has specific burning questions that they want to get out there and have answered now, I am happy to answer them out of band, just keeping in mind that there is a lot of words to grind through. Apparently answering the first question around "Energy" was around 2300 words after taking out the quoted stuff, and the "Logistics" stuff was around 3000.

Tenik
Jun 23, 2010




How much time do you spend on stuff like making maps and designing encounters?

aldantefax
Oct 10, 2007

ALWAYS BE MECHFISHIN'

Tenik posted:

How much time do you spend on stuff like making maps and designing encounters?

Highly variable. Per game it is tough to say but usually because my sessions trend to the shorter side one map is good for one or two sessions and is usually composed of the following ingredients:

- Hex grid (square grids only for certain games)
- 2 minute tabletop map or maps found via google by looking for (thing I need + battlemap)
- A marking tool to modify the map as neededí

Encounter design I do anywhere from zero advance prep to maybe all the free time I have just thinking about the game, but not as a result of the complexity of the encounter. My most complex encounters, embarrassingly, are the ones in LANCER where I just kind of wing the mechanics. Iíll beg, borrow, and steal encounter ideas from all sources.

The way I treat these things are like how you would treat your home kitchen. You donít exhaustively plan every meal and go to the grocery store to get only the bits and bobs you need, you have a spice rack (of ideas) and you have more or less of different ingredients than you thought, and maybe you only have time for a quick thing only.

Making maps by hand is fun but I just donít really have the time for it, so I tend to just curate as much as I can. I bought the 2 minute tabletop ďEverything PackĒ awhile ago and then joined Rossí Patreon, which works out well.

I also have a personal token library I got on commission which I use to rapidly construct encounters based on specific categories of monsters that I can then wing stats for or go pull them up from a given monster source. LANCER has a series of fan images that crib from Into the Breach that are useful, and for all other fantasy and sci-fi games combatants get one of the stock images from my personal library.

aldantefax
Oct 10, 2007

ALWAYS BE MECHFISHIN'

I have about fifteen minutes before my game tonight but I remember I'm supposed to make a dungeon so I'm probably going to take a nap or two and some encounters and bash things together or make the players build me a map. We run in Roll20 for this group but I am probably going to try to move them over to tabletop simulator in the future because I like it way better.

aldantefax
Oct 10, 2007

ALWAYS BE MECHFISHIN'

How much time and energy do you have to plan the game?

For time, you will never have enough of it. For energy, it is as much as I want to put into it.

Generally speaking my health dictates how well my brain is working and how much coffee I have. Usually I have enough time in the day to think about the immediate next game. You may be familiar with writing and most things being 99% percent preparation and 1% writing, which is generally true, and my brain is going all the time.

Also, I don't really have a lot of time to actually do what you would consider classic prep for the game. Mike Shea of Sly Flourish records videos of him spending hours (for a Lazy Dungeonmaster!) of preparing notes for his games and running them on a weekly basis, recording them with a fancy stream overlay, that kind of thing. That's great, but even that is too much time that I usually do not have.

In order to plan games efficiently so as not to waste that limited energy you have in a day, what works for me is relying on as much time that I am not doing some kind of active brain work to dedicate to the planning phase.

Frontload Planning Before A Game Launches

If you are running one game every night plus extra on the weekends you basically have no time to plan when you are executing on those games. You have time to get your resources together, sure, but you don't have that time that Mike Shea or Chris Perkins or Matt Mercer whatever fuckin' minor or major personality in the role playing games GM sphere has to plan your masterstroke of a campaign.

Before a game reaches session one I should have a clear plan in mind of the overall structure and themeing of the game. I may not have a good idea of the ruleset and that's something that will improve over time, but I should at least know the general tone of the game as well as what I'm doing with it. Having a collection of ideas about the game that aren't formed up into a prep sheet is one billion times better than filling out a planning worksheet if you forget what the hell you're doing in the actual game or your players give you a swerve on a plotline you've been meticulously laying out for them.

Acknowledging that games are intended to be highly dynamic and that there really is no time to plan in depth during a game day means that all of this thinking needs to be done in advance. You need to make some important decisions about the game and how it's going to execute in order to prevent yourself from spending too much energy planning your game when it's already in flight.

To use an analogy, when a game has launched and is in flight week to week, you are the captain on an airplane traveling from one end of the world to the other. You have a flight plan, you have experience before you get into the air, and you know what to do when things start getting haywire when you're under a potentially unbelievable amount of stress. There is no way you're going to go back to the drawing board while you're in flight handling everything else to make a new flight plan.

By planning in advance you can take an unlimited amount of time before you launch the game to do what you need to and spend as much energy as you feel like to lay out the bones of your game. This will be covered in greater detail when I start going into the Game Design stuff later, but the main takeaway here is "plan well before you get off the ground for greatest success".

Capture Every Moment

You may be familiar with the phrase, "Strike while the iron is hot", which is to say, if you are having inspiration then you should capture that regardless of when and where it strikes. You very necessarily need to start building an ideas library for all the games you will be running so that you can pick and choose the ideas to put into your game at various stages.

Because you don't have time immediately prior to a game, you almost certainly have time during the day to think about your game. You can work 60 plus hours and still have time to think about your game during periods of rest. However, it comes back to discipline and being honest with yourself when it comes to energy management.

If you have to do something where you are waiting on someone or something, then you absolutely have time to order your thoughts and think about something to pass the time. If you are at lunch or in transit or having a break, or you even just have 30 seconds to a minute to think about your games, use it.

The amount of time that you have in a day is surprisingly a lot. As an example, I will provide some context on what I have during my normal work day:

- Sleep, about 7 to 9 hours
- Wake up and morning ceremonies, 2 hours
- Work, 9 hours or longer
- Lunch during work, 1 hour, but may forget
- Breaks during work, ideally 30 minutes to 1 hour, but may forget
- Dinner time after work, usually 1 hour
- Game time, usually 2 to 3 hours
- Music practice, usually 30 minutes to 2 hours
- Socializing or video games, usually 30 minutes to 1 hour

Somehow, that is 27 hours if you take everything at max value.

However, in the timespan of this partial week (1/22 to 1/27/21), I've done the above things on a daily basis and also run LANCER, GURPS twice, D&D, wrote 4 to 9 thousand words about games (haven't really been keeping track of this word count on this thread + others), and made some doodles.

Notice how none of these blocks are dedicated to preparing for a game nor the other things up there. I don't have time to actually dedicate to writing or doodling or making coffee or tea or whatever else it is I do not documented in the above blocks.

So, no prep, right? No luxury for it.

So, instead, I use as much time as possible that I can get from all of these other activities. Yes, including work and sleep. However, it is in small fleeting moments usually. It is a thought that a link someone sent me or a cool picture or a piece of fiction from a lovely book I haven't read in years suddenly pops into my head that I can use to synthesize into ideas.

By acting intentionally to put your brain cycles to thinking about games, you are doing preparation even if you are not filling out worksheets or meticulously planning out encounters or doing anything that is considered classic prep. If your brain is thinking about the game, that is more than enough.

So, if you think about the game well before you get to session one and you are able to synthesize your ideas into a document when you finally do have free time, you have a very clear picture about what your game ought to look like, and put it into a single page that will help shape up the future of your game's success. You can think about all of the details that your prospective players that you have identified will want to engage with and leave things open so you can improvise with what you need.

By thinking about games instead of trying to turn it into a dedicated activity, you are thinking like an illustrator or a photographer when they are wandering. They are looking at things and breaking them down into compositions constantly. Their brains never stop looking for ideas and they're being placed into weird corners of the mind where connections start forming to be used at various points and time. Your brain can do this but for games as well.

Embracing No-Time

The fact that I know I don't have time to really sit down and plan for games and I just have to think about executing on them means that my brain has learned to adapt to a situation where it has a piece of it dedicated to this state of flow. Because I am looking at the world around me and using spare moments from seconds to hours to let my mind wander and think about scenarios, resources, fun things, and so on, I am able to pull from this wellspring and then put these things in short order into a game that is fun.

Because I know I never have enough time or any time at all, I can let it go. It's no longer an excuse to say "I don't have enough time". It's far easier for my brain now to just work on executing because of the planning that was done previously that helps pay it forward.

Consider this, because it sounds like a paradox when you stack it up to logistics. If you truly do not have time, think about how many moments there are in the day where you are doing any activity. Can that activity be tied to your game thinking some how? What about when you are eating lunch, making coffee, having a conversation with your coworkers, listening to a podcast, turning out the lights, brushing your teeth, walking from the kitchen to your computer?

When you stop thinking about how much time you don't have, you start to see that you actually do have a lot of time. You have more time than you think.

If you have no time, you have all the time in the world.

---

Alright, enough of that zen koan poo poo and let's talk in the next post about these first two questions from the Energy section because this thread should not give just philosophical platitudes and cheesy-rear end advice. I want to give people some actionable things to do and think about in order to leverage, and how I use these things in my day-to-day and game-to-game thinking.

aldantefax
Oct 10, 2007

ALWAYS BE MECHFISHIN'

Practical Tips for Energy Management

How to build discipline

If you are the kind of person who gets lost in minutiae then have a buddy holding you accountable when you do or don't do something. I am able to maintain discipline because I've been through some harrowing poo poo like losing my family home before my eyes and having to drag the family out of a financial black hole on my own merits, and in order to do so I needed to build systems around that to help avoid turning to things like extreme escapism, dissociation, depression, and so on.

You don't need to have some poo poo happen to you in order to build discipline though. Try to do something simple but do it every day for an extended period of time. Add things as you go gradually and build the habits. Forgive yourself but hold yourself accountable for when you slide away from those things. Make a predictable pattern in even just a small part of your day where your brain can shift gears like making your bed, making coffee, or having breakfast with your family. Find activities that make you feel challenged and good and do those things on a regular basis.

How to build fortitude

This is hokey but I think meditation is actually a useful tool to help build up attention span. It doesn't have to be some stuffy poo poo like sitting under a waterfall, you can just go for a walk and try to stay in the moment or notice your surroundings, or paying closer attention when you're cooking or eating. Programs that are free out there like Headspace have great guided beginner courses that help to build out your resiliency against external factors.

Reducing things that are toxic and removing negative stimuli from your environment is hard. Social media, for example, is very easy to get sucked into as well as the news cycle, other people who just poo poo on you when you hang around them, and so on. Removing these things gradually or limiting your exposure to them is not just good for gaming but in general. Just let that poo poo go.

How to build passion

This is not necessarily to build the kind of passion where you burn hot and then burn out quickly thereafter. You're in it for the long haul, so only do things related to games that you are excited about. Look for media that inspires you and you can't stop thinking about. Consume everything that is of interest to you. If you have money, look at what other people are doing and buy books and read them and think about why they're great, why they suck, and talk about it with people with a positive attitude. Approach everything with the mindset that this will be an awesome addition to your toolkit for a game.

I like just talking to people and writing poo poo out on the forums and also talking on Discord with people that I like. I have intentionally stepped back from engaging with people who seem to always be holding a chip on their shoulder about something. I did have someone berate me for three hours because of a stray comment in a Discord server, which I chose to leave rather than endure more of that. Same thing for just passively consuming things from communities where it is only a place for people to post horrible things that happen to them that I can't do anything about. My heart goes out to them, but I don't need that in my life when I have other things going on.

Find things that fuel the passion that makes you want to keep reading this thread. Make threads like this and talk to other people who want to do things like this. Allow yourself to get pumped up in a positive way about everything!

Externalize your passion, discipline, and fortitude

This energy triad is something that is tough to quantify because most people don't think of energy in a clear and finite way. They may acknowledge that they have limited energy but they don't have a way to know when they're at half energy or running on empty. You can feel it, though, and you should be able to have something that lets you know you're in the zone.

By having external stimuli around you that helps to drive your desire to run games at scale it makes it so that you have something to hold yourself accountable and to maintain perspective, particularly when you are feeling like you are at a low point. These are common things like having plants and quality lighting but also having inspirational material around you and other things that improve your mental condition.

Use rapid capture tools to capture ideas when you have the opportunity to

If you are able to read this guide then you have access to at least one thing that allows you to record information down. I like to have multiple notebooks and electronic devices around me to capture information when things are going on. I like portable things but I also use my desktop computer constantly too for capturing ideas.

There are many ways to capture things but what I like to use is currently as follows:

- iPad Notes app with Apple Pencil
- reMarkable 2 with stylus
- Field notes or other notebooks with a mechanical pencil
- Any text editor. I use Sublime Text 3, Ulysses, Simplenote, the quick reply forum box from SALR, whatever.
- A recording thing. It's rare but I do like to record things to audio and using my phone works fine as well as using a pocket recorder. I have a Zoom H5 but that's overkill for just capturing poo poo you say out loud.

Getting Validation from Players

Give players a clear structure in how to signal to you that you are doing good. The following things that I use:

- Experience point awards that players vote on at the end of session
- Session zero tools and session re-zero tools
- Seeking feedback in private after a game session
- Putting an "Awesome Point" award in game award section at the end of a session
- Use FATE points during the session and tie it to advancement mechanics. I use FATE points for a D&D 5e game and if the players use it to engage with the world and setting it lets them level up and they get more enjoyment out of the game.
- Active listening. Really keying in to what players are saying and how they're saying it and if people are truly having a good time.
- Giving things to players. Going out of your way to provide personalized things to players shows that you are going above and beyond and providing players an experience that is intended to get them excited and engaged about the game. Making a custom token for them, giving them secret information that they can use at critical moments, physical trinkets to muck around with like letting them borrow your dice for a session, miniatures, any of those things to help keep a player in the game world and present at the table.

Colonel Cool
Dec 24, 2006



I get a surprising amount of validation out of having players recap the previous session at the start of the next one, it's nice to feel like they remember all the cool things that happened, and it serves to make sure it's fresh in everyone's minds at the same time. It's a double edged sword though if they sit there dumbly going "uhhh I had a busy week".

aldantefax
Oct 10, 2007

ALWAYS BE MECHFISHIN'

I usually do that too but I donít consider that necessarily part of energy management, but on reflection it is another way of validating what went on. As a player I like to keep notes and let that serve as the record that ďYeah, Iím paying attention and engaged and hereís the things that I paid attention to the previous session, since Iím detail orientedĒ. I donít get the chance to really play often, but when I do I try to commit as fully as I would want (but not expect) my own players to commit.

There is a concept I read about at some point that maybe is from cinema where the opening crawls of a movie are designed to invite the viewers into that specific world and suspend their disbelief. For tabletop games the recap and such is kind of the same thing.

hyphz
Aug 5, 2003




I was afraid of this. I think Iíve only ever seen one recent game where the players were close to reciprocating passion and that was overloaded with players so they were disengaging for other reasons.

Itís easy to say ďhave passion reciprocatedĒ but you do not get passion reciprocated by trying to get passion reciprocated. You appear to get it by being the popular kid so that you can easily burn through groups until you find one that happens to do so.

aldantefax
Oct 10, 2007

ALWAYS BE MECHFISHIN'

There is no magic formulae to get all players to like you and be engaged with your game. However, I don't think you need to know them in advance or advertise how much of a badass you are in order to drive the passion for your game.

If you engage with players early and often and clearly communicate what you're looking for from them and understand what they are expecting from you, then you have the greatest shot at communicating this. However, if your players lack passion in your game and no strategy works to engage with them and get them to participate, then it is likely that they are probably not going to engage regardless of how much energy you put into it.

It strikes me as odd being accusatory by saying "you appear to get passion reciprocated by being popular"...Since, most to all of these games were cobbled together with disparate groups of people. About half of the players are people that I know and are friends with already that are interested in playing, but the other half were strangers that I met through random online conversations, and later they came to be engaged with the game after talking through things with them.

To clarify, players need not reciprocate passion at the same level that you put into the game. That's unreasonable, because you are constantly thinking about your game and dedicating a large amount of resources to it. However, they need show up and be active participants to the game, and if they're not very active, at least they can say what they do or do not like about the game.

Pretty much anything is easier to say than do in the notes that I put into this thread or any other. If your intent is to read the thread and go "that isn't what I'd do, nor are they my experiences in the past, nor do I agree that this is a thing that I can do" - then, this is something that is on you.

Of the groups that are still existing, as they start and persist, they are reasonably static, so I am not dropping groups as soon as something is not in my favor. I will actively try and work with the group to get to where I want it to be.

All of the groups listed in the OP have had at least six months of sessions run with them, so the implication that burning through groups and relationships until you find the magic group seems disingenuous.

That said, I will be resigning from the Tuesday group because despite the amount of time and effort and passion I have put into that game that the players like, I don't feel like I'm having a great time and about half the players are socially neutral to hostile despite being engaged with the game and having a good time. That, and I want to move on and do weekly games instead of fortnightly games.

Anyway, you do need to make a judgement call when to walk away from a game if the players are not engaging with you and validating your passion and effort in the game. If players do not reciprocate by even dignifying you to say that they like the game and are distracted during the game, then that is absolutely a game I would say "Y'all, we need to talk about how this game is going, how I'm feeling, how you're feeling, and if we should continue".

aldantefax
Oct 10, 2007

ALWAYS BE MECHFISHIN'

Addenda:

This is really more of a fortitude and discipline thing included with the passion thing. To pull one of the three parts of the triad out means that you are not looking at the whole picture. I am not inherently popular by existing. If I'm not passionate about something, my desire to do something drops dramatically on doing it. If I can't commit myself fully to an activity and I have endured on it long enough that I can say "yeah, you know what, this is not for me", then I need to have the discipline and fortitude to put it down and renew my passion by looking at what else is out there and maybe just spending time doing other things than trying to fill every timeslot with a game.

To use a popular phrase, "It's not a race - it's a marathon". Your mentality needs to be thinking about multiple aspects in order to go the distance, instead of just a specific piece and go "ah, well, because of these reasons, this person is able to do it, and (by implication) I am not".

I would encourage anybody working on this thread to take one to two hours to sit down with your players outside of your game or just as a replacement for one session to ask the following questions:

- How do you feel about how this game is going?
- What do you like the most about this game?
- What should we change about this game?

Everybody should answer these questions, including yourself.

hyphz
Aug 5, 2003




aldantefax posted:

It strikes me as odd being accusatory by saying "you appear to get passion reciprocated by being popular"...Since, most to all of these games were cobbled together with disparate groups of people. About half of the players are people that I know and are friends with already that are interested in playing, but the other half were strangers that I met through random online conversations, and later they came to be engaged with the game after talking through things with them.

Thatís what I meant - the ability to do that is popularity, or rather is the talent that manifests as popularity. A non popular person is restricted to limited sets of people and if they withdraw from those sets, they lose, rather than the set losing.

From your writing above, it sounds like you have infectious enthusiasm, which is a great gift indeed, but a rare one and a partly competitive one.

quote:

Pretty much anything is easier to say than do in the notes that I put into this thread or any other. If your intent is to read the thread and go "that isn't what I'd do, nor are they my experiences in the past, nor do I agree that this is a thing that I can do" - then, this is something that is on you.

On the one hand, the first statement is true; on the other, representing yourself as an advisor means it is not wholly on the reader. If nobody else in the world could do what you suggest, it would be invalid as advice; if nobody else agreed they could, it would be correct advice but poor transformational writing.

hyphz fucked around with this message at 07:32 on Jan 31, 2021

aldantefax
Oct 10, 2007

ALWAYS BE MECHFISHIN'

There is some give and take for withdrawing from sets of people, but I have sat with tables that are with complete strangers instead of leveraging any direct connections I might have with them and built the connections over time. I donít instantly bond with people at every table, nor do I cycle carelessly through tables either. Itís true that tables donít work out and maybe they are replaced.

It certainly helps to have people you are more comfortable with to sit down and play with, but rather than calling it a talent (and not something that can be altered), I would consider it as another skill similar to training attention with disciplined work. There are a couple of sub-skills that I would say help out on this front:

- Caring a lot, because you want to make a meaningful connection with your players, regardless of who is at your table
- Not caring as much, which is specifically when you encounter road blocks that sap your energy and drain your willpower to run your game, and also not caring about asking / not asking on levels of engagement and passion because that might be embarrassing or I might not like the answers I get back

If people are drawn to my table from other people talking about how I run games or if I ask them to join, that is one way of doing it and probably the easiest. However, I have also put up blind recruitments and then ended up talking to people or joined a table that had someone who I hadnít played games with for many, many years.

Also, it is true that player engagement is perhaps one of the most difficult topics to handle because everybody has different motivations, but if there is anything that I do is I am forcing myself to be more outgoing than I normally would be since particularly if I am feeling very low energy I become very introverted. I would consider player engagement another skill rather than a talent. Using methods to measure engagement then is important since it allows a GM to make adjustments as needed. Just like you can measure how a customer feels regarding service they receive in various aspects, players can also be measured.

That said, if the well runneth dry and the play groups are no longer viable, if you want to game, then you gotta do the legwork. Iíve moved 5 times in the past 10+ years including having to manage a family foreclosure, and I had a strong distaste for playing a bunch of crappy D&D and related games and lamented the fact I couldnít find anybody to play my favorite game systems with. I still havenít found anybody that wants to play Ryuutama, for what itís worth, and I looked across four separate communities to try and see if I could get people interested.

Iíve also had to abandon my old play groups because Iíve moved away or because I didnít have enough time, energy, or desire to continue playing with them. Iíve been playing and running games since the 90s, so I should very much encourage people who have limited play groups to seek to expand if possible if their local groups are not doing it for them.

As with other things which reference talent semantically, this implies that if you do not have the innate capacity to do something, you cannot do it. However, I did not think that I would be able to get together any amount of willpower or find the time to run this many games and I pushed myself to do so instead by leveraging existing workflows and re-interpreting them to a game context from my work environment.

Managing time, energy, interpersonal relationships, drive, and all the other stuff is not solely in the province of running one or many games. However, one can use the way the run games as a way to help out with organizing other parts of their life.

I would also say that if there is anything that running this many games has taught, it requires a great deal of patience or focus. Different tables have different levels of engagement and different people express validation in different ways, similar to how people express intimacy in a variety of ways.

At the very least I would like to think that I provided at least some actionable items for each segment thus far but if there is something that is lacking something that you can do for a specific thing then I am happy to write more about that until there are at least some practical action items to follow through with. Then again, if you have an active play group and you are running into trouble with continuing with them, the GM advice thread has good resources as well.

Pasha
Nov 9, 2017


aldantefax posted:

I have about fifteen minutes before my game tonight but I remember I'm supposed to make a dungeon so I'm probably going to take a nap or two and some encounters and bash things together or make the players build me a map. We run in Roll20 for this group but I am probably going to try to move them over to tabletop simulator in the future because I like it way better.

Perhaps a bit off-topic, but what about Tabletop Simulator do you like (compared to Roll20 or Fantasy Grounds)? I have seen screenshots of intricate table setups for Tabletop Simulator, but it also looks like it might be a lot of work to set all that up ...

aldantefax
Oct 10, 2007

ALWAYS BE MECHFISHIN'

Pasha posted:

Perhaps a bit off-topic, but what about Tabletop Simulator do you like (compared to Roll20 or Fantasy Grounds)? I have seen screenshots of intricate table setups for Tabletop Simulator, but it also looks like it might be a lot of work to set all that up ...

Not at all. The tools that are used for a game at scale is also a thing that bears discussion, so I am happy to talk about it.

Generally speaking, Roll20 and most other virtual tabletop systems have two main things that turn me off on them:

- You have to do things their way;
- They are 2D instead of 3D;

With Tabletop Simulator, I keep my tables fairly simple but use a hex grid, infinite bags of tokens, and imported images onto custom boards. This allows me to very quickly deploy maps and new tokens to the field. Also, thanks to the extensive workshop, if I want to use terrain in my games I can. I actually use a series of wooden blocks that I found as terrain which I can scale up and down and they can serve as stand-ins for anything and everything without complicating things too much. It is almost impossible to add reasonable verticality, a token marker that can be manipulated, or a map to Roll20 without doing a whole host of annoying things, and its hex grid is overlaid onto a hidden square grid so it just flat out does weird stuff.

Roll20 also wants you to go ahead and use its dice, but you don't roll dice, you /roll or /gmroll or use a macro to roll dice. In Tabletop Simulator, you grab some dice, shake em around and roll 'em. You can use a macro sure, but it generates a die and rolls it for you.

In other words, Tabletop Simulator is a way to get one step closer to a table and to more readily improvise where Roll20 and other VTTs fail. I don't need to learn a complex UI to learn how to rotate a token, nor do I need to assign three bubbles of stats to a token, or resize a map by going into a drawer and 'guessing' what the right size of map is. I can't have multiple maps for different situations on Roll20 without just bashing them together. There are a hundred and one other reasons, but it's best summarized as:

Tabletop Simulator is the closest piece of software that emulates being at an actual table. Roll20 and other VTT software doesn't come anywhere near as close.

I start with a table, "The Kraken" is what is commonly available, and set up a grid that suits the game I'm running, if needed. Then, I can import any assets quickly by using image links or uploading them to Steam Cloud from my local device. I can do this with other play aids as well such as cards or PDFs of rules for ready reference. Once I have those things I can add dice, tokens, and all that stuff to set up player stations. After that, it is running a game or an encounter as normal. If you treat it like a regular table, then you would prepare it like you would prepare a regular table. You might tee up some special set pieces or monster tokens or pictures to show a locale or something just as you would at a table, and you can set things up with the players in a similarly easy fashion.

I do run things in Roll20 still but it is because the chief drawback of Tabletop Simulator is that it causes computers to melt sometimes. It is a physics simulator, and weird physics interactions like rolling a lot of dice can cause people's computers to fall over.

aldantefax
Oct 10, 2007

ALWAYS BE MECHFISHIN'

How much work will your game require?

I had content in here but I lost it because I fat-fingered a button. Here's the very short version of it

- Do a "sizing" for your game like how you would when building a house or planning a large project. Figure out roughly how much energy it will spend to launch the game, then how much energy is needed to maintain the game when in flight.
- The most common case of GM burnout is spending too much energy and not recharging it fast enough. Thus, we must get very efficient with using energy when sizing our games

To make categorization easy, this is the way you can size a game:

- Low: Everything is already in place and you're comfortable with accessing your resources on the fly
- Medium: This will require work to create or curate resources before it is ready to implement into your game
- High: This will require a lot of work that might eat into other projects or more lead time before it is ready to implement

Examples of rough sizing for games:

West Marches: high effort to launch, low to medium effort to maintain
GURPS Megadungeon: medium to high effort to launch, medium to high effort to maintain
D&D Thursday: low effort to launch, low effort to maintain
D&D Saturday: low effort to launch, surprisingly high effort to maintain
LANCER: medium effort to launch, medium effort to maintain

- The amount of energy one has is finite, but the amount of time to plan a game pre-launch is probably long enough you can spend little bits of energy here and there.
- Maintaining a game is the part that burns out GMs most commonly. Thus, we should have workflows and systems which will generate content for us

Improvise content

- Instead of designing from a detailed approach up, start with a Big Picture, then use broad strokes to fill things in
- Having a Big Picture allows you to maintain general cohesion even if the nuts and bolts of your game might take some work to fit together
- Improvising in a sustainable way implies that you have a high degree of mastery in narrative and mechanical interpretation. If you feel uncomfortable about improvising, then identify what you need and make supportive content for yourself so you can think about these things on the fly

Consider three things that you spend your energy on for your game to help with sizing and energy expenditure:

- Will you create content, curate content, or both? Curating content means you are interpreting published adventures and other people's work. This takes energy but it may be easier for people if they stick to their guns with what they know and they have a clear framework somebody else worked on. Creating content has the advantage that since you know the big picture intimately, you can improvise much more smoothly.
- What content will you need to run your game? If you need to dynamically generate content for inspiration or for executing on your game, then you really must have a framework in place to know how to rapidly identify the content you need and either generate it or curate it from your extended library of "stuff"
- How complex is the content you are working with? If you are doing deep complex relationships with motivations for every NPC in a town with 15 people, that is going to be significantly more difficult than creating a city that has 5 million people but you can fill in with broad strokes.

So, complexity, source, and requirements are the three things then. If you can identify and size out these things, then you can have a better picture of what you need for a game, and they can be summarized both for what you need to launch, and what you need to maintain the game.

This assumes, of course, you will actually launch your game. You can absolutely spend all the energy designing something that will never see play because you like designing stuff. That's cool, but not the scope of this thread. This is practical material and structures you can use to best identify how to launch and maintain your games.

Create or Curate Systems to Generate Content

If you know that you need to generate content of different categories, then you can definitely set things up in advance in the launch phase or while maintaining a game to ensure that you have things that provide inspiration to you or give some meat for your players to chew on. Systems in this case refers specifically to anything that allows you to generate content.

What kinds of tools can you use:

- Procedural generation tools. Need a world or region map? Dwarf Fortress or Donjon. Name? BehindTheName or similar. You can also make your own random tables for things unique to your game world.
- Collaborative generation tools. Games like "The Quiet Year" and "Microscope" are great ways to create content that you can leverage for your games and can be leveraged in both phases of a game. Since they are collaborative, you can share the activity with your potential players or just people you like, then spin that off into something for your game or games.
- Inspirational tools. These are things that don't actually create content for you but inspire you and give you ideas about making content. Playing other games, consuming media, recycling content from other games, and so on fall under this bucket.

If you create your own content, there is a highly rewarding factor compared to purely consuming other people's work. For me, I would put adventure modules and campaign settings and books into the "Inspirational tools" category, because running a module as-is for me causes problems, particularly if the module is very complex but secretly sucks a lot (Dead in Thay 5e, I'm looking at you here).

aldantefax fucked around with this message at 07:55 on Feb 2, 2021

aldantefax
Oct 10, 2007

ALWAYS BE MECHFISHIN'

Sidebar: When to not run games

Given that this thread has to do with running games, it's also important to qualify when you shouldn't run games in a more explicit way. This will be short mostly because the main takeaway for being a sustainable GM is summarized into three things:

Don't run games if...
...you don't want to run games. People will know you're forcing it and it makes for higher energy loss and negative sentiment.
...you are not feeling healthy. It will impact your enjoyment and decision making and cut into your resting time. You will get less out of the game.
...you are not able to get organized. You need to focus on doing things sustainably and that means ordering your life so that it has structure and organization. There may be internal or external factors which mean you can't reliably prepare or execute your games, but if you try to push it, then you will find you'll spend a lot more energy and set yourself up with an expectation to outperform your last session or game until you become unhealthy or don't want to run games.

This is a truly short section but one that should be said. If you are on the fence about this and you need validation, you can read the following line:

It is okay to not run games. Your well-being and energy is the most important thing you should prioritize. You have permission to not run games, from a rambling internet stranger.

Pasha
Nov 9, 2017


aldantefax posted:

I do run things in Roll20 still but it is because the chief drawback of Tabletop Simulator is that it causes computers to melt sometimes. It is a physics simulator, and weird physics interactions like rolling a lot of dice can cause people's computers to fall over.

One nice thing about Roll20 (and Fantasy Grounds) is that the software performs many of the calculations for you (for example, adding together the 1d20 roll and all the proficiency bonuses, magical weapon bonuses, etc). Is TS sophisticated enough to do something like this, or do you generally just do it manually? I have used TS in the past for random board games, but I haven't done anything complicated with it.

hyphz
Aug 5, 2003




Pasha posted:

One nice thing about Roll20 (and Fantasy Grounds) is that the software performs many of the calculations for you (for example, adding together the 1d20 roll and all the proficiency bonuses, magical weapon bonuses, etc). Is TS sophisticated enough to do something like this, or do you generally just do it manually? I have used TS in the past for random board games, but I haven't done anything complicated with it.

TS has a full Lua backend so can do a bunch of this stuff, but it isn't always convenient to integrate the user interface for doing so with the table, and there's weird restrictions in doing so.

aldantefax
Oct 10, 2007

ALWAYS BE MECHFISHIN'

I don't see the need to do the math in the background particularly for newer players. If I make a conscious decision to automate my game, it also means the games drift towards a certain tone. You have to also fight the system if you do anything outside of the automated math. There are scripts and such for TTS to add everything as mentioned but just rolling dice and seeing how things go then doing the math if needed has worked fine.

aldantefax
Oct 10, 2007

ALWAYS BE MECHFISHIN'

When will you be able to dedicate time outside of your game to prepare it?

  • Identify how much time you can focus in one discrete burst of energy; 15 minutes, 30 minutes, 45 minutes?
  • Use the sizing as a rough guide to begin framing out the game in the pre-launch phase
  • At a minimum, dedicate spaced time chunks over a defined period where you can focus on this energy. Intentionally calendar this!
  • Include time to review to see if you are at a point you are happy with a game treatment before presenting to prospective players
  • Plan an actual stop time to avoid spending too much energy on the preparation
Previously in this very thread I had mentioned that I do not explicitly dedicate time to prepare my games when they are in flight. However, I think about them a lot and keep that as a running process in the olí noggin to further keep thinking about ideas and inspirations that can fold into those games.

The question then comes up of what about ďwhen you need the actual time to dedicate for the gameĒ. For me, this is very specifically in the pre-launch phase when I am framing out the game and working on the design concept before presenting it to players, or immediately following presenting the design concept to players but prior to launching the game itself.

Using the sizing methodology as a guideline, I will be able to estimate roughly how much energy I need to use in order to spend on the game, and this is best interpreted in terms of focused sprints like in Agile development. Or, to look at it a different way, the amount of time units I should dedicate as a ballpark until the game is in a state that is ready for review.

This is not to sound like an auteur but I donít want to launch a game before it has met a certain minimum of content - not encounter content, but enough framing on the aesthetic and mechanical level that I have a reasonable idea of what to expect when people start showing up at the table. As long as I can establish the baseline, I should be able to make finer adjustments on the fly.

For me, I break my time units down into about 30 to 45 minute chunks. This is the maximum amount of time I can realistically focus on something with high intensity energy to get it onto the table. Contrary to my normal stance on prep time, I will likely calendar this or use specific times of the week that I have as open time to whack away at this. I may also dig into my sleep time or sneak a few minutes here and there to continue whacking away at something.

30 to 45 minutes is a surprisingly long time to stay focused on a given activity. This is useful for things like video games or reading or some such but it is difficult when trying to do the primary design of a game. However, through a long period of experimentation in the professional world I have found that this works very well for me and is a sustainable cadence.

edit: Here's a sample of how I would allocate sizing + time units:

- West Marches pre-launch: medium to large sizing, 6 to 8 time units (approx. 6 hours)
- LANCER pre-launch: low to medium, 4 to 6 time units (mostly just to read the rules and figure out how to get starting encounters ready)
- D&D 5e pre-launch: low, 2 to 4 time units (just campaign one-pager and feedback from session zero)
- D&D 5e pre-launch 2: medium, 4 time units (helping to define factions and grand story arcs for players to choose from)
- GURPS Megadungeon: large, 8 or more time units (following through on character creation, setting constraints, all the megadungeon things)

Since I have my basic unit of time identified to a 30 to 45 minute chunk, I can then use the sizing + time units to figure out how many units I should get onto the calendar for a given thing. Classically in software engineering, an Agile sprint is two weeks from start to finish. I might have that time or more before the game itself gets to a state where I can share it with players.

At a minimum for a game in the pre launch phase I will set aside at least two units worth of time somewhere while energy is high. This is high intensity creative work, and as such I should be identifying time and going at it when I am at my freshest mentally. I donít want to necessarily keep these units of time too far away from one another as it may cause my brain to go into weird places or forget that certain feeling for a certain game Iím working on. This would mean then that Iím probably going to keep the maximum time gap between these specific work chunks between 1 to 7 days.

As long as there is effort that is being dedicated to the same overall topic of making a given game within the 1 to 7 day timeframe it generally means I am thinking about it in the background along with all the other games and stimuli that are in flight. This kind of spaced activity also is just long enough to put some distance from one chunk of work to another that I can review the prior work for cohesion.

Once I am feeling like I am out of ideas or otherwise at a good stopping point sprint-wise I will go ahead and start reviewing the actual idea and package it together to start shopping around for people who might identify with it. This might mean I put this up for public consumption, or I go and identify specific people who like reading this kind of stuff and ask for their feedback.

I have also found that both specific and general feedback are both good. If other people are able to generally identify and relate to what youíre making then you are probably on the right track for a game to launch. General feedback lets you explore the overall cohesion, whereas specific feedback gives you actionable items that you can go work on.

You can loop through these phases of focused creation, internal review, and peer review as much as you like, but there is also something to be said about why youíre doing this in the first place. Remembering that this is for a game that is to be launched for eagerly awaiting players, you should then make sure you add a stopping point for yourself so that you can actually get to the table and start playing. I donít think I would be able to design something over the course of an entire year and then launch it only after that if the intention is to get a game running.

Here is a key observation: As long as you can maintain group cohesion, it doesnít really matter what game you play as long as youíre having fun.

This is super important when trying to figure out how much time units to actually dedicate to getting the game ready for pre-launch! In this sense, games are very much like bread dough, and you need to give it time, space, and avoid overworking it before it gets to the oven. Also, if you leave it out for too long, it will get moldy.

aldantefax fucked around with this message at 00:56 on Feb 6, 2021

Kaiser Schnitzel
Mar 28, 2006

Schnitzel mit uns




This is a wonderful thread I just found, thank you!

aldantefax
Oct 10, 2007

ALWAYS BE MECHFISHIN'

Kaiser Schnitzel posted:

This is a wonderful thread I just found, thank you!

nice

I will go in more depth on the "fortitude question", perhaps tomorrow, but sometime soon: How much mental fortitude do you have to run your game?

For anybody who is following along, here is a checkpoint for you. Thanks for everybody that has participated in the thread thus far, I hope you continue to get use out of this thread and my insane rambling.

- Review the past game that you have run, or think about a game that you have played in. Putting yourself in the shoes of the GM, what kinds of things contributed to the success of that game? If the game concluded, was it a 'planned' conclusion or an 'unplanned' one?
- Taking the above into consideration, how would you try to approach that game now that you've had a chance to read through this thread? Would you change anything that you would do for your next game?
- How would you use the suggestions or tools presented thus far in Logistics + Energy to help with the "Design" of your next game?

aldantefax
Oct 10, 2007

ALWAYS BE MECHFISHIN'

How much mental fortitude do you have to run your game?

When originally referencing mental fortitude, it was mentioned in a triad:

  • The discipline to focus on your game and give it the time you and the players feel it deserves
  • The fortitude to weather negative criticism with grace and to remove negative energy influencers from your lifestyle
  • The passion to continue pushing the envelope and creating something great for yourself and your players

Fortitude, specifically, mental fortitude for running a single game (or multiple) has to do with having the specific emotional maturity to get through bad games and always look for an eye to improvement. If you don't have enough fortitude to run your game, the most common effect is that you skip because you're not ready to play a game that week that rapidly slides to a month or more of inactivity. If the bottom falls out, you get complacent or possibly over-commit and burn out.

When attempting to build a scalable system for building games what I have found to be the most useful is to scope and understand what my other workflows are like up til now and have a pulse read on what my mental state is like. Because the question itself asks for how much, then I'm trying to understand what my capacity for running a game at that specific moment is. If I'm running pretty low on fortitude, I will likely be crabby, argumentative, and generally in a poor mood due to internal and external forces on me. This can be because of poor sleep, long day at work, and so on, the same types of things which would influence my general emotional and energy state. However, fortitude specifically is when I am unable to take that feedback gracefully.

Let's reframe to a specific example. A player provides you critical feedback after a game session or is looking for some kind of specific thing regarding the game as preparation ahead of the next session. They need to update their notes and so require clarification from you about how much time has passed in your game after a particularly draining day at work; they're also asking this information at 2:30 AM and you're getting ready for bed.

Let's examine the scenario with various responses and possible outcomes:

Low fortitude reserve, low energy: Get crabby and make a snap decision about the time tracking and generally berate the player who is asking (but not necessarily demanding) an answer from you. Provide an answer on the spot that is both incomplete and vent some emotional frustration at the player. Player is frustrated along with the GM, which leads to a general sense of bad vibes. Player behavior is generally discouraged for providing useful feedback, even if it would be given at a time the GM has higher fortitude and energy.

Low fortitude reserve, medium energy: As above, but scope a more comprehensive solution since this is something that impacts more than just that player. Rather than attempt to provide an incomplete answer, push ahead and force a high amount of energy to be spent on the spot to resolve the issue. Multiple players get confused at the outcome as they do not have the context from that private conversation.

Medium fortitude, low energy: Acknowledge the player response and schedule time to look into it after you've had some rest. Turn off comms and go get that rest.

Medium fortitude, medium energy: Frame out the question with a more well thought out response that has had some time to soak. Acknowledge respectfully and proceed forward when time allows for it, which may be partially now and partially later.

Generally speaking, I've omitted having a high fortitude reserve because the two major divergent paths are made clear that attempting to meet the needs of a specific player cause friction. The above is a real world anecdote, by the by, and in hindsight it is clear by detail which outcomes were done, and which should have been done instead.

Knowing what your mental fortitude capacity is means how patient and resilient you are with game outcomes and stressors, both positive and negative ones. There's an old yarn about how sometimes you may attempt a difficult task that nobody is able to do with ease at the beginning, fail, and then never attempt the task again, because you didn't have the "talent" to succeed in the first time. This is self-defeating thinking, but it's common in all skill brackets to feel like you're not accomplishing something in the professional world as well as in personal life stuff.

Where is this going? Rather than discuss this in a purely philosophical context, we can systematically break down what mental fortitude is into a few sections and come up with ways to measure and action it.

The ability to manage conflict gracefully

In most social circles it is considered taboo to have any kind of argument with people even if things are not going well for that social group. There may be material consequences such as in the professional world, where having a conflict with a peer or manager is seen as career limiting; there may be social consequences as well such as ostracism from a select group of friends for a given activity, the latter of which was mentioned earlier in the thread with the "popularity conundrum".

It is my belief as a GM and also as a professional problem solver that you must take responsibility and get into conflicts.

The above statement I will stand by 100% and be ready to argue it to the death and have my mind changed about it. I have a reputation since returning to the forums in 2020 but also in other places as being long winded, defensive, and overly verbose, but that is a misconception; I structure my arguments and data points at work in a similar way to how I do so when I'm posting on the internet comedy forums. However, there are four components to this:

- Engagement, which is, willing to go into a known conflict with an intent to provide constructive direction
- Analysis, to make sure that the arguments or conflicts themselves are well understood
- Expectations, in order to make sure the engaged parties are actually clear on what is being discussed and next action steps
- Egress, and knowing when to leave a conflict or to concede from it

There is a business book by Kim Scott called Radical Candor: How to Get What You Want by Saying What You Mean. This is generally aimed at people managers but is actually highly useful for individual contributing professionals and people who want to figure out how to engage in conflict more respectfully. Being able to actually get into and out of a social conflict, particularly one regarding your games, is something a GM will have to do quite often. Part of the GM's job is to put conflicts in front of players in narrative, after all.

The trick is to figure out how to manage those four components. Executed well, you can get to the heart of the matter quickly for a conflict, and not address a situation as a personal failing. This comes down to being diplomatic, being thoughtful about words, but also, not being afraid to back out of a conflict.

If you're interested in learning how to practice these skills, I would not recommend doing so in an internet comedy forum. Do so in a structured fashion with clear intent among people you trust, though maybe not necessarily people you are friends with. It's difficult to have a structured and honest conflict with someone who you are afraid of hurting their feelings. However, once you overcome this barrier, this is a key skill that will get better over time as you use it more. I wouldn't pick a day out of the month to just go unload and have one conflict after another, but try to consciously engage when otherwise you would avoid a situation, and have a plan on disengaging gracefully.

The power of refusal

Particularly in the realm of being a GM and improv it is very popular to be as permissive as possible to players, the narrative, and requests. However, most veteran GMs will know that refusal is a strong, but underutilized tool because of the prior section about going into a conflict. If you are afraid of getting into a conflict by refusing something of someone, then there is a good chance you may be jeopardizing the integrity of your game or your gaming group.

I had an interesting conversation at work with someone who recently said "Rather than trying to say 'no', try to figure out why you can't say 'yes' instead". This is a semantical but also tonal difference because while the result of refusal is the same, it is more constructive to co-operate with people so that all parties know why something has to be refused. I'm not quite there yet, I don't think, so I find it easier to refuse and decompress that later if needed.

Considering that you have a finite amount of various kinds of energy, part of running games and scaling to run many games is also saying no to other activities. People may spontaneously ask you to go out to dinner and drinks after work, or someone invites you to something that you're not particularly interested in like a bridal shower or grand opening of a store that only sells shoeboxes or something. You'll need to make a conscious choice to refuse either those events, or your game in terms of calendar time. Who's to say what's more important to you? But, you must say no to something. Or, you might need to figure out why you can't say 'yes' instead.

A refusal in game terms is a key thing that directs certain table dynamics. You may be familiar with structured refusal mechanics in the form of safety tools, such as "Lines and Veils" or the "X-Card", however refusal does not need to be nearly so severe or as overt to the entire group. You may refuse someone's request in private, but because they are a player in your group, you also will need to look into how to engage with them in this conflict. To say "no" should invite some level of conflict and conversation about the refusal.

If you say no to something but do not offer context regarding the refusal, for a player that may mean you are exerting control over their freedom of expression. This can be weaponized and manifest in destructive or passive aggressive ways. In my experience from a professional and personal standpoint, giving a refusal does not always require the context to be provided, but it is a courtesy to do so. If I called a bank to sort out an account issue, I would not want them to tell me they can't help me and then hang up. I would want to know why, who I can talk to for resolving the issue, basically anything that I can use to keep making forward progress or update my understanding of the situation.

If you are on the receiving end of a refusal without context (such as when a GM proposes an idea to a player that is refused), it also requires some level of fortitude to carry on and find a different solution. You need to be able to continue managing a conflict after the refusal is on the table, giving respect to it and also keeping its context in mind as you continue making progress. Which will segue into the final section for this part:

Fortitude is knowing when to push, and when to fold

Anybody who has played poker knows that there is a finer art to knowing when to push your chances at making progress and when to walk away from a hand, even a particularly good one. A lot of psychology goes into making that decision, and if you ask a hundred different players, they may give you a hundred different interpretations of a situation. There is no true right or wrong way to approach a situation like that, especially if you have imperfect information.

In the context of running games, you need to have the capacity to refuse, accept, and manage conflicts. You don't have to do this 100% of the time, but you need to know when you're ready to wade into a conflict about your game.

You may have frustrating sessions or sessions that you run in a game (or through brainstorming in the pre-game and post-game) about something not going according to plan. This is normal. The fortitude portion comes in when determining if you can accept that result and work on making progress for your next session.

As a GM, you need to know also that folding is also a form of losing, and to do so gracefully means you must throw plan after plan into the garbage and run encounters that your players will chew through with minimal difficulty sometimes. Rather than remaining frustrated with this outcome, you need to convert that energy into improving the game for the future, or...Know when it's time to close up the books on that specific game.

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aldantefax
Oct 10, 2007

ALWAYS BE MECHFISHIN'

Sidebar: Dealing with energy bottoming out

Currently the weather situation in Texas has been emotionally, physically, and mentally exhausting. As a result, my brain is in critical power saving mode while dealing with 60 to 70F temperature swings in the last 3 weeks, not to mention continuous sub-freezing temperatures in a climate that is absolutely not prepared for it. Similarly, water is an issue and while water is now back at the city level, itís been going on a week without running water inside the apartment complex, which also meant no heat.

This is a good time to discuss what happens in brief what to do when your brain is too fried to do games. This is a combination of management of logistics and energy, and as we finish out the remaining questions and observations surrounding energy, here is a good place to put it.

If you find yourself in the aftermath of a critical situation, communicate with your players what your status is and temporarily cancel your games. If you are in a highly fluid situation (or lack of fluids, in my case) the games should be canceled until further notice. Your safety and well-being, as mentioned previously, takes top priority. This seems like something simple to state but there is a time where ďforcing to return to normalcyĒ means expending a high amount of energy forcing you to go into the negatives.

During this time you may have an opportunity to do creative things but they are not a requirement to leverage. If you have been working on increasing your focus and creative pursuits and the floor falls out from under you, it will likely take awhile before it gets back to normal.

However, you should set a target for yourself to try and get back to doing normal type activities in a structured fashion. Note that this does not need to be gradual, but youíll want to return to your routines with some intention. Itís very easy to let games go when there is a major event that prevents you from running for an extended period of time.

In general terms, start with a fairly benign thing like writing session summaries for yourself and reflecting on how your games have been going. This allows you to think on the highlights of the games or the characters in them, and can be done with pen and paper, voice recording, what have you. Reviewing any other notes or content youíve previously created either in public or private is also a good way to help reset your brain into your normal mindset.

In my case having water, heat, and power insecurity meant I had to be ready to evacuate or adapt to a natural disaster situation very rapidly. Crisis management and constant situational awareness is something that takes a large amount of energy that may be difficult to recover. However, part of my brain still wants to think about games and running them, so I can help feed that desire by going over and doing my recaps, notes, and thinking about them for at least a little while.

You can also try to do other pursuits which tap into the creative mindset and try to make the most out of a situation. This will sound very mundane and possibly offensive to some, because how could one make light of a situation where water and heat security are in jeopardy? There is a certain level of creativity that is used to adapt in these kinds of situations. Remembering that the lessons and decisions made in a real life emergency can potentially help provide inspiration for other situations in your games from a design perspective.

Returning to normal is not easy and for me it will likely take at least another week before Iím back on the gaming horse again. However, as part of getting back to that normal, I am starting to write again, and create again, and make more meaningful posts again as part of going back to that routine while my brain recharges.

Above all, give yourself time and space but still maintain some level of discipline to get back to normal. If running games is important to you, as it is for me, then make intentional steps to recovering that energy base and getting back into the swing of things.

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