[RPG] As a GM, how can I stop killing the games

problem-gmstorysystem-agnostic

Probably the worst issue I have as a Game Master is that I think of a game, I write a campaign plot for it — End, Beginning and Middle, get hyped, hype my players, and after 2 months I get bored with it and want the story to end so I can start running a newer game or campaign I've thought up in the meantime. So I just disappear some weeks and invent I have stuff to do, cancel the game, and run another one.

Usually, midway through our game I have a better idea for a campaign, and that's how our group has evolved: Each campaign, I have to accept, has been more fun and intriguing than the last one, but just the thought I could be roleplaying a better plot with better mechanics is too much. I really like my group, and they like my plots so much they ask me for a Q&A session pretty much every week to know what will happen, villain bios, NPC bios, etc; however I just pretend that I am still enjoying the original campaign.

Two months ago we started playing a 4E game about guys who get trapped inside a videogame, and 4e was very good for it, since it was just fight and fight and fight, and the whole plot is about well, the hostility of the online game towards the players and a moral of "every life is precious", ironic in an intentional way.

The thing is, I discovered 5e, switched systems, loved it, and it doesn't feels like playing inside a videogame anymore. The adventures on that world have become boring for me already, and the players are just coming to the table for the plot. Indeed, I'm supposed to design next adventure but just thinking about all I can do on other setting with these rules hypes me so much, and really, I can't think of anything more interesting for the guys now, specially since we're too deep into the adventure it's too late to make it "non linear".

I'm planning a sandbox campaign for when we "finish" this one, and I'm having fun as a GM as never before, imagining interaction, building the important locations, making random encounter and weather tables, etc; but then I think I have to go back and master something that isn't just interesting for me, may as well just run a pure roleplaying game for the current campaign, no combats, but the players expect more.

When they noticed me making a new campaign, they seemed curious and excited, but one of my friends told me: "We're gonna finish the campaign we have now, right?". She seemed kinda worried the same story would repeat.

My summer break is about to end, and my sandbox campaign design is halfway done, and I haven't mastered our current sessions for days and two of the players even asked me if we could begin the other campaign already, while the other two keep telling me I shouldn't let the current one die.

The fact that there's still too much to do on our current game overwhelms me, since I'm getting bored of bringing them the same story every week, and I already decided my next campaign will be led by player motivations that will affect the little plot I have readied for it, and make them help me build the world.

So, how do I get out of this vicious circle? How do I stick with the campaign in progress and stop being lured by the thought of creating a new campaign?

Best Answer

So, how do I get out of the vicious circle?

Stop doing the thing that's causing it. You diagnosed this yourself:

It's probably the worst issue I have as a Game Master, I think of a Game, I write a campaign plot for it, End, Beggining and Middle, get Hyped, Hype my players, and after 2 months I want the story to end, and it's usually too late to make changes to the GMing style I use by then, so I just dissapear some weeks and invent I have stuff to do, cancell the game, and run another one.

  1. You find a game, like D&D 4e, and a beginning-to-end plot for it.
  2. You play it for a couple of months.
  3. You cease to be interested.
  4. You find a new and shiny thing to be excited about—which is fine, there's lots of new and shiny things it's pretty reasonable to be excited about. This might be another game like D&D 5e, or a new kind of story.
  5. You lie to your players (that is what you're doing) and stop the current game.
  6. Return to step #1, and repeat.

It's absolutely no surprise one of your players seems concerned: she is concerned, and has good reason to be. It sounds like you've done this at least a couple of times, and your players probably realise by now what's going on—including that you're not being honest with them. You are clearly not having trouble running games in general, though you have stuff to do sometimes. That's fine! Strangely enough, though, whenever you're available to GM again, you aren't interested in continuing the previous thing.

It doesn't take much for someone to see through to what's really going on. They have probably recognised you're just becoming disinterested in stories. Now it has reached the point where you're beginning to hear concerns about it.

That said, it takes some courage to confront this stuff and ask people about it, so kudos to you for having that courage and doing that.

So, how do you break your cycle and stick with one game and enjoy it?

There are always going to be new and shiny things. You are totally justified in getting excited about them. The problem is not that there are new and shiny things, it's that you're letting yourself cancel your games all the time prematurely.

Cycles get broken by recognising the steps, and doing something that interrupts the normal progression through them. Change a step or a critical detail in it, or do something that blows everything apart.

There's a few options to break this problem:

1. Run shorter campaigns

Run shorter stories that only last a few weeks. Have player buy-in that they are going to be short campaigns and that the story will not necessarily continue. (Of course, nothing's stopping you from continuing the story a few months later.)

This lets you switch every now and then harmlessly.

2. Keep it fun for yourself too: don't plan the middle and end.

You probably bore yourself out during your games because you already know the entire story. For the players it's all new and exciting. You already had all that excitement while you were writing the story, and now you're going through the motions waiting for all the stuff you planned to happen, which is boring.

I suggest you stop writing stories that have a beginning, middle and end. Design stories that have a beginning, and then put your players in that beginning, and discover the story with them. This means you're having excitement as well as your players lead you in unexpected directions, and your planning & development fun is spread out over the full length of the game.

BESW and I run games like this: generally, at the beginning, there is a situation at a tipping point where the status quo is about to be disrupted (e.g. two factions are reaching the peak of tension and about to break out into war, and a third faction is rising in the shadows), and the players are positioned as the perfect X factor, with the power and autonomy to influence how events pan out. And then we let them pan out, and give the players and their characters that autonomy. We loosely plan only a session in advance, and we have people with their own individual goals (and not scripts) who we can improvise easily enough, because the players will probably surprise us by doing nothing we expect, and ruin any plans we might have in the process. And then we have fun discovering the story with them.

Try that out.

3. Have someone else GM

Really. If you think your GMing style is a major problem, have someone else be the GM who is willing to run this in a way you're not. It's pretty simple. Then join in and play with your group.

Also an option: open up and be honest with your players.

Tell them what's going on. Tell them you're having trouble staying interested in the games you're running. Tell them you are getting excited about new stuff. Tell them you'd like to be able to run these stories through to completion, and that you're having difficulty doing so. Admit to them you were lying about having things to do because you weren't sure how better to handle the situation.

This might take a little bit of courage to own up to, but it's going to have a lot of benefit.

This will put this issue out in the open, and open it up for people to talk about it. It will likely only confirm what they already suspect but do not feel they can talk about.

Your players will then actually be able to talk about this openly with you, without so much tension and awkwardness being there. Some of them, possibly the girl who was concerned about the current story, will be able to talk to you about possibilities around revisiting that previous story or character she really liked and wants to see more of.

Some of them may be upset. Some of this upset will be upset they already have there because you keep cancelling games, but have not been able to express because this issue has not been open. Be prepared for that, accept it, and be compassionate toward them. If they're your friends, they're generally going to be on your side.

It will also relieve you of the heavy burden of having to deal with all of this all on your own and having to keep it all secret and everything. It will let you actually talk to them about it, get their help and support, and as a group you'll be able to work out how to go ahead from here, among the options in other answers and this one.

You're only human, so have some compassion for yourself, and let the people who care about you help you through this.