I’m not sure how long it’s been since my group played D&D. We get together pretty often, and we play a lot of board games and let off a lot of steam. But I honestly can’t remember when we last played D&D. I think it’s going on two months now. That’s not a good thing. I know my players have been missing it, mostly because they say things like “MATT. WHEN ARE WE PLAYING D&D.”, using periods instead of question marks so that I know they are serious. I have a variety of reasons we haven’t played. We’ve had work conflicts, Gen Con, my family being sick, and this past week, I just couldn’t get it together.
I’ll admit, game night snuck up on me a little. We’d just come off a 3 day weekend, and I was still fried from taking care of Sam while my wife was sick for most of the previous week. One of my players asked me on Tuesday some questions about the campaign, and the little monkey in my head freaked out. I calmed down a little when I realized I had a few days to plan, but I had no idea what I was going to do. I tried to roll some ideas around in my head, but couldn’t get anything to coalesce. I put it off until Wednesday, hoping my head would clear a little.
By Wednesday, I hadn’t stopped thinking about running Thursday night’s D&D game, but now it was in terms of worrying about making sure it was a good game because my players had been waiting so long. Problem was, I couldn’t remember many of the details of the previous session, and I really wanted to tie everything in the campaign together under a bigger story. Also, my players have a way of preparing for the worst and blowing my carefully planned adventure to bits. It’s terrifying and wonderful when they do this, but the thought was stressing me out this week.
As you may have guessed, nothing got done Wednesday night either despite an entire night thinking about it. Now the worrying had progressed into full blown panic, and I decided that I was going to screw everything up if I tried to run something completely half-assed and everybody would have an awful time. I may have also worried that everybody would be super mad. I was, at least, able to stop this before thinking the situation would eventually degenerate and my gaming group would disintegrate and everyone would want me dead. Mostly.
Momentum: It’s Got What Plants Crave
In case it wasn’t already really obvious, I have some issues with self-confidence and anxiety. When those particular demons are running wild in my head, it’s hard for me to get things done. Creativity dries up almost completely, and analysis paralysis rules the day. It sucks. A lot. It comes and goes, and thankfully it’s usually not this bad.
When I’m feeling like this, trying to gain momentum is the absolute worst. I frequently bang up against this particular wall while blogging or writing, and it’s hard to get the wellspring flowing again. Fortunately, as long as I’ve got enough time in the night, I can usually get enough of a foothold to get moving and I’m OK from there. If I’m worried everyone will think it sucks, I have time to polish it. I can spitball ideas on paper, nobody will see it, and I don’t have to worry about embarrassing myself.
DMing is a different beast. The moving happens whether you like it or not. There’s no hiding, no posturing, no avoiding. Players can and will call you on things because many times it’s literally part of the game (and boy does it suck when it wasn’t intentional). It’s scary when I feel like I can’t come up with anything. I feel like nobody’s going to have fun and it’ll be my fault. It’s no wonder I bailed. Sure, I had reasons. They were all true. But this was really it.
I’ve known for many years that I crave finally gaining creative momentum. I do my best work once I’m there, and I continue to do good work while I have it that lasts for days and weeks. This is why going several months between D&D sessions sucks for me. I’m starting to think, though, that maybe this concept of “momentum” is really just the little self-confidence monkey in my brain finally relaxing after he sees he’s not going to explode after a few tries at something scary. And he has an awfully short memory. I’ve heard from about a million different writers that you need to write every day. I think this is why.
You Got To Move It Move It
I’ve been trying to go over some ways that I can get (and keep) things running smoothly. One strategy I’ve used to some limited success over the years is to jump headfirst into a situation before I can get too scared to back out. I’ve found myself behind a DM screen a few times like this. As with everything else, sometimes, it works out OK and sometimes it doesn’t. I think what I’ve been missing here is that regardless of a perceived success or failure, I’m still running on the creative hamster wheel and the lights haven’t gone out.
It might also be important to show some old photos to the self-confidence monkey to let him know early on that he’s never exploded. A couple of my players reminded me at the end of game night Thursday that one of my “bad” nights got her hooked on playing D&D when she didn’t care for the game before. Another said we always have fun when we play regardless of what happens.
Looking back on some of our D&D sessions, and the lessons I took from them, I realized something strange. I had been bearing the entire weight of making sure everyone has fun at the game. It would be my shame, my embarrassment if they did not. And yet, so often, it’s what the players bring to the game and the interactions between themselves and me that really make things shine.
Perhaps I am not as important to the game as I thought.
It seems strange and self-deprecating to say this, especially with my self-esteem being what it is, but this idea gives me a lot of solace.
I really love my group. Thanks, guys. I learn a lot from all of you, in ways I never imagined.
Next session should be fun. If not, that’s OK. Also, rocks fall.