Friday, April 17, 2009

Game Day Rituals

One of the things I like about running a game is the demands it puts on me. Most of the time, I don't have to be at peak operational capacity. It's nice if I am all there, but when it comes to hanging out, school, and most of my other hobbies, I can get away with running at 50% or 60%. Gaming doesn't give me that luxury: I have to be 100% there as much as possible. It takes pretty close to my full mental capacity to simultaneously visualize the game environment, track player interest and involvement, easily call up important backstory details, remember where all my different notes are, roleplay NPCs properly, and think up interesting responses to player actions.

Accordingly, I've got a lot of little things that I do to get myself into the right state of mind and stay there. In no particular order:

Shower: And all my other hygiene routines. If I'm not clean, I get uncomfortable. If I'm uncomfortable, I can't run the game.

Power Shirt: At the very least my clothes have to be clean. But it helps me to get into "game mood" if I'm wearing the right clothes: jeans and t-shirt, usually black, generally geek related. My batsignal shirt is best, but I've got a bunch of other ThinkGeek type shirts that will do the trick.

Food: Need to have eaten some food. Need to have eaten the right food. If I haven't eaten, I get grouchy. If I've had too much sugar or caffeine or junk food, I either get way overstimulated or I go to sleep. I generally stick to baby carrots and cherries at the game table. Tasty, crunchy, and won't make me crazy.

Water: At the table, I drink a lot of water. Ludicrous amounts of water. I'm drinking water constantly. It keeps my voice from going out and keeps me from getting dehydration headaches. Best of all, it gives me a great excuse to leave the room and take a five minute break to think. (My players get all nervous when I do that, too.)

Books: It helps to have a big ol' stack of game books nearby, even if I'm not going to use them. I did this unconsciously for a while: when I was running a d20 system, I'd just cart out all my d20 stuff out of habit, even if I was running Arcana Evolved and so my d20 Modern books and so on weren't going to be much help. (I've got about two feet worth of books for various d20 system.) These days, I like to have my AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide close at hand, even when I'm running Traveller, so I can tap the Awesome Power contained therein. (NPC charts, mostly.) And I brought my copies of Fight On! to the last game, for pretty much the same reason.


  1. Very similiarly, I used my Hackmaster GMG even when not playing Hackmaster. And my Fight On! folder on my laptop is nicely at-hand

    re: Drinking water: When I GM, go through a 64 oz. cup of water at least once, usually twice. It's thirsty, thirsty work!

  2. I'm starting to think that water is the ultimate DM drink, because yeah, I go through that stuff like crazy. It's not as bad when I'm gaming online, but still...

    With online gaming, I've gotten in the habit of at least scanning the log from the previous game, and glancing over my PC/NPC spreadsheet so I know what sort of shape everyone is in.

  3. I prefer beer, but the greatest sacrifice of DMing is forgoing that for water or soda in order to stay on top of the game and not lose the bubble. It's a major sacrifice, but I do it for the players, ungrateful wrectehs though they might be!

  4. Your pregame ritual is scarily similar to mine. I have that no water & food --> unpleasant person thing going on to, and that shower and shirt are important!

    I don't recall if I've commented before, but I've been lurking for a couple months. I like your writing and keep up the good work. :)

  5. Zachary The First: Sometime I've got to get a hold of Hackmaster. I hear it's "like AD&D, but crazier" which pretty much sounds like win. Especially as reference material.

    And my players think I'm crazy when they see how much water I drink. But only one of them has GMed.

    trollsmyth: It really, really is. There's a lot of GM advice out there about technique, but really, it's stuff like this that makes a bigger difference. At least for me.

    But speaking of technique -- character spreadsheet, you say? That's not a bad idea. I use spreadsheets for other stuff, but strangely, that use never occurred to me.

    Welleran: I salute you for your devotion to the game! I could see alcohol being good for a particular sort of game. A short sort of game. But I think everyone would have to be drinking. And there are definitely people I wouldn't want to game with under those circumstances.

    benpop: What's terrible is that if I'm not paying attention, I will forget to eat, and the only obvious sign will be the change in my mood. I'm better about it these days, but I still have to be careful.

    And I seem to recall seeing you around, but it could easily have been on another blog. At any rate, thanks for commenting. (And reading!) It's good to have you around.

  6. Yeah, just a quick Excel doc. Nothing fancy, just name, AC, HP, spell slots, and other simple data. Usually, I have one for PCs and one for NPCs, but lately I've just been keeping them all on one sheet, with the PCs at the top and in a different color. It's the only way I can keep track of who's burned their spells, and how many hit points we had at the end of last week.