Saturday, October 02, 2010


Have you ever just completely frozen as a DM? Sat down to play, with notes that a week ago you were sure would be more than enough to run a session, and just stared at them, thinking, "I have no idea what to do with this. This makes no sense. I can't do this," for a full five minutes, while your players make awkward conversation?


  1. Yes.

    Sometimes I have been distracted, or not feeling well, or the play group composition didn't match what I had prepared. Or all of those.

    In your case, what game were you playing? Can you summarize what you had prepared, and how that fit, or didn't fit, your players' expectations?

  2. This is the brilliant thing about a random generation table.

  3. That's why I don't like making notes ahead of time. They try and lock you down into doing what you had planned, instead of doing what seems like fun tonight, leading to DM paralysis. At least in my own style, anyways.

    Some of my best games were spur of the moment, "Hey, I'm bored. Wanna play some D&D?," and I hadn't had anything even semi-planned. If you listen to your characters and think of a cool situation to steal from a movie/book/real life, you can have serious fun with no preparation.

  4. Lord yes.

    I either push through as several of my players travel an hour to get to the game. Once or twice I've begged off for boardgames instead, if I REALLY wasn't feeling it.

  5. @Fitzerman Agreed. And oracular systems in general. Or Aspects.

  6. In that situation it's hard to think. But the advice I would give from outside of it is to improvise some filler. Still fun, still adventurely, but something that could plausibly lead up to your planned event. Then you might find the filler expands to occupy the whole session, and you have another several days to rethink your notes ... or in the middle of running the filler you relax and have the insight you need to integrate your notes.

  7. Yes. Most often due to fatigue.

    DMing is an art form, and like all types of artistic expression it helps to not be impaired physically, mentally, or emotionally. Even if you have the sheet music in front of you, it's difficult to play at your best, as you know you are CAPABLE, when you are tired or distracted. Inspiration and excitement can be a good "jumpstart" and random tables can provide momentary inspiration, but being well rested is even better.

    At least in my experience.
    ; )

  8. Oh, goodness yes. Happens to the best of us. Our solution consisted of a set of very random characters in a totally different world who could come out and bounce through random situations on those occasions when a DM was feeling uninspired or drawing a blank.

  9. Worse - brought the wrong file to the campaign.

    The lever arch file containing all the monstrous compendium appendices I didn't want to use in my campaign, instead of the campaign file.

    Winged it like hell, that day.

  10. It happens to all of us for various reasons - lack of inspiration, lack of prep, wrong state of mind, players not feeling it... which means you can plan for it. The important thing is get moving on something, hell, anything.

    I've made it a habit of creating a list of three things at least two characters have in common and building an encounter around that - improv is easier when you have a theme.

    Another trick is having the setting interfere with the character's stated objectives in some way and bouncing off their reactions (having a protest march interfere with characters crossing town in a hurry led to some memorable game play).

    Oracular systems are good if the dice or cards fall your way, one M&M game I played in recently used patrolling the city to fill in gaps.

    In extreme cases, you can pull out other games - if your players don't mind. Most would prefer to have a good time playing something else than having a bad time with the usual fare. The best time to stop digging is when you're already in a hole...

  11. Tim Jensen: I was running Lamentations of the Flame Princess; The notes I had were basically a list of different tribes of frogs and salamanders in a cave. I have no idea what the players were expecting, besides "something frogs can deal with" because that's what they'd been turned into.

  12. So you were going to involved them in the political struggles of frogs and salamanders? That sounds fun, but you might have been approaching it with the wrong set of tools. How did you actually handle it?

  13. We played Settlers of Catan instead.

  14. Sometimes I go home with a feeling of "That was great", and sometimes "What a shitty night". It all depends on how I feel, but usually, my selv-evaluation results in "It was OK". But having forgotten my notes: Oh, yes! It generally helps, in my experience, to have a good, general idea of the plot's development, the main characters (NPCs) and their motives, and how they will show up in the story. But sometimes it's just a sucky night, and lo and behold, there comes the random encounter table and saves the day. Some good, old, simple, mindless hack 'n' slash is always a saving angel.

    God, I'm too tired to think well right now.

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