Sunday, May 8, 2011

A Crisis of Confidence

I think I've lost my game mastering touch. Or rather, I've been trying to run things in a way that I really can't run them.

On Thursday, my friends, girlfriend and I got together to play some pistol-packing, wild West Savage Worlds. We had a group of great characters, including a half-Mexican drifter with a buffalo rifle, a two-gun wanted outlaw and a delusional rancher out to see the world with his unlucky cowhand. Using the phenomenal Adventure Generator from The Day After Ragnarok, I whipped up a cool adventure idea involving a group of bank robbers recruiting ex-Confederate soldiers to "retake the South" while fattening their wallets. It was a good adventure seed and I was using a system that I'm intimately familiar with, one that I've said I know like the back of my hand. So what went wrong?

I have this misplaced notion that I can run a game purely on improvisation. Given that I'm a repetitious mess making unplanned speeches and a fairly crappy jam session bassist, I have no idea how I made this assumption. To be fair, some of my best gaming moments have been spur of the moment ideas, but generally there is some sort of exterior structure to them. The only preparation that I had done was writing up some stats for the New Confederacy army and brief descriptions of the town of Hogan's Bluff, Arkansas. As my friends continued to ask questions that I didn't have the answers for, I found myself feeling more nervous than excited about the continuing adventures of my friends.

Also, my 'cinematic' Savage Worlds distances rule? Totally didn't work for me. While thinking about keeping the action fluid and improvisational, I'd forgotten how much I really do enjoy my vinyl gaming mat and miniatures for RPG combat. It's something concrete that can be focused on, something visual that helps shift that burden of constant improvisation on my part. Sorry, Robin Laws, but right now, I could care less if it takes away from the immersion as long as it helps me feel like I'm not having a panic attack.

My new game plan is as follows:
  • Plan out goddamned everything before running a game: My game notes are going to have to be detailed enough that I can give people the answers to their questions about game stuff without having to clearly make something up. Let the improvisation flow over a rock solid, well planned backbone, like all good printed modules or fellow blogger's entries. I need maps, I need names and I really need events and their logical consequences.
  • Don't be afraid to be comfortable with the way you run games: I like how SW works with minis, so I'm not really sure why I decided to throw all of that stuff out. From now on, I'm going with my gut on these things.
  • Separate things out: For the Bullets and Tequila game, I was simultaneously trying to help people make their characters while planning the adventure. Never again. Separate session for character creation, separate gaming sessions for everything. Not only will that give me more time for prep, it will help me tailor the game more towards the players.
So that's my current state of mind right now. I think I really need to take a little time and think about how to proceed with this whole thing.


  1. I hear what your saying Jamie. Perhaps your being to hard on yourself. I know that I've over thought many a game session. Instead of stressing over running the perfect game my goal is to just have fun, and if i do that the players should fallow suit. With that being said, if you dont try new things how will you ever know what works and what dosent. Betterto have tried and failed than to have never tried in the first place. Bottom line did everyone have fun? If yes than great job. Otherwise better luck next time.

  2. @Zombiecowboy, in the grand scheme of things, everyone did have fun, but I was definitely anxious for most of the experience. It was more of a "I need to figure out how to not feel like this while GMing again" rather than the quest for the perfect game.

    That said, fun is paramount. Though to be fair, it was a game on Cinco de Mayo, so I'm glad the game didn't just turn out like this.