Getting Unstuck as a Game Master

A common problem between the screen and the game

I had to call a tow truck the other day. My car was stuck and I wasn’t going anywhere. It is frustrating to feel helpless, but I’m grateful for the 24/7 service that we have.

Also, yesterday, I had a serious case of mental block. I couldn’t seem to conjure up any ideas for my table top roleplaying game. The session date creeped around the corner and still, I felt stuck.

Getting stuck happens, it is expected. I know this because the tow truck company is still online and ready to drive. Getting stuck in a game should be expected as well. But when we get stuck, how can we get unstuck?

So do we quit? Leave the campaign idle on the roadside? This happens more often than not, I assume. But let me offer some answers for getting your game back on track by asking 5 questions when you are stuck.

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Do I have permission?

Permission can be External – notes, slips, certificates, permits, from sources of people and organizations, can be one time or ongoing like subscriptions, or memberships. It can also be permission from the group. For a gamemaster, you don’t need a certification to play, but you might need to check in with the group to make sure they still want you as the gamemaster. Being stuck might mean you take a break, or let someone else lead for a change.

Permission can be Internal – it deals with imposter syndrome and asks do I belong here? Barriers to permission include fear, guilt, and resentment. Be alert that this is an ongoing process requiring maintenance on your part. Keep believing good things about yourself because faith in your abilities is sometimes poorly perceived from your point of view.

Action step – review the table talk and ask everyone if they want you to game master. Make a list of 3 things you are good at and 3 you can work on. Practice positive talk and recall your past successes. Read this article on Dealing with Imposter Syndrome

Do I have clarity?

Can I define the desired outcome? Does the goal need refinement? Do I have clarity of values as well as the vision? Values are internal, deep seated within us – requires alignment.

As a game master, you might be tempted to believe that the outcome of the game relies wholly on the dice or the chaos of the player’s actions. This is true, but the outcome of playing a game and finding enjoyment is up to your values. Do you know how you want to feel after a game? Can you state the kind of game you want to run?

Know that it can be so easy to search the internet for “other” table’s measurements of success – from amazing mini collections, to full time artists at the table, to amazing voice acting. All of theses values are wonderful, but are they your values?

Action Step – write down in 1 sentence what you want to accomplish in a game session. Tell someone what you want to complete in the time it takes to wait in line at the grocery store. Write down 3 values of your gaming experience that are required for you to have fun.

Do I have Skills?

Experience is the ongoing process that teaches. Ask yourself if of where you need to improve. I have found that I get stuck not because I’m a bad at playing games, but because I lack skills on writing, creativity, knowledge of geography, or how money works. To get unstuck, I may need to improve my real life with education that will translate in to a richer gaming experience.

Action Step – learn a new language, take a class on baking bread, volunteer at a hospital, read a book on war tactics of the 1800s. Subscribe to a you tube channel on candle making or ask a friend to teach you how to save money and build wealth.

Do I have Resources?

Resources can include Money, Tools, Space, Energy and Time. While not an expensive hobby, investing in a good podcast, patreon, or gaming group will bring inspiration to your experience. Tools may include a shiny new dice set, but also investing in a manual on how to run combat encounters. Another great questions to ask yourself is how much room do I need for mistakes, or am I lacking time to prepare for games? Do I need to involve another gamemaster? Don’t forget about improving your physical health!

Action Step – identify time wasters and call them out. Eat nutrient dense food, Expect to make mistakes and plan for time to fix them. Ask for help from other GMs.

Do I have motivation?

What is my Why? What do I want? Motivations barriers can include lack of resources (especially energy and mental stamina). What happens if I meet my goal, and what is the reward? I cannot stress enough how important it is to keep the reward at the forefront for motivation. Without rewards, motivation will plummet. But if you don’t even know how to define your reward, you won’t see it when it arrives.

Action Step – Remember that Living Organisms Move (and that includes you!)- Remember that Motivations often Follows Movement. Motivation can hide under poor health, so make sure you are referring back to the other 4 questions when asking this one. Read this article on Finding the Reward

Which do you think you get stuck in the most?

Keep moving!

Getting unstuck is a task well worth the learning, because getting stuck is going to happen in any project, relationship, dealing or goal. You can ask yourself these questions any time you are stuck, or even when you simply feel stuck in any part of your life, not just games. So the next time you feel the mental block and see the blank sheet of paper, write down these 5 questions, ask yourself, and get unstuck.

May your story continue!

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