I am a collector of TTRPG core rulebooks, as are many are. I have 2nd, 3.5th, 4th, and 5th D&D edition books, 1e Pathfinder and 1e Starfinder books (16 Starfinder core books, actually, as I am on their subscription plan), Star Trek Adventures core rulebook, and even the Elite Dangerous TTRPG core rulebook that I backed on Kickstarter, if you want to know how willing I am to collect these books. I also have a lot of digital content as well, mainly through Fantasy Grounds: Alien RPG, Call of Cthulhu 6 & 7e, Cyberpunk RED, Cypher, again with the D&D 2-5, Fate, Numenera, Pathfinder and Starfinder again, Star Trek Adventures again, Savage Worlds, and The Strange.
Right now, all of these physical books are keeping the dust off of my bookshelf. The digital editions are existing as electrons on one of my hard drives. I look at them all sometimes, reading their contents like other people read novels. On occasion, I sit down at the PC with the intent of creating an adventure, which usually happens after having watched a show or movie that has some great ideas that I want to apply to a game world.
That rarely happens to completion, though. I blame old age because there was a time when I was much younger, before I could afford all of these fancy-ass books, that a friend and I would create our own RPG systems with nothing but a genre, some dice, and a whole lot of graph paper. Things are more difficult for me these days. My brain doesn’t always want to hold on to an idea long enough for me to see it through, which means that adding to it, plot-twisting it, or extending it so that it’s more convoluted and more interesting than a simplistic, straight shot from “you meet in a tavern” to “you’ve killed the dragon god” is something I really want to do, but almost never get around to do.
I’ve been relying more on pre-made adventures over the years. A lot of talented people who have experience in creating interesting stories have labored to bring these for-fee modules to the table, so I figure that they should be really good at offering exciting scenes, surprise reveals, and the kind of loot that players like. Some have been hits, some have been misses, but for me, I used them because doing so meant that I didn’t have to think up entire areas, NPCs, items, encounters, or consequences on the fly, which are some of the aspects of running a TTRPG game that I am particularly bad at.
It’s been that difficulty that’s plagued me over the past few years when I’ve managed to get people to agree to play a game I wanted to run. It had been a long time between the last game I ran when I was younger and the first game I ran when I was older, and looking back, I did a whole lot of things wrong. When I tried again, I worked to remedy those mistakes, but went ahead and found new mistakes. Then I tried again, and the third time wasn’t the charm. On top of that, hosting a weekly game started out OK, but every single time the stress of preparation wore me down to the point where I couldn’t maintain the cadence, and eventually had to end the adventures prematurely.
Despite all of this, I still feel like playing, all the time. I mean, I have tons of official resources, but I lack the wherewithal to start again. Among those who would hear my call, several have already answered, and have been the victims of my ever-increasing freak-outs. There may be others who wouldn’t know what they were signing up for, some of whom I know well enough to derive some comfort, and some who might inadvertently add to my stress, so it’s a crap-shoot as to who I might be able to rope into a new undertaking.
I have been thinking about it and I have tried to come up with ways to mitigate the mistakes I’ve made in the past. I don’t have a comprehensive list, but here’s a few things that I have thought about a lot:
- No more weekly sessions. I’d say maybe twice a month, as that would allow me a much better cycle of decompression, hype, planning, and execution.
- Meet with players somehow on the off-weeks. One thing that has always bit me in the ass was a disconnect between what I wanted out of the game and what the players wanted out of the game. Checking in with individuals before and during the adventure to find out what they want from the game, how they think things are going overall, and how they feel their character is being treated is something that I think can solve a lot of disconnects and disappointments.
- Set and manage expectations. This is another before and during step that I feel I never did well with. Some people like serious games and some like games with an abundance of levity; the two rarely mix well, so ensuring that we are all on the same page — somehow — is of the utmost importance.
- Compile resources beforehand. I like being prepared, but it takes a lot of effort and infrastructure for me to reach a comfortable state these days. I’d want a stable of NPCs with motives on hand in case the players go off on a tangent. Same with common, generic areas that serve as templates for more specific modifications to fit a scene. I love using Fantasy Grounds because it has a lot of tools that make creating encounters on the fly as easy as pushing a button.
On the other side of the coin, it has been literal decades since I’ve been on the outside of a GM screen. I suppose part of this is because I’m a bit of a control freak as the previous paragraphs and my previous players might tell you. Also, I haven’t really seen friends calling for players; I don’t know how many people in my sphere play TTRPGs or how many do or are willing to run them. I also feel weird playing in a game run by people I don’t know, or with people I don’t know (or don’t know well). While I mentioned my increasing inability to “think quickly” from behind the GM screen, I also don’t do well in memorizing the volumes of rules that comprise today’s TTRPGs. I personally prefer a “rules lite” game because it fits my capacity, which would mean that a “rules lawyer” and I would not be a good fit for one another.
I continue to live a TTRPG life in thought if not in deed, collecting books and wanting to put together interesting and exciting adventures. If you’ve been around this site for a while, you might remember that I had (on several occasions) wanted to create a TTRPG organization app, which stems from my ongoing desire to remain active in this space. Maybe someday the wheel will come around again, and I’ll be able to get some folks together for a more relaxed adventure, or I might be able to find a group of people hosting a game that I can feel comfortable in.