This guest article was written by Oliver J. Oviedo of OJO Games, and its topic — sustainability — is one that isn’t often addressed in advice for GMs. Thanks, Oliver! — Martin
I have had the luxury of having consistent gaming sessions over the last 19 years. Through changes in jobs, schools, relationships and the arrival of kids, I have been able to keep up consistent gaming in my life. Granted, there have breaks here and there, but on average I have gamed 2-4 times per month during this time. I have learned that if you want a regular gaming night in your life, you need to make it sustainable. Here are seven of my best strategies for sustaining a long-term gaming lifestyle:
1 – Schedule it on a weeknight. A regular session on a weekend is tough when you are an adult. I have a wife and three kids, am pursuing a science degree and working part time as a researcher. Oh, and I am developing a few games and trying to build a website too. Gone are the days of heading to my buddy’s house to play AD&D all weekend. The good news is that most folks are not doing anything too exciting on a Tuesday night. Three solid hours of gaming is highly productive when you stay focused. I have gotten TONS of awesome gaming in between 5:30 and 8:30 on a school night, and you can too.
2 – Get your family involved. Stability within a gaming group is essential to long-term sustainability. Most of us have at least a few family members we enjoy spending time with. For that reason, I have always made an effort to include and mentor family (including significant others) in my gaming. I have had husband-wife duos in my groups, and even a mother-son duo. I have had siblings and in-laws. Stable relatives make stable gamers. And there is no better way to gain the understanding and support of your family than giving them a taste of gaming.
3 – Network locally. Get to know the gamers who live in your area and make an effort to play something, anything, with them. Not all of them will be to your taste, but odds are that some will. Having contacts in your back pocket will be invaluable if you need to fill in an empty seat at the table, or if you want to start up a new group or get invited into someone else’s group. In addition to increasing your pool of potential players, conversing with new people will expose you to different ideas, perspectives and games.
4 – Invest in the next generation. This means playing with kids, and teaching raw noobs the ropes. Un-jaded by game mechanics and system preferences, newcomers offer a fresh look at tabletop RPG. They will revitalize you. Kids are natural role-players, becoming immersed and invested in the story with amazing facility. My Storytime Chimera project was spawned from my practice of making bed-time stories interactive (as all nerdy parents should do). It strives to create an RPG simple enough for a child to understand, yet robust enough to handle anything a grown up might want to do. Check it out if you have children or newcomers you want to play with. There is a free download of the demo manuscript for anyone who signs up. It includes full color cover, black & white interior art, layout and sample adventure.
5 – Mentor new GMs. Establish a group with the understanding that everyone will be taking turns GMing. Mentor the new GMs. This not only reduces GM burnout, it fosters understanding all around. I have found that the best players are also GMs, and the best GMs are also players. It is bad for any gaming group to have individuals who flat-out refuse to play, or flat out refuse to GM. The reason this is SO VITAL is game mastering requires the development of specific narrative and improvisational skills. This requires practice, and simply cannot be learned by reading an RPG book. It is an art as well as a science. There is a strong oral tradition aspect to becoming a GM. The findings and knowledge of each seasoned GM are invaluable –- pass them on. Without mentoring new GMs, this hobby dies. Period.
6 – Egalitarian world building. Nothing is worse than spending hours and hours preparing a campaign only to have it go unappreciated. Many of us have drawers full of notes that will never see the light of day. We didn’t become GMs to toil in obscurity, did we? The simplest, most energy efficient solution to this problem is to grant the players some world building power. It creates instant buy-in and ownership, and takes a lot of work (and futility) off of your plate. If your goal is to run a game that your players will fall in love with, doesn’t it make sense to find out what they care about? This approach is intrinsic to my Fantasy Chimera game, which presents a developed mechanic for awarding World Building Points to players. Check out the website for a system neutral protocol for collaborative world building.
7 – Find a lab partner. As much as I advocate mentoring kids and non-gamers, you need to nurture yourself as well if you want to grow personally as a GM. For that reason, I council you to identify a person in your local gaming community who you consider to be at or above your level of mastery, and who is also interested in honing his or her craft. Twice a month, I get together with my buddy Paul at a local restaurant, and we play an intense game called Sorcerer (www.adept-press.com). We discuss the role of Narrative in the human mind, and analyze what constitutes vital, compelling storytelling. All this over margaritas and enchiladas, and we leave the kids at home. This is OUR gaming lab. You should have one of your own too.
You might be asking yourself at this point, “This sounds like a lot of work! Why the heck is a regular game night so important anyway?”. Well, to quote a recent Gnome Stew article by John Fredricks, Three Tough Situations, “Gamemastering is built on hope.” I could’t agree more. As a GM, you hope to get to play a game, hope to try out some new mechanic, hope to enjoy a good time with you friends and so on. Fostering sustainable gaming practices is a proactive way to turn these hopes into reality. Having a regular gaming outlet in your life provides a unique opportunity to connect to others via imagination and dialogue. It is the perfect way to share stories and ideas and to create a tradition of togetherness around the table top. This is why it is worth the effort.
What sustainable gaming practices have you found to be effective?