I was forty-six sessions into my Forbidden Lands game when I lost interest. I am sure it wasn’t all at once and was more likely gradual, but around session 46 is when it reached critical mass. I just wasn’t feeling it like I did before. I have learned that this feeling, this lack of excitement for the game, is a sign that it is time to move on. I could try to tough it out, try to double down my interest, but once a game has reached this critical mass, it’s best to put it down, permanently or for a time, and let the game finish cooling off before trying to re-engage it.
Since it is fresh on my mind, I thought I would take some time to talk about losing interest in your game. How it can happen, and what you can do when it happens.
GMs Deserve To Have Fun Too
GMs often feel responsible for creating a good time for the players, and I think that is overall a healthy idea. GMs are facilitators and next to making sure that everyone in the game feels safe, the next most important thing is to make sure they are having fun.Â
What I think is frequently overlooked is that GMs also deserve to have fun. Fun is highly subjective, so you need to know what fun is for you. For me, I have two types of fun: external and internal.Â External fun is things like everyone at the table having a good time and socializing with the players. Internal fun is things like the enjoyment of playing the game system and creating interesting plots for sessions.Â
I think this is an important thing to note because creating an enjoyable session is a thing you do for and with the rest of the table; hence that fun is external to you. But you also have things that make the game you are running internally fun. I know that I can create an enjoyable experience for a table with nearly any game system, but if I hate the system I am running, overall the game may not be fun for me.
What does this have to do with losing interest? We are interested in things that are fun. Think of the excitement and energy you have when you are working on something you are interested in. Likewise, when something stops being fun, we lose interest. Think of how hard it is to do something that you are not excited about. The interest and fun are linked and feed back onto one another.
Why Might You Lose Interest
Let’s take a look at a few reasons why you might lose interest in the game you are playing. Most of these are internal reasons, and I will note the ones that are not. This list is not exhaustive nor in any order.
This is a case where the rules of the game are draining energy from you and are no longer (or never have been) fun. This can occur frequently in more complex games; those with elaborate mechanics for common activities, like combat. After you have run the game for a while, you feel drained and tired.
This is when you have engaged the majority of the rules of the game and have done everything with them. In essence, you have played most of the game, and it is getting repetitive. This can frequently occur in games with simple mechanics, where it is easy to have done everything, mechanically in the game. This also affects GMs who have an interest in mechanics.
Every game has a set of common activities that you do during play. It could be something like explore-fight-advance or something like a dungeon crawl, where you go into a location, murder everything, and take their stuff. Situational exhaustion is when this activity or group of activities becomes repetitious and feels the same game after game. If all your fantasy game does is explore dungeons, after a few dungeons it all starts to feel the same.
The completion of a major story arc can trigger a loss of interest. Completing something often begets starting something new. Completing a major story arc may tell your brain it is time to move on from this game, leading to a lack of interest.Â
Bored with the Setting/Genre
It is possible that you become bored with the setting or genre. If you are playing a game that is not in your favorite genres, then over time you may lose interest in it. Much like Mechanical Completion, it is also possible to have explored all the major parts of the setting and have grown bored with it.
The New Shiny
The siren song of a new game is one that has a lot of allure. It is more than enough to pull a GM from the campaign they are running into dropping everything to run this new game. For years I was prone to this after every Gen Con. It takes some discipline and patience to resist that urge.Â
Schedule Disruption (external)
Sometimes if a game gets canceled too many times, the interest in running it fades. This is more true when a game is starting or in its early sessions. In those early stages, there is not a high emotional investment in the game, and if you miss a few sessions, it can fade away.Â
My Forbidden Lands Game
When I realized that my lack of interest had reached a critical point in my Forbidden Lands game, I took a bit to do some introspection and figure out why. Overall, I think it comes from three factors.Â
The first is Mechanical Completion. In 46 sessions, we played most of the system in the game, and in a few places had to house rule some things that were outside of what the written rules had covered.
The second is Situational Exhaustion. There is a loop of activities in Forbidden Lands – Travel, Explore an Adventure Site – Travel Home – Work on the Stronghold. We had done that loop a number of times during our sessions and it started to feel repetitive.Â
The last factor was Boredom in the Setting. I was running the Raven’s Purge, which is a solid campaign setting, but personally I never quite connected with it and was always struggling with it as I would prep my sessions.
Dealing with a Lack Of Interest
Once you start feeling that lack of interest, and you have done some introspection on why you feel that way, you have a few options:
- Change something up – If your issue is something like setting boredom, you can change the setting by moving the game to somewhere else. Or if you have done too many dungeon crawls, you can switch up to a city adventure. Sometimes, just changing the component that is causing your lack of interest can rekindle it.Â
- Bring the game to a conclusion – Sometimes the best thing to do, especially if you are close to something like the end of an adventure or major story arc, is to bring the game to a conclusion and end the game gracefully. From there you can pick something new to play.Â
- Pause the game – Â You can temporarily stop playing the game that you are losing interest in and go play a one-shot or mini-campaign of something else to change things up and recapture that original excitement. This option can sometimes result in you becoming more interested in the new thing you are running and you start running the new game in place of the one you paused.Â
- End the game – You can always end the game without reaching any kind of conclusion or stopping point. This is sometimes necessary when it would take a long time to get to a place to conclude the game, and you don’t feel like you can run the game that long.
When It Is Time to Move OnÂ
For my Forbidden Lands game we chose to just end the game and go and play something else (in this case Night’s Black Agents). But for me, I would happily return to Forbidden Lands again, and in fact backed their latest Kickstarter, so that I would get the new campaign book, which looks quite exciting. Until that book is ready, I will run some NBA.
Have you ever lost interest in a game? If so, what are the most common reasons that you do? How do you deal with it, when it occurs?Â
Thanks for this article, Phil. It’s relevant because in my experience– to borrow a line from T.S. Eliot– this is how most games end: not with a bang but a whimper.
Your breakdown of reasons why games may fall apart helps GMs and players understand what’s happening. By understanding it, we can take steps to fix it– or make an informed decision to end it and start anew.
One thing I’d add to your article is an emphasis that fixing a game that’s running aground requires not just introspection but mutual agreement among all the players on how to fix it. Sometimes, perhaps even most of the time, the result of the discussion is “Yeah, let’s end this one and try another.” But it is possible to reinvigorate a stumbling game! Years ago I GMed an LT game that fell apart due to a multiplicity of several factors you described, but we put it back together thanks to healthy discussion and mutual agreement. The players and I all stepped back up, and in doing so created a turnaround story with epic scenes that defined who the characters became and which the players savored for years after.
Good article on how many GMâ€™s lose interest in any rpg. Bummer it was FL, but it was just the game that you ran for 46 sessions. It can take a lot for it to â€˜stay freshâ€™. I need to do more factions, more sites and rumors so the players donâ€™t get complacent. That includes me! Regardless, many campaigns have this cycle. No big deal, thereâ€™s plenty of other ones to breathe!
I’ve been playing a campaign for over 10 years. the same scenario, adventures in different worlds but with a big central plot.
For some years now I have had some exhaustion and difficulty in creating new stories and plot and I don’t have the courage to finish the campaign after all it is a work of life.