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Struggling, seeking support

Dagamorn

Member
Wizard of Adventure
Adventure Builder
Hey, gang. I hope this doesn't sound too pathetic.

So I originally signed up for this workshop in order to improve my players' engagement, as it has been lagging as of late. Since then, it hasn't improved and I have subsequently developed DM Burnout, finding it difficult to get excited about anything to do with trying to improve for my party, much less prep for the game. So when the first few sessions turned out to be about analyzing my players, a very big part of me responded with, "Why should I spend so much time and energy on this when they don't appreciate the work I already do for them?"

Not a very good headspace for someone in an Adventure Building Workshop, now is it? What do y'all think: Should I trudge ahead, discouragement be damned! Or postpone until I'm in a better place to work on my adventure building skills?

Thanks in advance.
 

ExileInParadise

RPG Therapist
Staff member
Wizard of Adventure
Adventure Builder
To start off - maybe can you backtrack a little bit and tell us a bit about the parts of DMing that you enjoy the most?

Is it the rules and finding cool ways to tweak the illusions of reality from a simple set of mechanics?

Is it the setting worlds and immersion in lore?

Is it the acting of the moment and surprise of an unfolding story?

What part of that sounds best, and what sounds the most unpleasant?

What got you into DMing to start with?

And - to answer your core question:
"trudge ahead?" no.
"postpone?" no.

Maybe hone in on what's causing the most pain point, then "forge ahead" with the goal of finding the things in the workshops that can help reduce/remove that main pain point blocking you from the fun.

But if its a trudge - not worth doing.
And if you postpone - it sounds like things can only go downhill and you will still be just as far from unlocking the knot and getting back into the fun zone.
 

JochenL

CL Byte Sprite
Staff member
Wizard of Adventure
Beta-Tester
Faster Combatant
Adventure Builder
Gamer Lifestyle
Some thoughts off the top of my head:
What you should do can only be answered by yourself. But what about: Follow along and only do those things that you enjoy?! This should be a fun hobby and not an exam you take. Why not pick the stuff you like and skip what you don't find appealing (at the moment)?
 

Dagamorn

Member
Wizard of Adventure
Adventure Builder
I've never been much of a home-brew world-builder, preferring to run or create adventures in an established setting, like Forgotten Realms, Barovia, or Wildemount. I enjoy tying together different threads from the world and the players' characters to create my adventures and storylines. I love creating NPCs and scenarios that, when presented to the players, make them go "Wow!" I don't enjoy combat a great deal, but I do enjoy having a good grasp of the rules. I enjoy prep, but running the game frequently leaves me feeling inadequate. The party never sticks around to talk about the game, and I never get any feedback on how the game went unless I ask for it.

I played and DM'd initially back in the early '80's, but drifted away when I got married in '87. Then back in '16, I watched Chris Hardwick in Force Grey, which introduced me to Matt Mercer. Which introduced me to Critical Role. I thereupon became very excited to rediscover this game which I loved so many years ago. So I gathered a few friends together and I started them with the Starter Set. We've been playing regularly since then, but have gone online since the pandemic. A move to which I attribute a portion of the player engagement erosion.

I'm also suffering from what I believe is the Critical Role Effect, wherein a DM expects their players to be as emotionally invested and attentive as the players of Critical Role. I recognize that it is an unrealistic expectation, but it's hard to say the I don't sometimes think, "Why can't you be more like Vox Machina?" So that plays into my own disillusionment as well.
 

ExileInParadise

RPG Therapist
Staff member
Wizard of Adventure
Adventure Builder
>> I've never been much of a home-brew world-builder, preferring to run or create adventures in an established setting, like Forgotten Realms, Barovia, or Wildemount.

Nothing wrong with that - a lot of creative people worked hard to put them together to be fun places to tell your stories in.

>> I enjoy tying together different threads from the world and the players' characters to create my adventures and storylines.

So is this piece still working for you? Are the players/characters filling in their roles in the story process?

>> I love creating NPCs and scenarios that, when presented to the players, make them go "Wow!"

Is that still happening?

>> I don't enjoy combat a great deal, but I do enjoy having a good grasp of the rules.

Understandable, but maybe you can look at how to turn combat into a more story-oriented piece such as parleys or looking at how to make combat serve story better so that even this less enjoyable piece contributes to moving forward?

>> I enjoy prep, but running the game frequently leaves me feeling inadequate.

This was my main driver as well - I don't feel confident going into a session regardless of my prep.
Would simply pacing things differently help?
Maybe add a week or two more between sessions to give yourself recharge time as well as prep & polish?

>> The party never sticks around to talk about the game, and I never get any feedback on how the game went unless I ask for it.

Ouch - yeah - so, one thing - it sounds like they keep coming back and that's a pretty powerful feedback of its own.

Another idea - move the discussion to the social time before the session start - just straight up ask how they thought the last session went as part of asking for a recap to get people rolling.

The players may not have ever considered that there was a need to remind you regularly how they feel its going.
Rather than keep rolling 1's on "detect player thoughts psychically" - just ask them BEFORE the beginning of the next.
Or, if you want to have the feedback just after the session, then maybe move the session up 15 minutes and directly say "and the last 15 mins will be feedback and review"

Maybe use the "hand out XP" discussion as the driver - as you go player to player - ask for feedback and suggestions for next time - then let them know... and lampshade it... "I hand out more XP based on amount of suggestions"

You can also specifically hand out XPs based on players who go hard for story - a great stunt or a pithy quote - bring it up again at the end as part of the review to hand out XP - that can also help get the conversation started on feedback.

>> I played and DM'd initially back in the early '80s, but drifted away when I got married in '87.

Gaming has changed a lot since then as I've found out.
I've had a bit of personal "old dog needs to learn new tricks"

>> Then back in '16, I watched Chris Hardwick in Force Grey, which introduced me to Matt Mercer.
>> Which introduced me to Critical Role.
>> I thereupon became very excited to rediscover this game which I loved so many years ago.

I am not familiar with this, but it sounds like you're in the best possible space as far as rules and setting.

>> So I gathered a few friends together and I started them with the Starter Set.

It sounds like you were already far more invested into it than the players may have been, so possibly some expectations to reset there?

>> We've been playing regularly since then, but have gone online since the pandemic.
>> A move to which I attribute a portion of the player engagement erosion.

And GM erosion.
I've had a frank discussion with my players for exactly that - they are actually doing better with online vs. table than I was.
They are mostly console gamers so it's not much of a stretch for them.

>> I'm also suffering from what I believe is the Critical Role Effect, wherein a DM expects their players to be as emotionally invested and attentive as the players of Critical Role.

Sounds like. But here's the thing - that's okay too.
A GM's "reward" in gaming has to necessarily different than the player's "reward" - and so for with the investment.
So, how can you maximize your investment in the game system and setting?
One way may be to run a solo game ... perhaps run as the rivals or villains to the player team - but as a solo game entirely seperately from the player sessions.
That may also provide some more direct prompting to change the player engagement as well?

>> I recognize that it is an unrealistic expectation, but it's hard to say the I don't sometimes think, "Why can't you be more like Vox Machina?"

Well, I am not sure its unrealistic, but yes, its very likely there is a disparity between your investment to the game than the others.

But you also already identified that and so its probably not insurmountable.

Moving the feedback and recap to the front of the session to get a clearer read and more reflection of the game state from the players.

>> So that plays into my own disillusionment as well.

Well, there's one ace in the hole that I can suggest as a way to drive up player engagement as well as direct engagement with you.

Have you looked into Aaron Allston's "bluebooking" from his Strike Force game?

If you haven't, then the overview is this:
Each player gets a "notebook" where the notebook is used between player-to-player as well as player-to-GM scenes.
Anyone can initiate a scene at any time - but it is usually between the "at table" sessions.
But it can also happen during a table session if two players need to have a separate scene between each other to the side.

To kick off a scene, one player just writes a single line in their notebook, *in character* that involves another player or a GM-managed character.
Then they hand the notebook over, and the other player or GM writes their response to the prompt.
Then it goes back and forth as a creative writing exercise totally in character.

Using a technique like bluebooking can also be facilitated by having a 15-30 minute "bluebook catchup" window before the main sessions.
That gives players time to bluebook with GM characters as well.

Bluebooking may also help you find some more of that Critical Role goodness you're looking for.
Check out the Strike Force bluebooking info that's out there on the web, or get a copy of the game and give it a direct read.
It may be a useful tool for your game and your engagement.
 

ExileInParadise

RPG Therapist
Staff member
Wizard of Adventure
Adventure Builder
Thanks for the feedback. I will be thinking about all you suggest.
You're definitely welcome and I am glad you chose to try this route rather than just give up.

I still say give the workshops a chance, at least for some outside perspectives while you recharge and regroup your enthusiasm.

We're here for ya!
 

ErikaHLX

Member
Adventure Builder
Kudos to you @Dagamorn for bringing up a difficult topic and opening up to advice and encouragement! My main point I want to make is, do not be discouraged! I believe you have it in you if you came here and if you asked for support. I may be able to relate to some of these feelings you've had, so I'll start by describing some similar experiences, which is my preferred way to establish shared understanding. After I give a few examples, I want to explain how this program is helping me with them, and how you may be helped too!

First, I definitely get the difficulty of soliciting feedback. People often don't give it readily, and asking for post-mortem comments feels to me like either fishing for compliments OR setting myself up for feeling defensive of criticism. But I want to hear supportive things! Especially since I have to play all the bad guys! I think it's helped me to ask my players more direct questions 1:1 outside of session: "I know that the relic being tied to your backstory must have been a surprise! Are surprises like that okay for you?" "Oh I liked that! It made my character feel important. Actually I kind of wish that moment wasn't immediately overshadowed by the combat right afterward..." So, to solicit feedback, I actually do the opposite of asking open-ended questions. I think it helps draw focus while still opening up the conversation to what else might be on their mind.

Second, I can relate to the feeling of players not contributing enough or responding enough to make my effort feel worthwhile. I had one bit of feedback that really ticked me off... in a non-game social setting, one of my players was telling me that his other DM does this "really cool thing" of using characters' personality traits and bonds and flaws (these are codified in 5e) to drive story. I had to slow-blink at him for a moment and wanted to tell him, "Yeah... if you think I'm not doing that, it's because you never filled in that part of your sheet, even after I prompted you multiple times and finally gave up." It certainly hurt my feelings, because I realize that his failing to meet my expectations turned into my failing to meet his expectations--and somehow this other DM had managed to motivate him to do this, AND he didn't even realize that's what had happened! Instead of giving the defensive response, I said "I'd love to see the sheet you have for that other game, and maybe we can use it as inspiration to fill in those sections on your sheet in our game." Yes, being the DM almost always involves being the grown-up in the room.

Third, my most depleting DM struggle is having to be the Gracious Host (see also: grown up in the room). As analogy, if I'm hosting a party to watch sports, and I ask people to bring beer to go with the food I've prepared... and then they all show up without beer, pick a little bit at the food, and ignore the TV, I'd feel anxious about my abilities as a host. Maybe I ask "So.. is everyone enjoying themselves?" A few shrug, and one says "Well we were hoping you'd have cocaine and dance music." Certainly I shouldn't feel I've done anything wrong not having those things. But, do I perhaps consider altering my plans to meet their expectations? Maybe I say no to cocaine and yes to dance music? Turn off the sports and keep the food available, because they're going to need it. Were they being shitty guests? YES. Did I throw out everything I prepared? Never. I figure out what's most important to me (the food) and what's most important to them (dancing). Sadly, Gracious Hosts don't get the opportunity to be truly selfish, but you do get to set the rules!

Finally, I feel that Johnn's foundational materials actually help me to address these issues! Yes, we're writing adventures, but we're starting really basic: understanding our players' motivations (not just their characters!), understanding our own priorities, and of course, discussing those as a community. As @ExileInParadise says, the fact that your players keep showing up is the first thing you need to know you're doing something right. If you feel up to it, you may even let them know that you're involved in a workshopping process and will be seeking specific feedback from them. The fact that you're excited about revisiting this world that you enjoyed many years ago is the second point in favor of keeping at it!
 

CoryG

Portfolio Importer & World Map Maintainer
Wizard of Adventure
Beta-Tester
Adventure Builder
@Dagamorn ,

I've definitely felt the same way. Even as recently as a month and a half ago I found myself in a poor mental position for my weekly D&D campaign.

I ended taking out a cue card and writing this:

The Value of Being a D&D DM
It allows me to spend time with friends to tell stories, roll dice and laugh.


I keep this card on my desk so that my eye catches it from time to time. It helps me keep things in perspective.

Also, I started being easier on myself. If I'm feeling low interest about the game I take 30 minutes on a Sunday to prep for my game on Thursday to come up with one interesting character/plot thing and one interesting combat. That's it. Broad strokes stuff. This takes the pressure off for the week so I'm not constantly thinking "I'm not prepared for Thursday!". Also, it allows ideas to percolate in my brain throughout the week.

Cory
 

JohnnFour

Game Master
Staff member
Demonplague Author
Wizard of Adventure
Beta-Tester
Adventure Builder
Gamer Lifestyle
Thumbs up to the awesome advice here. Fantastic!

Based just on my experience with repeated burnout, the root comes from letting my satisfaction come from something external.

If the crafting of an adventure is challenging and worthwhile, for example, then having it flop at the game table for any reason is disappointing. But the journey was worthwhile, so I feel satisfied overall and want to continue on and explore further with the hobby.

Find your muse again. Could be a simple change, or a personal journey.

While not fun, burnout is a great teacher.
 

ExileInParadise

RPG Therapist
Staff member
Wizard of Adventure
Adventure Builder
If you feel up to it, you may even let them know that you're involved in a workshopping process and will be seeking specific feedback from them.
That's exactly what I did - my players were confused as heck because they had no idea I was struggling to get things going and keep it going.
I expect that maybe what's happening a bit here for @Dagamorn and just that his table doesn't realize what the impact of the COVID changes have meant from the GM side.
 

ExileInParadise

RPG Therapist
Staff member
Wizard of Adventure
Adventure Builder
The Value of Being a D&D DM
It allows me to spend time with friends to tell stories, roll dice and laugh.
Stealing this! (if you don't mind...)

If I'm feeling low interest about the game I take 30 minutes on a Sunday to prep for my game on Thursday to come up with one interesting character/plot thing and one interesting combat. That's it. Broad strokes stuff. This takes the pressure off for the week so I'm not constantly thinking "I'm not prepared for Thursday!". Also, it allows ideas to percolate in my brain throughout the week.
Um, and stealing this too (if you still don't mind).

This post made me feel like a Kender.
 

Dagamorn

Member
Wizard of Adventure
Adventure Builder
Thank you one and all! I am somewhat overwhelmed by your responses. You'll be happy to know, largely as a result of this discussion, that I have thrown off my burnout and am excited for tonight's game. And I'm excited to be excited!

More than anything, this course has already shown me how little I really know my players. But it's in rediscovering my friends that I'm finding new excitement. I can't wait to talk to them at tonight's game.

Thanks again, from the bottom of my heart. Truly.
 
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Dagamorn

Member
Wizard of Adventure
Adventure Builder
>> The party never sticks around to talk about the game, and I never get any feedback on how the game went unless I ask for it.

Ouch - yeah - so, one thing - it sounds like they keep coming back and that's a pretty powerful feedback of its own.
Honestly, that is the one thing that had prevented me from just giving up altogether. I guess that's why I became so discouraged when the last minute change of plans and forgotten previous commitments started to become more the norm than the exception.
 

JochenL

CL Byte Sprite
Staff member
Wizard of Adventure
Beta-Tester
Faster Combatant
Adventure Builder
Gamer Lifestyle
Thank you one and all! I am somewhat overwhelmed by your responses. You'll be happy to know, largely as a result of this discussion, that I have thrown off my burnout and am excited for tonight's game. And I'm excited to be excited!
If you feel like it, let us participate in your plans, ideas, and experiences from this evening!
I would love to read along!
 

ExileInParadise

RPG Therapist
Staff member
Wizard of Adventure
Adventure Builder
More than anything, this course has already shown me how little I really know my players. But it's in rediscovering my friends that I'm finding new excitement. I can't wait to talk to them at tonight's game.
I can't wait to hear about what surprise you throw at them tonight...
 
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