GMing with Joy: Long Term Gamemastering

How do you keep a going for years on end?

If you pick up a core RPG book you will likely find a section on what is an RPG, how to roll dice, and hopefully some advice on running the actual RPG you are reading and maybe even a starting adventure. But what do you do to keep going month after month, decade after decade? How do you gamemaster for the long haul? And have fun doing it?

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Dragon Dice Play - Free photo on Pixabay

Basic Beginning

I start with a base of taking care of my relationships and health first. Basically, gaming is important to me but on the list of all the important things in my life, it is the very last important thing. Everything else of importance (faith, health, family, friends, citizenship, job et cetera) come before gaming. With all the other important things taken care of first, I then work on gaming.

I run a table top RPG every other week unless a family emergency or planned family event occurs. I’ve kept this schedule for over thirty years. I game in person unless I’m forced not to, on the same day and at the same time, unless group dynamics change dramatically. I game with the same core group, although players occasionally shuffle in and out.

The only major disruption to this long-running trend was D&D 4E. D&D 4E split my long running D&D 3.5 group into two camps (liked 4E or wanted to stick with 3.5) and I eventually lost everyone in that group (although I’m still friends with three of them) and had to start over. Forming a new group is a topic for another day however.

How, Though, Do You Game Every Other Week and Keep The Game Going?

Practical Answers

I run RPGs I like. I don’t run RPGs I don’t like.

Barring an emergency or planned absence, I show up every other week for game night ready to GM. I do this year after year and decade after decade. Even if I have to go virtual for a while, I show up ready to GM.

I start a campaign small, promising only a handful of adventures. If it goes well, I extend the campaign with more adventures. Which ties into the next thing I do.

I try my hardest not to end a campaign on a whim and try to bring each campaign to an actual conclusion (I sometimes fail at this, but I build up some grace with the group and if I go off the rails they trust me to get back on track).

I build on what came before. If the players liked a certain NPC, I bring them back. If a new monster design worked well (vampires (geeknative.com) in The One Ring!) I bring that monster back in a new challenge. If a PC wants some type of magic item, quest, or experience I try to bring it.

I get tired and can’t always write my own adventures or campaigns. I give myself all the help I need by falling back on other RPGs I own, reusing bits from previous adventures I’ve written, and repurposing parts of previous campaigns I’ve run. I currently like to run campaigns in a box (a core RPG with a supporting campaign and adventures).

How, Though, Do You Game Every Other Week and Keep The Game Going?

Mindset Answers

Gaming is a lifestyle. My whole family tells me I’m weird, nearly daily. They smile when they say this. My wife even hung classy looking prints of Tolkien landscapes in our basement for my yearly home gaming convention, Charlie Con, now on year six (another topic for later).

If I’m able to work I’m able to GM. This means even if I’m tired or not feeling it. This is just my approach. Life is hard (really hard right now) but if I’m able to get all my other responsibilities done, I don’t want to lose gaming. If I was healthy enough for work and my chores are done, I get to the game table to game. Of course that means I must work hard at my job and get my chores done on time before game night!

I appreciate what I have. We are seven people creating something new collectively, in person when possible, every other week for years at a time. That is an amazing social event to be part of. I rarely forgot what a blessing this social, mental, and creative endeavor is in my life. I have friendships, some decades long and some with people otherwise quite different from me, that started when I met someone gaming. I try to never forget that.

Gaming has gone so well a married couple in our group opened their home to us for gaming. We eat a home cooked meal before every game which creates a powerful bond in the group.

Expert Ending

If you want to GM, GM on a regular basis whether in person in virtual. Whenever possible, don’t stop a campaign before a natural ending point. Show up ready and have your affairs in order so you can concentrate as best you can. Have lots of fun, enjoy all the friends, and count your many blessings. Don’t give up. Like we said in the 80s: no retreat, no surrender. Embrace the gaming lifestyle and game on!
 

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Charles Dunwoody

Charles Dunwoody

lyle.spade

Adventurer
Well put; thoughtful; thank you. I am the Forever GM, too, and by choice. I enjoy it more than playing, even with all the additional work it entails.

I think your recommendation to start small - promise a few sessions, or what I would call a "short arc" and then see where it goes from there. I've have campaigns collapse because I started off with a promise (to please players) to "go to level 20!" or something like that. I won't do that again, and I won't run a game - genre, story, world, or system, that I don't like. I don't have to love it, but I have to at least like those different facets of it in order to run it. The GM is a player too, and everyone at the table needs to be bought in at least to an acceptable threshold.

I'm glad to hear a story of a longterm GM who appreciates the value of gaming as a social and creative effort, and also prioritizes it appropriately within the context of life as a whole. Good stuff, and I hope the hard times pass and you and your players experience even greater stories and adventures in the future. Here's to another 30 years of it...or close to it. I've been playing since the early 80s, too, and have been pretty much the GM of any group of which I am a part for over 30 years. Good stuff.
 

@lyle.spade I'm really glad you enjoyed the article. It is an experiment I wanted to do to put some RPG topics out that I don't see quite so much discussion on, keep the conversation positive, and extol the virtues of being a GM. If this one is well received, I have more RPG topics I'm interested in discussing that aren't as likely to end up being covered in an RPG book.
 
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lyle.spade

Adventurer
@lyle.spade I'm really glad you enjoyed the article. It is an experiment I wanted to do to put some RPG topics out that I don't see quite so much discussion on, keep the conversation positive, and extol the virtues of being a GM. If this one is well received, I have more RPG topics I'm interested in discussing that aren't as likely to end up being covered in an RPG book.
I look forward to them!
 

Thomas Shey

Legend
Just as a note, you have to think about the group (or groups) you're GMing for. I recently ended GMing for a group that included people I've known for in some cases decades, because I concluded GMing for them was more stress than fun, even though they didn't do anything beyond the pale on an individual level, or even something that was a full blown problem with any regularity; there was just a sort of death-of-a-thousand-cuts business of dealing with them and their interrelationships.

Took me a very long time to decide to do this, but you have to take the hint when you're mildly anxious before sessions and often slightly depressed after them.
 


Just as a note, you have to think about the group (or groups) you're GMing for. I recently ended GMing for a group that included people I've known for in some cases decades, because I concluded GMing for them was more stress than fun, even though they didn't do anything beyond the pale on an individual level, or even something that was a full blown problem with any regularity; there was just a sort of death-of-a-thousand-cuts business of dealing with them and their interrelationships.

Took me a very long time to decide to do this, but you have to take the hint when you're mildly anxious before sessions and often slightly depressed after them.

You bring up an interesting point and one I might discuss if I can put a positive spin on various options. I too have had some emotional ups and downs GMing sometimes with group dynamics. The last time this happened to me, before breaking up the group, I tried one other option first. I focused on things outside of gaming but that did involve those I was gaming with. The gaming adjacent things I did like. I know this doesn't always work but, in my case, it got me through a rough patch without having to disband the group. With my 3.5 group though, this approach didn't work, and that group disbanded.
 

Caephros

COVID-era DM - DM at least once weekly
Just as a note, you have to think about the group (or groups) you're GMing for. I recently ended GMing for a group that included people I've known for in some cases decades, because I concluded GMing for them was more stress than fun, even though they didn't do anything beyond the pale on an individual level, or even something that was a full blown problem with any regularity; there was just a sort of death-of-a-thousand-cuts business of dealing with them and their interrelationships.

Took me a very long time to decide to do this, but you have to take the hint when you're mildly anxious before sessions and often slightly depressed after them.
I feel this, you have to put your relationships with the players before the game, but sometimes you have to set expectations for participation in the game as well. Kind of a razor’s edge when close friends and family are involved. If it preserves the preexisting relationships, I think you made the right call. If it’s not fun, it stops being a game for sure. Had to navigate some friends and family drama in relation to a game this year and it’s not fun. Sometimes you can decide the game works for some folks and not others and that okay too if it works. Hope you find a game that works better for you on an emotional health level!
 

I feel this, you have to put your relationships with the players before the game, but sometimes you have to set expectations for participation in the game as well. Kind of a razor’s edge when close friends and family are involved. If it preserves the preexisting relationships, I think you made the right call. If it’s not fun, it stops being a game for sure. Had to navigate some friends and family drama in relation to a game this year and it’s not fun. Sometimes you can decide the game works for some folks and not others and that okay too if it works. Hope you find a game that works better for you on an emotional health level!

Both of you bring up excellent real-world examples and points of view. This type of discussion is critical to enable long-term campaigns. I've read thousands of pages of rules but only a small handful of pages dedicated to actually navigating working together as players and actually making things work, especially long term. I've read even less on running RPGs at game stores or conventions with strangers. Or how to build your courage to even sit down to GM, although several YouTube GMs are pretty good at covering this topic.
 

Thomas Shey

Legend
You bring up an interesting point and one I might discuss if I can put a positive spin on various options. I too have had some emotional ups and downs GMing sometimes with group dynamics. The last time this happened to me, before breaking up the group, I tried one other option first. I focused on things outside of gaming but that did involve those I was gaming with. The gaming adjacent things I did like. I know this doesn't always work but, in my case, it got me through a rough patch without having to disband the group. With my 3.5 group though, this approach didn't work, and that group disbanded.

Unfortunately, while these were long time friends it was very heavily in a gaming context. What non-gaming interactions we had fell away literally years ago.
 

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