GM Tips for Dealing with Stress: Allow Your Roleplaying Game Session to be Boring

Running a roleplaying game is fun and rewarding. A great way to bond with friends, sometimes even creating lifelong friendships. It can also be stressful, and sometimes boring. The nightmare scenario would be stressful and boring. But what if yor game needs to sometimes be boring to become great over time? Here’s some GM tips.

Perhaps we feel we must rush into the game with nonstop action, overwhelm the group with challenges and brilliant twists, bring the session to a climax, then ease back in the chair as the group excitedly discusses the session next week.

Regardless of whether you’re running your first game or you have racked up five hundred on your résumé, you are likely to be a little nervous as you sit down to start a session.

That is ok. I bet we all feel that.

However, high expectations can be a recipe for burnout for the person running the game or perhaps mean the game never starts in the first place.
Is it possible this strategy hurts the game, even if you cope with the pressure?

I think a slight fluttering in your stomach is healthy, while I am pretty sure anxiety is not.

So how do we cope? How do we keep the game healthy and fun? The obvious answer is to lower our shoulders and relax. But how do you do that? What does that even mean?

What if you must allow your game to sometimes be boring to be great?
Here are five things to keep in mind:

  1. It is not all on you.
  2. Maybe you want to talk about other stuff.
  3. The characters need space to grow.
  4. The story needs space to grow.
  5. You will rebound.

Here’s my GM tips for why you should allow your game to sometimes be “boring”.

It is not all on You

The participants in a roleplaying game session may have different roles at the table. Usually, one person is running the game while the others each play a single character, meaning it is tempting to assume the person running the game shoulders the whole thing.

This is not the case.

Roleplaying games are not about a single person’s grand story, artistic agency, or responsibility to entertain the rest of the group. Roleplaying games are collective storytelling. We all bring something to the table.
We can all have off days. This includes people running roleplaying games. Also, remember the group is supposed to be your friends. They will forgive you for having an off day.

It is not all on you. The rest of the group has an equal responsibility to make sure the game works for everyone.

This also applies if you are running a one-shot for friends. Be up-front about how you feel about your shared responsibility when you agree to play and not after everyone has shown up. Make use everyone understands this is a shared experience. Any sensible group should be on-board with this and take responsibility as best as they are able.

Maybe You Want to Talk About Other Stuff?

We all come to the table for different reasons, and I assume it is always more than one reason.

One important reason is to have this scheduled excuse to hang out with friends. Maintaining friendships requires some work, and if we’re too caught up in the humdrum of everyday life, friendships may slip away.
So if the spark just is not there when you get into the game, perhaps that is because the group wants to talk about other stuff. That may be a little disappointing, but also be indispensable. A “boring” session may actually be what the group needs.

The Characters Need Space to Grow

Players need to get to know their characters. Often trivial things are what characterizes a person, location, or event. Often it is the little things. Sometimes the rush to get to the subsequent set-piece, action sequence, or revelation means the character is lost in the story.

Way back, in my old Vampire: the Masquerade game, one of the players was somewhat disconnected from the main story. When it was the disconnected player’s turn, he wanted his Toreador vampire to buy a violin, which had nothing to do with the rest of the group, nor did it advance the story in any way. Although I do not remember the details today, this was a deep game of intrigue and plotting, as vampire games often go.

I allowed this, of course, even if I may have been a little disappointed, eager as I was to advance the story, but I also enjoyed these little details, even if I could not explain why at the time. It was the player’s turn, and he was allowed to pursue his character’s action as he wished. In hindsight, I realize it may have been a sign of rebellion against a game that did not work for him. Who knows? Afterward, “buying violins” became shorthand for irrelevant side events, which took me years to realize is a toxic attitude. I have realized that going shopping is a roleplaying high point in some games.

My point is, if the person running the game keeps pushing for high-octane action all the time, little moments that characterize may be lost. Storytelling is about pacing. The buildup should slow and pick up pace over time. The climax should be fast and hard. You need to know the character to care about the character.

Thus, the boring sessions set up the grand finish in the long run. Boredom is your friend.

The Story Needs Space to Grow

As with characterization, the little things breathe life into a story. If you, as the person running the game, are struggling with a meandering plot, you may see the others take charge. Let them.

Maybe they will go off and buy violins for their characters. Perhaps they will talk about what they want to do with their characters. You may get weird little interactions no one anticipated but turns out to be the highlight of the campaign.

If you’re fortunate, they will ask about your campaign setting, and you can talk for ten minutes about your world. This may increase the boredom, but hey, they asked for it!

Perhaps it is time for a re-branding? A boring game should mean low pace. It is about you and your friends taking care of yourselves. It is about lowering the pace to give the story space to grow.

You Will Rebound

All that said and done, it stings a little when the game is boring. Anyone who has run a couple of games probably knows the feeling. If your off-days still bring you down, I get that.

I usually sulk for a few days after running a boring game, but eventually, I recover, and the desire to “show them” sparks and burns bright and hot. This may still not be great, perhaps a bit unhealthy, but I allow myself time to figure out what went wrong and hopefully get rest.

The time was not wasted. You got to hang out with friends, something I no longer take for granted, you probably learned a thing or two about your friends, how to run the game, and perhaps about yourself.

Tiredness is for me the number one game killer but is hard to deal with. But guess what? The rest of the group probably feel the same way and have come up short many times.

I hope if you forgive yourself, celebrate your sucky game, and take care of yourself, you will rebound.

Your best game ever is ahead of you.

How about You?

How do you deal with an off-day? Do you worry about boring anyone, or do you allow yourself to suck every now and then? Tell us all about it!


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2 responses to “GM Tips for Dealing with Stress: Allow Your Roleplaying Game Session to be Boring”

  1. brody1975 Avatar

    Great blog! I DM with a group of teachers. It’s great escapism for them, but I’ve learned a bit of school talk decompression is always necessary before the session starts. “Meanwhile, in the real world” has become our polite way of saying “right, shut up, let’s get playing!” I used to get really frustrated when they talk about stuff mid-game, but I go with it these days. If I feel I do need to impose a bit of focus, a monster attack on the culprit usually does the trick.

  2. sumnullus Avatar

    i had to laugh at the point where the writer of article thinks back and muses ; -” sometimes you get lucky ; and some player will ask you about your world .. You get to tell them many things about your world ; in ;possible ;boring detail ..But Hey ; they asked for it ..”

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