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RPG» Forums » General Discussion » General Role-Playing

Subject: Anxiety, GMing, and PbF rss

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Steve Moore
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Hey all! I have anxiety issues around planning/preparing, and that has made GMing difficult for me. I've wanted to GM a longer running game for some time, but the same thing keeps happening where I get two or three sessions in and then I have to drop the game because my anxiety keeps me from planning which makes me think I'm going to do a shit job which make me more anxious until I just quit. All my games have been with family and friends, so they have been understanding.

But I still really want to GM, it's where I see myself enjoying RPGs the most. I love learning games and I love telling stories. I've been thinking about trying out a PbF game, as it feels like it would give me the buffer time between players posting to allow me to prep in smaller chunks.

So, I'm wondering if anyone else has had experience with anxiety when running a game, and I'm wondering if it would be reasonable for me to try out a PbF game? I would absolutely let players know in advance that this would be an experiment for me, and I couldn't guarantee that I wouldn't have to drop the game at some point.
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Eric Dodd
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I have had anxiety about GMing games, and absolutely appreciate that PbF games allow you the time to craft your responses, look up the rules, character sheets and any other references you need before replying. I've also been able to make game rulings and change the way I delt with things using theout of character thread in my own time.

I would let your players know. but you should absolutely find this an easier way to GM as long as you can set aside some time each day to look at the thread and respond.
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Christian Leonhard
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The biggest piece of advice I’d give to anyone thinking of running or playing in a PBF game — especially someone with the anxiety issues you describe — is this: if you find yourself saying “oh, I can’t think of anything good to post right now, I’ll do it later”, force yourself to post something — anything — immediately. A mediocre response right away is infinitely better than a brilliant response you never get around to posting because you keep putting it off and the time gets away from you. That is generally how PBF games wither away and die.
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Red Wine Pie wrote:
I would let your players know. but you should absolutely find this an easier way to GM as long as you can set aside some time each day to look at the thread and respond.


Also know that the frequency is for you to decide, though it is true that there are hazards with too frequent and too slow a pace. The key is communication. Before, during, and after the game.
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Michael Lawing
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I say go for it. Something shorter and lighter would probably be better for testing the waters. I find it to be less performance anxiety and more time to work out descriptions. I also find myself changing things/building more with PBF, which is nice. There's also the matter of having a written record to go back to if you forget something.

I think a disclaimer is fine. The folks who frequent the PBF forum (a lot of us subscribe to that so we don't miss game announcements/looking for players) are fantastic. I couldn't think of a better population to pull from to get started gming.
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Paul Unwin
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You probably are going to do a shit job. I do a shit job constantly, but the weird thing is no one seems to notice. Or if they do, they don't say anything. That's mostly how it goes in life, I find, especially with gamers, because there's a shortage of people willing to GM, and players realize that if they're critical or even not ecstatically happy about what the GM does, then the GM will leave and they'd rather have a game that wasn't the greatest than no game at all. That's somewhat unfortunate, yes, but on the upside, GMs still learn and get better while they're running games.

But if planning gives you the least bit of anxiety, don't plan. I find the traditional assumptions about how a GM should plan to be remarkably stupid. This realization revolutionized my GMing and my overall enjoyment of the game, and these days I hardly plan at all. If you're interested in discussion how to run a game that involves very little planning, let me know.
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In my case, not personally.

My eldest daughter, tho'...

THe advice I've given her, which seems to have worked, because she took over GMing the campaign for a while:

1: you can overprep. Don't. Don't give in.
2: no matter how much you prep, players will have a high probability of finding things you didn't prep for. WHen that happens, wing it and...
3: Take notes as you GM.
4: keep the adventure goal(s) obvious enough to be grabbed at.
5: Any element you want to place a clue for, place at least three different ways to find strong clues to the element. More is unlikely to matter, less.
6: Ask after session for what did or did not work. Via email or discord is not a bad way to do so; allows people time to process.
7: make certain everyone gets meaningful decisions and screen time. Don't plan for it, just do it. Use initiative and rounds for non-combat if needed to get everyone involved.
8: Know how to find things in the rules. You don't need to know every rule, but you do need to know how to find what you want when you need it. And if you can't find it in under a handful of minutes, make a decision on it and play on.
9: anytime you see a rule that says, "The GM is always right" ignore it. If you need help with a rule, you can ask the players, or make a decision and later point out your error and how it should be in the future. (That really helps memorizing rules, too. And sometimes, you and the players may decide the decision was better than the official rule, and give birth to houserules.)
10: If you do adopt houserules, keep a document of them. When they exceed a large portion of the rules length,

And the best advice for players or GMs: Describe, describe, describe.

My personal preference is evocative description - use tropes and famous people and things to increase visualization while reducing needed wording.

EG:
Evoke: The tall old man, who looks like Warrick Brown¹ from CSI, is dressed in rich robes of silk, quite similar to a Catholic priests green vestments.

Explicit: The old man is a milk-chocolate skinned male, over 6', with a tidy afro of about 3 inches, and hazel eyes, under slightly visible epicanthic folds, with a short goatee, wearing a white under-robe with close sleeves, and a rope belt in green, with a rich chasuble over it, trimmed in gold, and a black hat with a black pompom on it.

-=-=-=-=-=-=-
¹: Gary Dourdan is the actor. The character is far better known than the actor who played him.
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Hans Messersmith
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enduran wrote:
You probably are going to do a shit job. I do a shit job constantly, but the weird thing is no one seems to notice. Or if they do, they don't say anything. That's mostly how it goes in life, I find, especially with gamers, because there's a shortage of people willing to GM, and players realize that if they're critical or even not ecstatically happy about what the GM does, then the GM will leave and they'd rather have a game that wasn't the greatest than no game at all. That's somewhat unfortunate, yes, but on the upside, GMs still learn and get better while they're running games.
This is absolutely true!

In my own case, I've almost never felt anxiety about running in-person games, but anything play-by-forum fills me with anxiety. Its all a matter of what triggers it for you. In my case, its the idea of having to "bring the game" in a kind of constant stream over time, instead of in 3 to 4 hour blocks. I know myself well enough to know that I would get a week or two in and lose interest or not be able to keep up. Christian's advice about about posting points out exactly where my flaw would be. That being said, I can also see how for some PBF would be far better; you have more time to reflect, double check rules, hone and refine your input into the game instead of having to respond in the moment.

So I guess I don't have any advice for you? I wish you the best, though, and you should take what Paul says to heart. The only real way to get past the anxiety is to build up your confidence by doing. And Paul has it exactly right; you will always be a worse critic than your players. I can tell that from the fact that you asked the question in the first place.
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Mark Wilson
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I wonder how many bad decisions I made with an understanding group while I was learning the craft. Not that I'm perfect now, but there's a clear progression in my GMing, and they undoubtedly had to be patient with me.

Anyway. Some thoughts:

1. Maybe tackle this obliquely and only run one-shots for a while. It sounds like you want to run a campaign, but one-shots will let you build up a body of work without worrying about dropping due to anxiety. This could be a way to do what Paul is talking about above, but without the fear of quitting a campaign.

1a. PbF also seems like it could work, but is generally a lengthy commitment, so keep that in mind.
1b. Shorter campaigns (~3-5 sessions) might be a good next step after either of the above.

2. It's popular to offer support and advice for managing this in the short-term, both of which are positive, wonderful things. But far fewer want to say that in order to truly overcome this, you'll need to find a way to confront the root issue, which has nothing to do with gaming. I won't pretend to be an expert, nor to know what will work for you. For some, meditation helps; others, exercise; others, therapy; others, crafting a strict set of guidelines to work within; others, a combination of those or dozens of others that I'm forgetting right now. But I think the fear is that there are many ways to address the symptoms of anxiety, but the hard work is managing the anxiety itself.

I don't have anxiety when it comes to GMing. If anything, it's a potential area of overconfidence for me. But I do have considerable anxiety in other aspects of life, so hopefully I can appreciate what you're going through, and my advice isn't seen as naive or mean-spirited. I haven't fully conquered my anxiety. Several of the things I listed above help me, but there's no silver bullet. In any case, I wish you the best; good luck!
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Eric Jome
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mawilson4 wrote:
Maybe tackle this obliquely and only run one-shots for a while.


This seems like a good plan to me.
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Steve Moore
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Thank you all for your advice and help! I hadn't really considered running a one-shot because I've been most interested recently in Blades in the Dark, which seems largely like a bad candidate for a one-shot. But now I think about it, the most fun I've had is when I ran a one-shot for my nieces and nephew...possibly because they didn't really care about the rules, just dice rolling and acting goofy. So maybe I'll check out some one-shots that are out there and go for it with some friends.
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smoorecrux wrote:
Thank you all for your advice and help! I hadn't really considered running a one-shot because I've been most interested recently in Blades in the Dark, which seems largely like a bad candidate for a one-shot.
I think this is a great candidate for a one-shot, and I've done it--tho in a much different situation (solo work) than you are. I'd give it another look with this in mind. I think it would work for you especially if you're interested in it.
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adm1 wrote:
smoorecrux wrote:
Thank you all for your advice and help! I hadn't really considered running a one-shot because I've been most interested recently in Blades in the Dark, which seems largely like a bad candidate for a one-shot.
I think this is a great candidate for a one-shot, and I've done it--tho in a much different situation (solo work) than you are. I'd give it another look with this in mind. I think it would work for you especially if you're interested in it.


Did you have any tips or gotchas for running BitD as a one-shot?
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Brian McCue
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I would stick with face-to-face, since it does not allow for procrastination the way I think PBF would.

How to create vast, detailed plots, backgrounds, and characters effortlessly and with the ability to articulate them effortlessly: plagiarize!

(Cue Tom Lehrer song.)

I mean, it's not as if you are going to publish anything. For Traveller, I just science-fictionalized short stories by Pushkin

http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/55219/pg55219.txt

IIRC I started with "The Shot" (Silvio was a great NPC) and then sequed seamlessly (i.e., the players did not notice the great, hulking seams) to "The Queen Of Spades."

I also changed the plot elements all around; in my version of "The Queen Of Spades," I think (it has been 25 years), all the action had already taken place; Lizavyeta Ivanovna (now a Countess in her own right) is a Patron (i.e., a rich NPC) who hired the PCs to solve the mystery of the death of the old Countess and Hermann's insanity.

Lizavyeta Ivanovna thus became a much more important character than she had been, so I needed more detail than Pushkin had given. So I simply plagiarized reality based her on a former girlfriend, and away we went--in any situation, I knew exactly what Lizavyeta Ivanovna would say, and how she would say it.

The old Countess's abilities seemed to have something to do with a giant abacus-like device she had in her apartment; this was a Glasperlenspiel set-up, from Hermann Hesse's novel The Glass Bead Game.

My familiarity with all these works allowed me to respond instantly and coherently to anything the players might try.
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aramis wrote:
Evoke: The tall old man, who looks like Warrick Brown¹ from CSI, is dressed in rich robes of silk, quite similar to a Catholic priests green vestments.

That approach can fail spectacularly if all the players look at each other wondering who the hell is Warrick Brown (or Gary Dourdan). I know I don't have a clue who he is, and would continue to be clueless if you added "you know the guy off CSI".
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andyl wrote:
aramis wrote:
Evoke: The tall old man, who looks like Warrick Brown¹ from CSI, is dressed in rich robes of silk, quite similar to a Catholic priests green vestments.

That approach can fail spectacularly if all the players look at each other wondering who the hell is Warrick Brown (or Gary Dourdan). I know I don't have a clue who he is, and would continue to be clueless if you added "you know the guy off CSI".

But that's not what you do; you say "a tall old man dressed in green silk that looks somewhat like a priest's vestments," you change his name, and probably the players will never catch on, even if they watch CSI every week.

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brianmccue wrote:
andyl wrote:
aramis wrote:
Evoke: The tall old man, who looks like Warrick Brown¹ from CSI, is dressed in rich robes of silk, quite similar to a Catholic priests green vestments.

That approach can fail spectacularly if all the players look at each other wondering who the hell is Warrick Brown (or Gary Dourdan). I know I don't have a clue who he is, and would continue to be clueless if you added "you know the guy off CSI".

But that's not what you do; you say "a tall old man dressed in green silk that looks somewhat like a priest's vestments," you change his name, and probably the players will never catch on, even if they watch CSI every week.

Or, you just bring a picture...

"you meet a person on the road, dressed in rich robes of silk, similar to a Catholic priests green vestments, who looks like this:

but with grey hair."
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chuckdee68 wrote:
Did you have any tips or gotchas for running BitD as a one-shot?

To me, this ruleset cries out for running some kind of heist scenario or retrieval of stolen something-or-other... all that pretty self-contained with the setting being a warehouse or some such. Maybe "the docks" if you want something both inside and outside.
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skalchemist wrote:
brianmccue wrote:
andyl wrote:
aramis wrote:
Evoke: The tall old man, who looks like Warrick Brown¹ from CSI, is dressed in rich robes of silk, quite similar to a Catholic priests green vestments.

That approach can fail spectacularly if all the players look at each other wondering who the hell is Warrick Brown (or Gary Dourdan). I know I don't have a clue who he is, and would continue to be clueless if you added "you know the guy off CSI".

But that's not what you do; you say "a tall old man dressed in green silk that looks somewhat like a priest's vestments," you change his name, and probably the players will never catch on, even if they watch CSI every week.

Or, you just bring a picture...

"you meet a person on the road, dressed in rich robes of silk, similar to a Catholic priests green vestments, who looks like this:

but with grey hair."


My current player base are more likely to ask for details of the vestments than the guy wearing them.
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brianmccue wrote:
andyl wrote:
aramis wrote:
Evoke: The tall old man, who looks like Warrick Brown¹ from CSI, is dressed in rich robes of silk, quite similar to a Catholic priests green vestments.

That approach can fail spectacularly if all the players look at each other wondering who the hell is Warrick Brown (or Gary Dourdan). I know I don't have a clue who he is, and would continue to be clueless if you added "you know the guy off CSI".

But that's not what you do; you say "a tall old man dressed in green silk that looks somewhat like a priest's vestments," you change his name, and probably the players will never catch on, even if they watch CSI every week.


Well yes that is the normal approach. However I have had people use actors' names before as a shorthand and it has very rarely worked for me.
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Shake it up a bit with something like Paranoia. It practically throws ad lib at you and is great for one shots. The style of DMing allows you to develop improvisation and low prep skills.

A lot of GMs think detail prep is important, but its a trap. Its better to have some broad brush strokes and be consistent with them and fudge other stuff below player notice level.

I make detail cheat sheets for rules systems and then I make a cheat sheet for the cheat sheet. I run the game a bit and then condense that cheat sheet.

I use procedural generators a lot to fill in stuff when the players look at a place in the adventure where no detail has been prepped. I use the broad brush strokes I have memorised to constrain the results.
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smoorecrux wrote:
So, I'm wondering if anyone else has had experience with anxiety when running a game, and I'm wondering if it would be reasonable for me to try out a PbF game? I would absolutely let players know in advance that this would be an experiment for me, and I couldn't guarantee that I wouldn't have to drop the game at some point.


First off, I'm not trying to dissuade you. The world needs more GMs and many people have found that running games through various mediums has helped them cope with mental and social concerns or disorders. Try it, be open with your players, start small and see how things go. Don't try to do an epic your first time out if you are concerned about anxiety and aren't familiar with the format. Do a short game, see how it feels and go from there. If the format works for you in a shorter session it may help relieve some of the anxiety for a longer game.

Now for my experiences.

I try to be open about my mental and social issues. Over the years I've been diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder and most recently, Bipolar Type 2.

I found PbF to be a difficult format for me to work with. Without face-to-face interaction I've worried more about how my players feel about the game or how much they're enjoying it, whether my pace is too fast or slow and so on. One thing that doesn't help is when players just fall off with no explanation (ghosting), that just added to the anxiety about what I'm doing wrong. That's especially true when you see them heavily involved in other PbFs you may be a part of.

I don't have these issues in face-to-face games because I can read my players and communication is much easier. I've ran several long campaigns in person but both playing in and running PbFs have been extremely frustrating for me and cause an unnecessary amount of stress for something that should just be fun. I don't do it any more and can't see myself going back to that format after my experiences so far.

That said, I've found the tools for running the game (dice, logs, geeklists) are extremely helpful from the GM side. Having all that information at your fingertips is great for helping to mitigate the prep or trying to remember where things left off if there's a break in the schedule. If you have anxiety issues about prep or the flow of the game or trying to track what has happened where, it'll take a huge burden off your shoulders.

TL;DR - Try it but start small. It sounds like you're considering a one-shot and that's a great way to give it a shot. Run a short game and see how it goes.

EDIT: As a player the most fun I had was with a Blades in the Dark game. It ended rather abruptly but the system worked really well with the format. Since you mentioned that already I just wanted to support the choice.
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andyl wrote:
brianmccue wrote:
andyl wrote:
aramis wrote:
Evoke: The tall old man, who looks like Warrick Brown¹ from CSI, is dressed in rich robes of silk, quite similar to a Catholic priests green vestments.

That approach can fail spectacularly if all the players look at each other wondering who the hell is Warrick Brown (or Gary Dourdan). I know I don't have a clue who he is, and would continue to be clueless if you added "you know the guy off CSI".

But that's not what you do; you say "a tall old man dressed in green silk that looks somewhat like a priest's vestments," you change his name, and probably the players will never catch on, even if they watch CSI every week.


Well yes that is the normal approach. However I have had people use actors' names before as a shorthand and it has very rarely worked for me.


I've done it a lot, using popular actors, with good success. If you aren't media savvy, it's going to fail for you; that is an issue of knowing the audience, not of the technique itself.
 
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aramis wrote:
andyl wrote:
brianmccue wrote:
andyl wrote:
aramis wrote:
Evoke: The tall old man, who looks like Warrick Brown¹ from CSI, is dressed in rich robes of silk, quite similar to a Catholic priests green vestments.

That approach can fail spectacularly if all the players look at each other wondering who the hell is Warrick Brown (or Gary Dourdan). I know I don't have a clue who he is, and would continue to be clueless if you added "you know the guy off CSI".

But that's not what you do; you say "a tall old man dressed in green silk that looks somewhat like a priest's vestments," you change his name, and probably the players will never catch on, even if they watch CSI every week.


Well yes that is the normal approach. However I have had people use actors' names before as a shorthand and it has very rarely worked for me.


I've done it a lot, using popular actors, with good success. If you aren't media savvy, it's going to fail for you; that is an issue of knowing the audience, not of the technique itself.


I sometimes try to do accents/ unusual mannerisms in speech to help differentiate the NPCs. I'll often have a celebrity of some kind in mind when speaking, just to help me structure it - it's always entertaining when the players guess (correctly or otherwise) who I'm basing it on...
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smoorecrux wrote:
So, I'm wondering if anyone else has had experience with anxiety when running a game


Every game that I GM is a battle against stage fright and social anxiety. Learning to control the fear and channel that energy is one of the greatest things that RPG's ever taught me.
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