How to Get Rid of DM Guilt Once and For All
DMs are busy people. They have to build a world (or figure out how to make an existing world our own); coordinate gaming sessions; draw up NPCs; generate good plots; run said NPCs and plots; and occasionally square off against grumpy felines who think d10s are cat toys. It could be argued that DMs are the hardest working people in role-playing. And, occasionally, the most perforated. Add the demands of the game to the demands of real life – work, school, family, and socializing outside of gaming circles (Yes, it can happen.) – and you’ve suddenly got a very full plate.
So what do you do when someone asks you to run a game at an inconvenient time in your life? Do you cast everything aside and start planning, plotting, and world-building? Or do you take a balanced approach by evaluating the amount of work it takes to run a game versus your available time to do so? (There’s a right answer here. It’s not the first one.)
Good DMs Are In Demand
First of all, if your DM skills are requested, pat yourself on the back. You did something right. Someone, somewhere, really enjoyed one of your games, and word has gotten around. This is especially common when you have a core group of gamer buddies who circulate tales of your DM godliness to other gaming groups. Before long, someone will inevitably hit you up with The Question: “So, um, would you want to run a game for us?”
It can be hard to say no, especially if they’re pulling puppy-dog eyes and shuffling their feet in the dirt and stuff. But no matter how many stops they pull out, you have to stick to your guns. If it’s not a good time for you to run a game, say so. Then offer them some alternatives.
Maybe you can’t run the game right now, but you know someone who would be a good substitute DM. Make a recommendation and put them in contact with the person. Or maybe you could serve as an assistant DM for a few sessions while a newcomer takes the helm. If you don’t want to commit to anything formal, just make yourself available to answer questions and do some brainstorming over chat or e-mail.
Or you could just say no, and then point and laugh at them. I mean, you’re a DM. You’ve got to have a mean streak, right?
DMing is Serious Business
Yeah, I know; I couldn’t even type that without smiling. But it’s true. When you decide to run a game, you’re making the decision to invest a lot of time, energy, and possibly money into bringing your creation to life for the amusement of others. If your evenings and weekends are pretty hectic, you shouldn’t add to your stress by planning and attempting to execute an epic campaign.
There is room for compromise, however. If your players are okay with one-shot adventures, you could enjoy several evenings of game play with minimal planning. This will result in a lack of continuity, so make sure your players know what to expect before they show up to play. You could also form a team of DMs, each one responsible for planning and running the game on a given week. Just make sure that the partners you choose can comfortably fit the game into their schedules as well. Finally, there’s no harm in just being a player. Coax, cajole, or head-kick one of your less busy pals into running a game for your group. They just might take your place in the annals of DM legend.
Learn from Others’ Mistakes
Some of the best DMs I’ve known have also been some of the most stressed-out. Why? Because people asked them, sometimes multiple times, to run a game. Feeling that they had an obligation to their friends, they agreed to don the DM hat. The problem was the timing; one was preparing for a wedding, and the other was going through major marriage problems. In the end, the games folded because the DMs were constantly putting their energy into their real-life concerns (where it belonged), then slapping together mediocre plots at the last minute.
When you have responsibilities that must take precedence over the game, it’s not fair to yourself or your players to take on the additional responsibilities of a DM. Just be honest from the outset and manage your friends’ expectations. They’re asking you for a good gaming experience; make sure you can deliver before you agree to try.
Are you a harried DM with too much on your plate? If you’ve got a busy life, how do you manage your time to allow for game planning? I’d love to hear your thoughts and suggestions!