August 19, 2013
What To Do When You Are Out Of Ideas
Every Gamemaster has been there. Maybe your notes for the game were not as expansive as you thought they were. Maybe your players chose to handle a situation in a way you could never have anticipated. Maybe you got a little too hammered on the night you usually prepare for a game. Whatever the reason, the result is the same: the game is in full swing and you are out of ideas.
Do not panic. It happens. Even we mighty Gamemasters are only human, after all. With that in mind, the easiest solution to this problem is to just admit that to your players and call the game early. Again, the easiest method, but also the least fun. Doing this can risk the ire of your players, after all what did they give up in order to come and game with you that evening? How far did they have to drive? That is why, only in dire straits, do I ever recommend simply calling a game early.
More often than not, I simply recommend taking a break. Let the smokers go and have a smoke, go use the restroom, or simply walk into the other room, lay down on the couch, and let yourself think for a few minutes. Believe me, it can do wonders. One of the games I run is a monthly Anima: Beyond Fantasy campaign, and because we only meet one Saturday out of every month, we try to get in as much gaming as possible. This can mean between 10 and 14 hours of solid play. More often than not I have to take one of these breaks just to get my thoughts all in order. This is when I will sometimes give my players mid-game experience and let them level up, which gives them something to do while I have a few quiet moments to myself.
Sometimes, I will also just let my players run free for a while. I try to run my games very free-form, meaning that I am left improvising more than I follow any sort of guideline or campaign module. Thanks to this, my players will often unintentionally give me a lot to work with in terms of what can be happening in game. The simple questions of “what is your character doing?” and “what would your character like to be doing?” go a long way. Sure, improvisational games are not everyone’s strong suite, but they are one of mine and that allows me to use the often unexpected story elements my players come up with to keep the game moving.
Finally, another really good trick to keep things moving is a good, old-fashioned random battle. Not every conflict in a game needs to be there to move the story forward. Sometimes a goblin attack is just a goblin attack. Let your players take part in some unconnected battle with the odds in their favor a bit. Fighting against lower level threats is a lot of fun, and my players love these “mook” battles. So go ahead, throw your group of twelfth level adventures against a group of sixth level bandits or a single tenth level monster. Let them have a chance to really shine, to be as awesome as they feel they should be. That did not work or it was over too fast for you to come up with anything? Well, round two. The bandits friends show up, or that one monster was a part of a small tribe that stumbles onto the characters as they are reveling in their victory. Give them a fight. Give them fun.
So those are just a few ideas of what you can do when you run out of ideas. These are what work for me. Maybe they will work for you, so feel free to give them a try.
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