Gamemastering a roleplaying campaign is hard. Also, the sky is blue, and two plus two equals four. Because running a game is so difficult, there’s a natural tendency to delay getting one started. There’s always a schedule conflict or just a bit more to plan, but don’t worry, in a few weeks everything will work out and the game can start. Except, not really. The longer you wait to start your game, the less likely you’ll ever start it at all, and you shouldn’t let that happen. You don’t want to be the GM who always talks about how awesome their game will be once they get around to running it.
1. Schedules Will Not Get Better
Unless you’re 100% certain that your or someone else’s commitments will change in the near future, like if you’re going to quit your job in favor of playing with dice in the basement,* then waiting for schedules to clear up is a fool’s game. You’re probably a busy person, and you’ll be just as busy in three weeks as you are now. If you’re a writer, there will be new stories to work on. If you’re a teacher, some new project will demand your personal time. If you’re an astronaut, then why are you reading this article? Get back in space already!
Delaying your campaign to suit someone else’s schedule is worse, no matter how much you want them in your game. Your friends are even less likely to mold their lives around your game than you are. If they’re too busy to be in your game now, chances are they will be in two months as well. What’s worse, delays will likely mean that some players who are available right now won’t be when you finally start. If you have enough players to start, then you should. It might cramp your schedule a bit, but it would do that anyway.
2. Someone Else Will Run If You Don’t
Unless you’re the only GM in your group, then you had better stake your claim to the best time slot and players before someone else does. The rest of the world does not wait on your whims, especially other creative types with a story to share. Getting a good time slot and reliable players is key to a game’s health, so you need to stake your claim as soon as possible.
That might sound dramatic, but most of us have been in games that fell apart because they were scheduled for a Tuesday night or some other such nonsense. If your pool of players is big enough to accommodate two games at once, then this might not be a problem for you, but few GMs have that luxury.
Once you get preempted by another game, it could be months before you have access to the players and time slot you need, and it will absolutely happen again if you delay further. This could become an unending cycle – so make sure it doesn’t happen in the first place.
3. Your Enthusiasm Will Fade
Most long running games are preceded by a creative spark. You’ll watch some old pulp movie that gives you a really good idea for a steampunk western, or reread a Lovecraft story and suddenly imagine dark shapes from impossible places. There’ll be a flood of imaginative energy, and the best move is to capitalize on it by announcing your intention to start a game as soon as possible.
GMs have to be really into their campaign if they’re going to be successful. Not only is the preparation a lot of work, but the game itself takes up several hours of your weekend. That’s not something you should do if you’re only so-so about it. Once the game is underway, experiences at the table will replenish your enthusiasm, but this can’t happen if you don’t start. The longer you wait, the more enthusiasm will fade. Something else will catch your interest, and before long, you’ll have moved on.
Running a game you aren’t enthusiastic about is futile. It will be obvious to the players that your heart isn’t in it, and everyone’s experience will suffer. That’s why, when something gives you a spark of creativity, you should capitalize on it immediately.
4. You Will Over Prepare
This might sound like a contradiction at first. How can a GM be too prepared to run their game? Aren’t a lot of problems at the table caused by the GM not knowing what to do next? It turns out that, as with many things, it’s possible to go too far in the other direction. If you spend six months planning out every detail of your story and setting, you lose some of the flexibility that’s vital to a successful game.
It’s essential to have some wiggle room when running a campaign. No one can fully predict what will happen around the gaming table, because the players are active participants in the story. GMs who show up with a fully scripted session are just asking for trouble, not to mention abandoning the collaborative aspect that makes roleplaying games a unique storytelling medium.
GMs who spend too long preparing get set in their ways and overly attached to things exactly as they are. Even if the GM tries to stay open minded, planning everything out can make it harder to react when the unexpected happens. If a player suggests a cool idea about the goblins who live in the next valley, it’ll be easier to incorporate if your brain isn’t already filled with descriptions of an ancient lizardman civilization. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t plan at all, but rather that you shouldn’t delay your game for weeks in order to get everything right. Better to run now by the seat of your pants.
Of course, everything I’ve said so far assumes you really want to run a game. Sometimes what you thought was creative enthusiasm turns out to be a passing fancy. Sometimes you simply cannot fit a regular campaign into your schedule. However, if you do have a story that needs to be shared, then now is the time to do it.
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