The King is Dead

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The Ennui of the Eternal GM


Self-reflection is awful and beautiful. In the time since deciding to step away from D&D 5e and go back to running Savage Worlds, I’ve spent a lot of time navel-gazing, wondering why I’m so eager to just chuck the campaign under a bus, searching for the truth of my own motives. I’ve realized that a big part of it – A HUGE PART OF IT – is simply that I’m depressed about my character.

Anyone who followed this sordid tale from the beginning might remember that this Forgotten Realms campaign originally started with me alternating DM duties with another player. Each of us had a player character we ran when the other person was acting as DM, and whom we shunted to the background as when we ran the game. That plan imploded due to that player’s personal issues, leaving me as the sole DM and my PC as a permanent DMPC, capable of delivering needed exposition and contributing to fights, but unable to really advance his own goals and desires...

Because that would be cheating (and I've got a real problem with cheating in D&D).

And because that is actually really, really boring. 

During a hiatus with the group, I continued running the same campaign as a duet with Robin (the long-term plan was to just make it an alternate universe if we ever got back to the group campaign). I kept my DMPC in as a supporting character, completing by DM fiat some of the character goals I was hoping to achieve in play (like making love to Alustriel). In the end, though, none of it was actually fulfilling.

I wasn’t achieving anything. I was just handing it all to myself. My fantasies weren’t being fulfilled because they were all happening offstage. They weren’t “real.”

I’ve been gaming for over 25 years. My sessions as a player probably average out to once per year. My entire gaming career has been about telling other people’s stories and empowering their characters. 

I’m fine with this most of the time. I like being a GM. I can get pretty antsy when I’m not running the game. It bores me when I play one character for too long because I’ve got a lot of character voices and I like showing them off. World-building and creating mysteries are tons of fun. I am overall very happy with my decades of being a GM.

This time, though… This time I was really invested in my PC. I really enjoyed the sessions I just got to cut loose and play him to the hilt. Relegating him to the role of Basil Exposition, holding him back to let the “real” PCs take center stage, has been really, really depressing.

As in mood swings. As in pervasive sadness for hours on end. As in, “I suffer from Generalized Anxiety Disorder and sometimes that leads to periods of depression.”

And, as usual, identifying my illness at work and isolating the causes of the attack has helped me conquer it. Writing this probably kind of silly-sounding confession is making me feel better already. I feel a little guilty about letting feelings like this contribute toward ending a campaign other people were enjoying, but it’s not like my depression is the only reason to call quits on the game. And it’s not like my deeply-held dissatisfaction with the whole thing was helping make the campaign good.

In any case, this is the nail in the coffin for A Gleam of Silver. I can’t go back to that campaign and face the specters of lost opportunities. It will be better by far – for everyone – to start a new campaign, one in which I can keep myself solely in the GM role.

Though maybe I should look for a game to join as a player, too.

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