Monday, January 8, 2018

Stage Fright

I want to start the year off by talking about what I view as my biggest failing as a GM. I know the year technically started over a week ago, but the day you read this on is going to be my first day back at work for 2018 and so I'm kind of treating it as the beginning of my new year. Besides, last week what about the actual transition of years.

Failure may be too strong of a word, but it is how it feels like - especially after a session. It's something I've tried working on for years, and this year may be no different. The failure in question? I suffer from stage fright when I'm GMing.

Most notably this hits me in these ways: When describing situations, scenes, people, and locations I back away from the more 'prose' way I designed the encounter or envisioned. When interacting with NPCs I find myself unable to speak for the NPC in direct words, meaning sometimes specific messaging, hints, and tone are lost. Finally, in combat when trying to narrate what is going on and make things feel more cinematic I fall back onto more bland descriptions that let me check the 'described the scene' checkbox without actually adding to the game.

The weird part about this stage fright is that none of the things I want to say, am trying to get out, or mean to convey are in any way silly, foolish, or even weird. And that's before you compare them to the degree of shamelessness I have with my friends when just talking around the exact same table. Personally, it feels unfair that out of game I can talk and joke about damn near anything, but be running the game and suddenly I choke up and can't deliver a simple "The Hobgoblin falls back with a cry of pain, "Cowards!" he yells, "Face me fair!".

Most solutions I've found to this problem - whether from RPG forums or even talking to friends who act about stage fright - just boils down to "you just close your eyes and do it" or things like envisioning people in their underwears, understanding and realizing that your friends/players aren't going to think you're weird/crazy. But these things don't help me. Or at least, they haven't in a way that has stuck.

What has worked? For some reason, being on a strange sugar binge has helped with bypassing this barrier with some NPCs. I've been able to play them, and the scenes have gone over well. In fact the NPC in question became one of the most beloved NPCs to grow out of my L5R game's current generation.

I have a number of tools for sidestepping the problem. Describing how the conversation goes, the gist of the message, and such. Having the player roll and giving them what they take from the conversation, including spelling out things that maybe would otherwise be implied.

Still the problem persists.

But this blog is about improvement, not just ditching a problem. So my solution is simple, and it is small. It comes in three steps.

  1. I'm not allowed to beat myself up over this 'failing'. Everyone has things they want to improve, and as long as my players are having fun in game sessions then I am doing my job.
  2. I'm going to take baby steps. When I can I'm going to write down the important things, and from there I can just read it to the players - or worst case: hand it over. 
  3. As getting the extra stuff in via writing works, I'll continue to try and make it more and more on the spot and delivered by me without the aid of a tool.
Baby steps has been something I've used before to great effect. In fact, it's been the most successful plan I've ever had. I'm just not always smart enough to try it. So here is to hoping. And if you have something similar going on, maybe this will help.

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