Team Intwischa has one of our much-vaunted Cabin Trips coming up this weekend, and as usual, our message boards and wiki are all aflutter with activity surrounding the world we’re creating–a Victorian era Dresden Files game. Dozens of pages of material are being generated–some of it has already been trashed in favor of newer rewrites, and much more will end up in history’s great big recycle bin in the sky as it remains unused.
Interestingly, we had an opportunity to give our setting a “test drive” a few weeks ago with a one-off game whose canonicity would be decided after the game was over. The pressure of this upcoming game only served to ratchet up the intensity of pre-game internet prep–with one player who had not yet participated in the conversations generating a whole character and backstory in mere hours!
We played the game. We fought ghouls, hit on Victorian ladies, and blew up a train.
And then we stopped talking about it.
The Money Shot
Odd subhead, eh? I was trying to come up with a rated-PG way to say “What happens when you’re done having sex.” (Maybe I should have just said “What happens when you’re done having sex.”)
Post-game, the players roll over and begin snoring. I’ve been the GM in these situations, and I can attest to the desire for “cuddling.” (Am I taking this metaphor too far? Grinding it into the ground, perhaps?) This time, I’m a player, and post money-shot, I was one of the first asleep.
Why does this happen?
OK, I’m done with the sex metaphor now. Let’s turn to the article’s title, “Great Expectations,” (which I thought was a nice double entendre given our game’s setting). Stories give us denouements, but life rarely does. Some of us are fine with this, and some lament the lack of recognition of something ended. And this role appears to change depending on the situation and involvement.
The Role of Leadership
In some leadership seminar I was compelled to attend at some point (I can’t say much more about it–I was thinking about games at the time), I caught a snippet of a definition of a leader as “someone who sets vision and builds buy-in for that vision.”
While exploring the concept of GM-as-leader is another article for another time, it pretty much goes without saying that building buy-in is a core skill of a GM. Any time a GM trades in consensus for fiat is a pain point where an effort to precisely define the world ends up harming buy-in. (Hey, there’s another good article!)
The point here is that, to build buy-in, the leader-GM must be very much invested in the game world. And, unlike other “solo” creative ventures like writing, the setting, theme, and characters the GM must spend so much time with are not under her express control.
Therefore, for the GM, the game continues after the game. The actual game-play is a midpoint between creation and conclusion. The GM needs time to react to what has happened to her world.
Newtonian Physics at the Gametable
I imagine that the amount of time needed for reaction is probably proportionate to the amount of time spent on prep. As someone who was once an over-preparer, and has become quite comfortable with “make it up on the fly,” over time I’ve experienced less concern over “what happens next” post-game. But I do remember those days when “all silent on the Web-chat front” felt like an indictment of my GMing, or like people were just “over it” when it came to the story.
It’s easy for an improv GM like me to say “Prepare less” as a solution to this issue. It’s also disingenuous, because I know there are many GMs who like to prepare quite a bit. So, what’s a GM to do when his players are snoring after the game and all he wants is some time to cuddle?
Deal with it. I don’t mean to be harsh, but this probably needs to be said. It isn’t even as crass as it sounds–one who ascribes to zen GMing practices must recognize that awareness of the reality changes that reality–so “dealing with” reality becomes a different thing. Once this symptom is identified, a GM can stop saying “Why is everyone so quiet?” and start saying “Why am I seeking noise?”
Again, that last comment may sound harsh–it isn’t to one who is enlightened. (I’m not, so I’ve got a mad on for the guy who wrote that right now!)
Seriously, examining one’s motives for the need for feedback in one’s life is an important step. This isn’t to say feedback (or the need for it) is bad–nor is it to say it is good.
Name it. I’ve always been fascinated by the stories of Jesus casting out demons–the first thing he always does is name the demon. Captain Kirk (KAHN!) must be wearing his WWJD bracelet.
Implicit in the “deal with it” approach is naming the issue to oneself. Here, I’m talking about naming it to a third party. That might be your gaming group–our GM for the Victorian Dresden game did this by pointing out the post-game silence. However–it might just as easily be done with a friend or family member who has nothing to do with gaming. Along with exploring intent (which may have been the nicer sub-head for the “Deal With It” point), naming sources of disquiet is a potent way to diffuse tension.
And doing it with your gaming group might just generate some of that buzz your spirit craves. (But beware ignoring your intent!)
Reframe it. Life doesn’t give us tidy denouements, it’s true. That’s because it just keeps going. That, too, is how a game is unlike most other forms of media.
When a game is done, if you’re a planner, pour all that creative need into planning the next session. Need input from players? Wait a few days, then come up with something akin to an “between session group template.” (Hey, another article!)
Did your campaign just come to a close? Great–pour your energy into fiction, or a sequel campaign, or better yet, post in the comments about whether you as GM still have stamina after the campaign or you just feel like snoring, too!