Header Image by Tonton Revolver.
Ready for a confession?
I’m running a pretty crappy campaign, right now. Don’t get me wrong, I’m trying to keep everything interesting and fun on a moment-to-moment basis, and I think I’ve mostly succeeded in that. But it’s not up to the standards I set for myself. There’s next-to-no narrative cohesion from one adventure to the next, I didn’t come up with a primary antagonist until the PCs were level 7, character motivations are going almost-entirely unaddressed, and every time I revisit my notes for the campaign’s future, I keep drawing that finish line closer and closer.I want this campaign to be over, because I’m pretty much sick of it. We’ve had fun times, characters had big, awesome moments, but I can’t bring myself to get invested.
And, you know what? That’s okay. Because my players are still having fun, and I’m going to finish this damn thing for them.
And then I’m going to move onto the next campaign idea, where I’ll try even harder to accomplish something better and brighter than before.
Why am I confessing this? Because I want to talk about something a little less tangible, today. No statistics or systems. No deep dives into mechanics or worldbuilding tips. Nope. Today is about one thing.
Finding motivation as a GM can be pretty damn hard. And over a long enough period of time, it can get harder and harder and harder to find the motivation to continue. I can count the number of campaigns I’ve finished running on one hand, and I’ve been running games for over a decade. Most of them just kind of…end. Real life intrudes, or I lose motivation, or the players stop having fun, and the game just ends without any kind of resolution.
And I’m sure it’s not just me. A bunch of us GMs WANT to run these epic, years-long campaigns with thrills and chills, love and loss, and finish it off with an epic battle against a demon lord or whatever. But if I had to guess, I’d say most of our campaigns collapse after a few months. Someone gets bored or sick or tired or has a kid or moves into a new place or goes on vacation or has to work or or or or or or…and you have to put off that next session once, twice, three times, and by the time everyone gets back together, no one can really remember what was going on and you all decide to play Mortal Kombat instead. Eventually, someone gets a new campaign idea in their head, and before you know it your old characters are lost to the ether. Then that campaign gets abandoned, and the one after that, and the one after that.
I don’t know how familiar this is going to be for everyone. But I guarantee a few readers think I’m getting a little too real right now.
How do we stop this? How do we keep going?
For me, it’s about inspiration. It’s about finding that one thing that makes me want to write and embracing it as tight as I can. Even when I’m bored by a campaign, I can take ideas from the media I consume and come up with SOMETHING to run. The most recent adventure I wrote was inspired by a couple movies I was watching, a podcast I’d been listening to, and a couple maps I found on Dyson’s Dodecahedron.
I think you should also try to find something that makes you want to keep going. Something you want to achieve. For some, that might be a favorite book series, TV show, or movie. Maybe it’s Critical Role or Dice, Camera, Action! Maybe you want to write something as good as the original Ravenloft or Queen of the Spiders, or design a setting as evocative as Eberron, Tal’dorei, or the world of Godsfall.
For me, that inspiration comes in the form of The Adventure Zone. If you’ve never listened to TAZ, then I VERY MUCH encourage you to dig in. My goal is to write something with as much love, power, and brilliance as the story the McElroys provided.
I know it’s a lofty goal, and I know that it’s going to be a long, hard-fought road. But I also think it’s worthy. I want to fall in love with my players’ story the same way that I fell in love with Taako, Merle, and Magnus’s story. I want to create NPCs with the same kind of emotional staying power as someone like Angus McDonald or Killian or Lucretia or even Avi (see, to TAZ fans, that all made sense). I want to create narrative threads that flow through the entirety of a multi-arc campaign, emerging in subtle and astounding ways in the same way that Griffin was able to accomplish.
I don’t know if I ever will, but it keeps me going. It made me take the extra step and force myself to write a conclusion to my current campaign, rather than just let it die (which would have been WAY easier). And it stays with me every time I open up OneNote and start plotting out my next campaign. In my darkest D&D moments, when I wonder whether or not it’s all worth it, and if I should consider just giving up and focusing on other things, it’s the lessons I learned from Griffin, Justin, Travis, and Clint that make me sit up straight, put fingers to keyboard, and keep going.
Because one day, I will achieve. And dammit, if I can do it, then so can you.
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