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I've been primarily and almost exclusively a GM for long, long years. I still enjoy GMing, and I'd like to keep doing it. However, I've lost interest in practically all of the games and worlds we used to play, and can't seem to find a new one that we haven't tried yet that would really interest me - all the while still having the drive and enthusiasm for GMing. Our party is on a hiatus because of this. No, nobody else really wants to GM, and I'm not good player material. I wouldn't want to switch to being a player primarily, not even temporarily. There's an excellent bi-monthly campaign in which I play as a player, and that's enough for me.

The list of games and worlds we've played is pretty long (I had a job for quite a while that practically required me to try stuff) - and I don't think including that list here would really be relevant or helpful. Sorry, but I'm not explicitly looking for something we haven't tried yet, as this is not a game recommendation question. My question is,

How do I, a still enthusiastic GM, reset/renew my interest in gaming in worlds and systems we've already used? What I'm looking for is working methods to rekindle enthusiasm for old settings and systems.

I've tried watching and reading stuff to get inspired. It doesn't work. Do I just quit whining, pick a random rpg and force myself to play it? I have no better idea. Do you?

I have seen the existing questions about GM burnout and a slightly different GM burnout. I don't think my problem is the same.

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@Sardathrion Yes, kind of. Your answer is a good one (+1!), really, thank you. Only... I want to cut the break as short as possible, and end it asap. I'm not sure there's a truly good answer, but hey, who knows, maybe someone faced the same block around here and came up with something. (The writer's block links are useful, and yes, this is a version of that, unfortunately.) –  OpaCitiZen Feb 13 at 15:04
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Why not design your own world/political system? If you're burned out on all the traditional ones, create your own. I'm sure you've thought over the years "If that was MY world I would have..." –  JohnP Feb 13 at 17:00
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Play a game or two of Microscope with your gaming group. It's not actually a RPG (despite what people say). It's a fast game where everyone contributes simple ideas, but the result is an interesting story. Every time we've played it, I've been inspired to add things from the story to our RPG campaign (I'm the GM). –  Joe Feb 14 at 1:31

8 Answers 8

up vote 14 down vote accepted

In the first instance, take a break and stop worrying about it. Go and enjoy life in general and whatever other hobbies you have. Keep a note book and a pen with you at all times. No, not a computer: a note book and a pen which you cannot erase. The latter point is really important. If you can erase things, you will thus they will be lost. The idea here is to keep as many things as possible.

Write any ideas, plot lines, characters, situations, system ideas (if you're into that), and other cool things you see. See a good film about giant robots punching giant monsters in the face: write that down. See an Anime about alchemy: write than down. See a game in shop that you like the cover off, buy it and makes notes. See artwork: write your emotions and thoughts at seeing it. Fill the note book with ideas.

Then, a month or so down the line, take that note book and see if anything in there can be mixed into a game world with a plot line that characters could interact with. Sometimes it will work, sometimes it won't. When it does not work, take another month off until it works.

Of course, this is but one or two solution to the writer's block problem. This notebook even has a name, it is called a commonplace book as SevenSidedDie kindly pointed out.

Note: I do not use systems in my games so the system aspect is kinda irrelevant to me. However, you could try to come up with a few systems and test those in short adventures.

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There is long historical precedent for such notebooks, so much so that they have a name: "commonplace books". –  SevenSidedDie Feb 13 at 15:56
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@SevenSidedDie: CoolCoolCool. I was not aware it had a name. Thank you. –  Sardathrion Feb 14 at 7:47
    
I've had one of these for a while, never knew they had a name :) –  Rob Feb 14 at 13:28

Imbibe Other Media

My usual source of inspiration is tv shows, movies, music, comics, books, etc. You should probably poke around at some new media - or old favorites you haven't read/watched in a long time. Sometimes you find something that's amazing and you want to incorporate part of it into a game or see how it would fit. Sometimes you find something with a good idea, but poor execution that you could do better/different in your game.

Non-RPGs break

Take a week or two, or a month. Play boardgames, videogames, games other than RPGs. Again, this is a form of media you're taking in, but sometimes you get anything like ideas for magic items, monsters, boss fighters, spells, setting situations, whole campaigns.

It's ok to tell the players "I need a break for 1-2 weeks to recharge" - it's a game not a duty.

Blog/Forum Hunting

There is nearly always going to be someone, somewhere who is writing about the game(s) you love and doing smart and interesting things with it. Find them, look up their archives, check their links. A lot of times I'll see some house rules or a play report and see how that would really nicely for a game I'm playing or planning to play.

Get the Players to Help

I don't have a lot of burnout these days, mostly because I'm playing games where the players have a lot of input into the situations and events - it means I'm mostly just building off of ideas they have rather than being the primary generator of it. That said, you could just poll the players for a set up idea:

"Ok, if we're playing X system in Y setting, what's a story you've always wanted to do?" "I've always wanted to play a dispossessed noble, trying to actually get someone ELSE on the throne..."

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+1 for that last point especially –  Alex P Feb 13 at 18:19

I think I understand your question as: you want to renew your interest with a known game system unless you have no other choice to try another. To this I suggest:

Cooperative storytelling

I too was fed up with many games in the past and I thought the system was the problem or even the players but I discovered cooperative storytelling and now I put it everywhere. I always feel like I'm preaching it, but it really changed how I GM and it shows. I think a lot of the pressure that can cause a GM to get a burnout is the amount of work to create, maintain and portray a setting and cooperative storytelling can help you in the following ways.

  1. Unless you play with setting specific games (like Star Wars RPG or Warhammer) you can use this technique with any system.
  2. It makes the process of coming up with details fun and fresh. It requires improvisation but when a player comes up with the idea that orcs actually invented jetpacks to travel from the moon to attack the dwarves on the mountain...anyway, it keeps the game interesting and fresh. Unpredictible. Of course you can set boundaries.
  3. Share the load of what accounts for most of the GM responsabilities with the rest of the group.

If you didn't try Apocalypse World or Dungeon World, I strongly recommend them. Not necessarily for the system, just for how they implement cooperative storytelling. Reading about the GM's principles and agenda forced my brain to reboot and think of how I GM differently.

Ask questions and build on the answers, Play to find out what happens and Draw maps and leave blanks are really interesting and can easily be applied to any game out there.

If you lose interest in an existing game with cooperative storytelling and you decice to start another, chances are it will never be the same. Specially how you can start a campaign.

A good way to start a campaign with no prep is to make the characters and ask questions about them. Then you describe an initial situation and you ask the players to fill the blanks. You're all standing in the streets of a city on fire. Who betrayed you? Who is the dead lady next to you and why wasn't she supposed to die? Who are shooting arrows are you right now? You will be surprised by their answers and you should build from that.

I think it's a fresh and exciting solution if you haven't tried cooperative storytelling before.

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Well, do I just quit whining, pick a random rpg and force myself to play that?

No, you shouldn't "force yourself" to run a random RPG. If you're not engaged in the setting and system, you and your players will be missing out on the roleplaying experience.

What I would recommend is reading. Not just RPG books, but various novels, as well. Heck, read some history books! An RPG can be set anywhere from Star Wars' Galaxy Far, Far Away to your own back yard. (I once played a campaign of Vampire: the Masquerade in which the characters were the players and the setting was my house; I played a game of Outbreak: Undead which began on the local light rail.)

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If your group is anything like mine, then with progressive system knowledge and roleplaying experience your worlds and stories grew. Into something obscene. In the end the world is super-complex and rescuing a damsel-in-distress will not be easy. The story will not end at being double-crossed, the group will end up in an epic story about being quadruple-crossed in the middle of an epic fight of dragons, liches and gods while somehow handling the diplomacy of one kingdom or another.

I will take a wild guess and say what you really did not do in a very long time is to go back. Back to the times when roleplaying was easy. When every elf was a ranger with a bow and every alien an enemy.

Take one of your favorite games and reduce it back to the game you started out with and had so much fun you decided to build on it. Use the basic rulebook only. No extra rules, no optimizing, no specialities. Just plain old silly roleplaying. Prepare an adventure like back in the old days, when rescuing the princess meant you went to the goblin and smacked him right in the face. And that was it. Glory. Gold. Next goblin.

It's easy to test if that's the way that you can overcome the burnout, because it comes at basically zero cost. There is little work preparing the adventure and there is little to do to prepare characters. You know the system so well, your players might even be bored to prepare characters from the basic rules only. But that's the point. Chances are you will have a lot of silly fun doing it and sooner or later you will want a deeper campaign. If it's later, who cares as long as it's fun.

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An interesting and usefull answer. I actually have tried this and succeeded. After a year-long campaign came to an end, where there were machiavellian schemes, demons and worlds coming to an end, we started several campaigns and all of them tried to copy the last big one without success. What actually worked was creating first level chars, only from PHB and starting a campaign, with just delivering an item. Started ultra-simple-silly and now at level 10, all of us are back in the game, with interest and building our favorite campaign world, from scratch. Good answer –  Drunken_Guy Feb 14 at 9:39

Pick a Cause

I know it sounds weird, but examine your own concerns and values. Find something that bothers you (e.g. animal testing, poverty, racism) and run a game that's metaphorically about that. This automatically invests you in the story.

  • Fantasy Example: The evil wizard is running experiments on orcs, who, while widely considered warlike and vicious, are usually peaceful unless provoked. The evil wizard uses them as subjects in his cruel schemes, merging them with creatures beyond space and time. Eventually, the fruits of his labor will get him a squad of merciless, heavily-templated orcs that barely retain any of their orc-ness. Then it's time for the wizard to switch to human subjects.

Don't slam players with this. Being too heavy-handed will alienate some players, but if you care deeply about a subject and create for it a metaphor using your campaign, you'll at least have something to say. And that's what it sounds like you're currently lacking.

Pick an Idea

Grab an idea you think is interesting (e.g. ambition, art, duty). Structure your campaign's plots around that idea, drawing all the things you can about that idea from whatever game system interests you. If you've something to say about a big idea, use it in your campaign.

  • Science Fiction Example: The PCs are space merchants with their own crappy starship, but opportunities abound for improving their lot at the price of their independence. Other space merchants are shown to be satisfied with following orders and others are deeply dissatisfied with this trade-off. The campaign's course shows what happens when one is too willing to sell out for immediate rewards and what happens when one is too risk-adverse and unwilling to have any loyalties.

Again, some care must be taken not to beat up folks with this. If everything in the campaign is obviously about identity, for example, soon players will tune out the plot and only see the scaffolding. Further, it's sometimes good to have a campaign world first and then figure out what idea in that campaign world you want to emphasize.

Read Outside Your Comfort Zone

If you're an avid fantasy fiction reader, read a technothriller. If you're a history buff, read a science book. In other words, don't limit yourself by genre or what you think might interest you; instead, try to find a text that interests you in a field that doesn't. I have no particular interest in computer programming, but I'll gladly read about the history of computer programming. In fact, the most recent book I read about gaming was about programming computer role-playing games because, while programming computers isn't my thing, role-playing games are. It was a good read, and at least part of that text will inform some decisions I make in an upcoming game I'm running.

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Slightly OT: When Computers Were Human gives a very interesting history of the computer starting from when "computer" meant "a person who computes." The book spans from before Edmond Halley to the author's grandmother learning calculus in college, and includes things like NASA using a room full of women because they didn't trust the computing machines to make the space flight calculations correctly. –  Brian S Feb 13 at 17:54

Incorporate an analog of real-world history into the fictional world.

There's plenty of history to draw from and map onto your favorite fictional setting. If you're doing space colonization, draw from the Reconquista or the Crusades or the British Raj. For relations between fantasy races, draw from the Iroquois Confederacy or the ancient Greek states. This could inject new life into a setting that seems tired to you.

These next suggestions require that you remember well, or have records of, the events of previous games.

Do a sequel to a previous game, where previous PCs are now NPCs, possibly villains.

This won't work well for all player groups, if they were really attached to their characters. More likely to go over well if it's been a very long time since they have used these characters - but not so long that they won't remember them. If you're pretty sure you can get away with it, you might even do this without telling them up front.

Start a parallel game to a previous game, where the new PCs are "the little guys" who must react to the epic-level events of the previous game.

One episode of Babylon 5 that I liked followed the janitors around, giving their perspective on things. Done as a game, with certain future events (like the destruction of a ship) already known, this could be a fun strategy.

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+1 for the second point, can be a lot of fun! –  Rob Feb 14 at 13:33

I'd second the "Microscope" recommendation just to get the cooperative creativity flowing again; I've been reading about it from the suggestion by Joe and it looks fantastic. Then as mentioned in discussion of Microscope, you could run a conventional campaign using an older system in the collaboratively-created history. And I liked the other suggestions about cooperative gaming and reading more widely sound great, too. You could also look into general health advice to perk you up in general -- looking into vitamin D deficiency, looking into iodine deficiency, getting more omega 3s and other good fats, eating more fruits and vegetables, avoiding artificial ingredients especially via home-cooked meals, getting more exercise like via a treadmill workstation, and so on. Humor can help too; find new funny things to read or watch. You might even consider "Laughter Yoga" (perhaps even before each gaming session -- you just start laughing as a group, where seeing others laugh tends to make us want to laugh more). These are all things that have helped me in various ways.

People change over time. Sometimes, when you go back to something that was enjoyable in the past, it is no longer as interesting. For example, there are TV shows I found hilarious in the 1970s (like "When Things Were Rotten") that I probably would not find as interesting now, including because I've changed, the world has changed for topical jokes, and I've also just seen the jokes before. However, I have gotten some of those shows to watch them again with my own kid (although even there, it can be hard to compete with the excitement of faster-paced contemporary offerings my kid has gotten used to). Likewise, for a college we graduated from, even if we re-enrolled as a Freshman again, we can't have things the way the were because everyone else has changed, too and moved on, and we have changed and so the courses and situations might feel boring or inappropriate. And if we go back as a teacher, the roles and situations are different (which might be good or bad).

So, it might just be time for you to try something new that builds on what you've previously done or even moves in a completely different way. For example, you might find you get the same community enjoyment out of learning a musical instrument and joining a band with a different crowd. Or, you might take the crowd you are with and have them all try something playing music together or doing some other activity (the cooperative "Artemis Space Ship Bridge Simulator" perhaps?). Or, you might try just writing works of fiction perhaps, around some important theme; my own favorite theme inspired in part by James P. Hogan's writings: "The biggest challenge of the 21st century is the irony of technologies of abundance in the hands of those thinking in terms of scarcity." Or you could try to write down what you liked best about the old campaigns (including perhaps life lessons), or you could try to turn them into fictional stories. Of those options, you could identify what you liked most about being a GM and emphasize it in a new way -- was it the creative aspect (writing), or the moderating aspect (officiating), or the group aspect (cooperating)? There are plenty of new activities in all three of those areas, although it may be hard to bring them all together the way GM-ing does. One important thing to remember about "burn out" is that you can't burn out unless you still care. :-) But you can examine any frustrations you have with the current situation and use that as advice for moving forward. So, the question is, what is a good way to use that impulse to care for something given your past experiences?

The alternative to doing something radically new may be to come back to the old with new ideas. Cooperative games have been mentioned; you might try some cooperative board games (like from Family Pastimes) for a while just for something different about game mechanics you could bring back to the old games. Many people have never played a cooperative board game. Along those lines, how could you use the old game mechanics to have a dungeon that players would have to cooperate more with, rather than just slay all the dragons? Similar to one of wberry's suggestion, you might take some ideas from the video game "Dungeon Keeper" where the point is to have a well run Dungeon and protect it against "heros"; so, you could go back to an old game system and have the players role-play the monsters and keep up the dungeon, while the NPCs are the "heros" who come in to steal all the gold and need to be defended against or otherwise taught some cooperative manners. That might be a new challenge to create such scenarios while keeping to the old game mechanics. Or, you could try running old campaigns with some challenging new restriction (maybe a funny one, like all utterances need to be in some poetic form like haiku or sonnets etc.). Or, as another alternative, you could try using what you know to teach a new generation of gamers the old techniques, to see the joy in someone for whom it is all new, and maybe have some of that rekindle your interest in the old games as you explain them to others.

BTW, on becoming child-like again (as opposed to child-ish), there is a great poem by Khalil Gibran called "On Children" with the line "You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you. For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday."

Good luck moving forward in some interesting way!

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