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Probably the worst issue I have as a Game Master is that I think of a game, I write a campaign plot for it -- End, Beginning and Middle, get hyped, hype my players, and after 2 months I get bored with it and want the story to end so I can start running a newer game or campaign I've thought up in the meantime. So I just disappear some weeks and invent I have stuff to do, cancel the game, and run another one.

Usually, midway through our game I have a better idea for a campaign, and that's how our group has evolved: Each campaign, I have to accept, has been more fun and intriguing than the last one, but just the thought I could be roleplaying a better plot with better mechanics is too much. I really like my group, and they like my plots so much they ask me for a Q&A session pretty much every week to know what will happen, villain bios, NPC bios, etc; however I just pretend that I am still enjoying the original campaign.

Two months ago we started playing a 4E game about guys who get trapped inside a videogame, and 4e was very good for it, since it was just fight and fight and fight, and the whole plot is about well, the hostility of the online game towards the players and a moral of "every life is precious", ironic in an intentional way.

The thing is, I discovered 5e, switched systems, loved it, and it doesn't feels like playing inside a videogame anymore. The adventures on that world have become boring for me already, and the players are just coming to the table for the plot. Indeed, I'm supposed to design next adventure but just thinking about all I can do on other setting with these rules hypes me so much, and really, I can't think of anything more interesting for the guys now, specially since we're too deep into the adventure it's too late to make it "non linear".

I'm planning a sandbox campaign for when we "finish" this one, and I'm having fun as a GM as never before, imagining interaction, building the important locations, making random encounter and weather tables, etc; but then I think I have to go back and master something that isn't just interesting for me, may as well just run a pure roleplaying game for the current campaign, no combats, but the players expect more.

When they noticed me making a new campaign, they seemed curious and excited, but one of my friends told me: "We're gonna finish the campaign we have now, right?". She seemed kinda worried the same story would repeat.

My summer break is about to end, and my sandbox campaign design is halfway done, and I haven't mastered our current sessions for days and two of the players even asked me if we could begin the other campaign already, while the other two keep telling me I shouldn't let the current one die.

The fact that there's still too much to do on our current game overwhelms me, since I'm getting bored of bringing them the same story every week, and I already decided my next campaign will be led by player motivations that will affect the little plot I have readied for it, and make them help me build the world.

So, how do I get out of this vicious circle? How do I stick with the campaign in progress and stop being lured by the thought of creating a new campaign?

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The internets have coined the term "gamer ADD" to describe this. There is no known cure. –  SevenSidedDie Jul 22 at 6:57
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Remember all, comments are not for answers. Use them to get clarification or suggest improvements to a question or answer. Clever quips with 8 upvotes might get a pass, but the rest don't. O.o –  mxyzplk Jul 23 at 22:17

12 Answers 12

up vote 58 down vote accepted

So, how do I get out of the vicious circle?

Stop doing the thing that's causing it. You diagnosed this yourself:

It's probably the worst issue I have as a Game Master, I think of a Game, I write a campaign plot for it, End, Beggining and Middle, get Hyped, Hype my players, and after 2 months I want the story to end, and it's usually too late to make changes to the GMing style I use by then, so I just dissapear some weeks and invent I have stuff to do, cancell the game, and run another one.

  1. You find a game, like 4e, and a beginning-to-end plot for it.
  2. You play it for a couple of months.
  3. You cease to be interested.
  4. You find a new and shiny thing to be excited about — which is fine, there's lots of new and shiny things it's pretty reasonable to be excited about. This might be another game like D&D 5e, or a new kind of story.
  5. You lie to your players (that is what you're doing) and stop the current game.
  6. Return to step #1, and repeat.

It's absolutely no surprise one of your players seems concerned - she is concerned, and has good reason to be. It sounds like you've done this at least a couple of times, and your players probably realise by now what's going on - including that you're not being honest with them. You are clearly not having trouble running games in general, though you have stuff to do sometimes. That's fine! Strangely enough, though, whenever you're available to GM again, you aren't interested in continuing the previous thing.

It doesn't take much for someone to see through to what's really going on. They have probably recognised you're just becoming disinterested in stories. Now it has reached the point where you're beginning to hear concerns about it.

That said, it takes some courage to confront this stuff and ask people about it, so kudos to you for having that courage and doing that.

So, how do you break your cycle and stick with one game and enjoy it?

There are always going to be new and shiny things. You are totally justified in getting excited about them. The problem is not that there are new and shiny things, it's that you're letting yourself cancel your games all the time prematurely.

There's a few options to break this problem:

1. Run shorter campaigns

Run shorter stories that only last a few weeks. Have player buy-in that they are going to be short campaigns and that the story will not necessarily continue. (Of course, nothing's stopping you from continuing the story a few months later.)

This lets you switch every now and then harmlessly.

2. Have some discipline and stick to your campaign even if there are new and shiny things

That's it! That's the key to finishing a campaign: it means having the discipline to keep going. So do that and keep going.

In 2002, Richard Machowicz, a Navy SEAL, was interviewed by Larry Connors. You can read that interview here. In that interview, he talks a lot about courage and how people are able to see things through to the end. That's probably relevant here. Part of what he said was that to complete a mission you set yourself, you have to have courage on three distinct levels:

  1. You have to have the courage to make the choice to begin.
  2. You have to have the courage to keep going.
  3. You have to have the courage to finish.

You are fine with #1. You are letting yourself down with #2. You need to have the discipline to keep going. Push through the bits where you're disinterested. Push toward keeping yourself interested.

2b. A way to do 2: Don't plan the middle and end.

If you're having trouble staying interested, I suggest you stop writing stories that have a beginning, middle and end. Design stories that have a beginning, and then put your players in that beginning, and discover the story with them. You may be bored because you already know the entire story, so whilst for the players this is all new and exciting, you already had the new and exciting experience whilst you were writing the story, and now you're just waiting for all the stuff you planned to happen, which is boring. Not knowing the middle and end, on the other hand, means you're discovering things just as your players do, and exciting stuff is happening for you as well.

BESW and I run games like this: generally, at the beginning, there is a situation at a tipping point where the status quo is about to be disrupted (e.g. two factions are reaching the peak of tension and about to break out into war, and a third faction is rising in the shadows), and the players are positioned as the perfect X factor, with the power and autonomy to influence how events pan out. And then we let them plan out, and give the players and their characters that autonomy. We loosely plan only a session in advance, and we have people with their own individual goals (and not scripts) who we can improvise easily enough, because the players will probably surprise us by doing nothing we expect, and ruin any plans we might have in the process. And then we have fun discovering the story with them.

Try that out.

3. Have someone else GM

Really. If you think your GMing style is a major problem, have someone else be the GM who is willing to run this in a way you're not. It's pretty simple. Then join in and play with your group.

Also an option: open up and be honest with your players.

Tell them what's going on. Tell them you're having trouble staying interested in the games you're running. Tell them you are getting excited about new stuff. Tell them you'd like to be able to run these stories through to completion, and that you're having difficulty doing so. Admit to them you were lying about having things to do because you weren't sure how better to handle the situation.

This might take a little bit of courage to own up to, but it's going to have a lot of benefit.

This will put this issue out in the open, and open it up for people to talk about it. It will likely only confirm what they already suspect but do not feel they can talk about.

Your players will then actually be able to talk about this openly with you, without so much tension and awkwardness being there. Some of them, possibly the girl who was concerned about the current story, will be able to talk to you about possibilities around revisiting that previous story or character she really liked and wants to see more of.

Some of them may be upset. Some of this upset will be upset they already have there because you keep cancelling games, but have not been able to express because this issue has not been open. Be prepared for that, accept it, and be compassionate toward them. If they're your friends, they're generally going to be on your side.

It will also relieve you of the heavy burden of having to deal with all of this all on your own and having to keep it all secret and everything. It will let you actually talk to them about it, get their help and support, and as a group you'll be able to work out how to go ahead from here, among the options in other answers and this one.

You're only human, so have some compassion for yourself, and let the people who care about you help you through this.

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+1 for "plan less". This has worked well for me. It does mean less D&D, though. Stupid level-dependant stat blocks. –  Wesley Obenshain Jul 22 at 4:52
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This old article expands on the concepts in the last paragraph of your section 2 and might be worth linking: "Protagonist Play". –  SevenSidedDie Jul 22 at 7:05
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And regarding "plan less", this Alex Schroeder article is excellent advice for running a sandbox game with very little up-front planning. –  SevenSidedDie Jul 22 at 18:19

I believe that each person at the table is a player. To make this response easy to follow, one of those players will be called the GM, but I just wanted to make this aspect of my response clear up-front.

"What is going to happen?" is a big part of play for every person at your table... except you, it seems. With your approach to pre-planning the game, you have been denying yourself the simple, but powerful, pleasure of surprise. At least - that is how it reads when you say:

...I think of a Game, I write a campaign plot for it, End, Beggining and Middle, get Hyped, Hype my players, and after 2 months I want the story to end...

It sounds very much like you have a talent for envisioning an engaging campaign world, but have taken the approach to writing the entire campaign arc and using your sessions to guide the group through it. This is a style of GMing which not everyone enjoys - even if they can make it fun for the other players at the table. From my point of view, however, if the whole group, ie all the players, are not having fun, something has to change. Would you not say that was fair?

The trick is to find a way to keep playing to your strengths (enjoyable plotting/planning) without leading you back to the same trap of lost interest. This is not something which changing systems can really address (although it sometimes helps, for a time). What can change and change effectively is the approach to the game - your preparation style, in other words.

To put the thrill back in your gaming, I invite you to consider creating NPCs with plans, instead of plans for NPCs. Consider creating agendas and timelines, with environments in which those agendas and timelines stand a good chance of overlapping, intersecting, and coming into conflict. Do not preordain that they will. Leave holes in all of these things so that there is room for the players to contribute positively and negatively to the furtherance of those character goals. Leave additional holes beyond those the PCs might fill. No plan or world has all the perfect people in all the perfect places all the time. Sometimes plans languish for want of an agent, or are forced to make do.

Throughout all this planning, never, ever consider for even a moment, where this is all going. Plan out the beginning. Become of aware of where the NPCs want their plans to go, and what they are trying to accomplish. Idly think about what might occur should some of those plans come into conflict and what spin off effects that might have - in the beginning - but do not let yourself take your imaginings out of the boundaries of the beginning. The middle of the story does not exist. There is no story. It has not been made, and cannot be made until all the players play the game - including you.

By knowing who the NPCs are and what they are trying to do, you can play the world while the others play their characters. Your attention is not on bringing a written story to life, but on discovering with the group what that story will actually be.

It's hard to get bored in an environment like this, it's a new GM skill to develop, and it can be loaded with wonderful surprises.

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I'm also a guy who likes to play/run a LOT of different games. What I've done is instead of planning superlong campaigns, I plan short runs: 3-6 session game arcs that folks can play, and finish, relatively quickly. We'll usually play a game, finish, then move to the next game, and come back later if we want to pick it up again.

This also works better as everyone is a lot more busy these days and playing games is harder to coordinate. Being able to push through a full story arc feels good. Being able to play for a month or two, then handle holidays, travel or whatever, then come back, works well too.

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First, tell the players that you want to end your current campaign but want to give it a proper conclusion.

Wrap up your current campaign quickly. You've got an ending in mind; massage the rest of the plans to bring that ending sooner. If necessary, change the final challenge to be more appropriate to lower-level characters. Don't toss in a total deus ex machina, but don't be afraid to have the players gain access to teleportation to reduce travel time or have the villain make a fatal mistake that exposes their plans early.

For your next (and future) campaigns, plan small. Sandbox is fine, but make it a small sandbox. Don't start epic plots. Think of your campaign as a TV miniseries. It's a few short episodes that make up a complete plot. If you get bored, you can skip to the last episode and wrap up the plot. If you find yourself enjoying the game by the end, add on another short season.

One of the side benefits to an episodic game is that if you and your players feel like it you can return to it after a break.

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From my personal experience with the same problem...

Being a gamemaster can be very rewarding. Plotting, creating a world full of life and death, and knowing where all of the bodies are buried. It can be intoxicating.

But I've also found that it can be stifling.

My cure for it was found quite by accident, when I started into narrative style gaming. Those tend to require a lot more improvisation and player input, and planning everything down to the minutiae is actually counter to how those are played.

And in that, I found my escape.

Now, I don't know everything- as some of it is in the players hands. It definitely has to be malleable to player agency, and instead of telling a story, I'm more in congress with my players to create the story. This thrill of seeing how the story evolves has kept me interested.

Now, I didn't have to switch to a narrative style of game to get those benefits. It's just helped me to recognize my problem.

Trying to plan everything is a lot of work, and over time can kill your enthusiasm for what you're doing.

Leave areas for player agency and choice in your world building. It is satisfying to many players to see the world grow and change because of their actions, and can be intriguing to the GM to see things come into the game that never crossed his imagination.

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It looks like there are two interwoven issues here. The first is that you're attracted to a new game system. The second is that you've become bored with the campaign you're currently running, and are feeling like you could create a new campaign that would be more rewarding.

The lure of a new game system can be difficult to resist. Our group shifts systems fairly frequently, trying out new games and returning to our favorites in an irregular pattern. That's how you learn new systems, and it's a good thing. But the trick is to make sure everyone is ready to experiment. If players are just getting the hang of a system it can really be jarring to be asked (or presented with) a shift to a new system.

The same is true of a campaign. If a player invests time and energy in character development and story, it can be a real letdown to have that all thrown away midstream.

As a GM I've shifted systems and abruptly ended campaigns, and it didn't go over well with players. Over the years I've come up with a different approach for dealing with the urge to run a different system or nuke and pave a campaign. It's pretty basic: I communicate early and often with the players about my motivations for running the game and their motivations for playing it. I also check in periodically to get a sense of how attached the players are to the system and the campaign.

We've also established a protocol for determining up front how much we're going to invest in a campaign. If the game is one we're not sure about (because we've never played it, or because one or more players is lukewarm about the system), we won't commit to more than two or three sessions to give it a test run. At the end of the test run we discuss the pros and cons of the system, compare notes about what makes the campaign enjoyable and what doesn't, and we decide whether to continue or not.

As a GM, your engagement in the campaign is just as important as that of the players. After all, you're putting in a lot of time to plan and run the campaign. This brings up another point: You may be burning yourself out on campaigns because you've over-planned them. There isn't much allure even for the GM in a game in which the plot is already decided. When you give the players the ability to drive the story, you have to do a lot more work on the fly. You have to think on your feet and improvise, which is part of what makes game mastering so fun.

You also don't have to do as much prep, because you're giving them more control over how the story unfolds. It looks like you're already leaning in that direction, and if you talk it over with the players, they may be more excited about it than you suspect. One option would be to test the approach by opening up your 4e campaign. Disregard your plot notes and follow the players' lead more. See how you and the group like that approach, and if it works, you may find that the 4e campaign is worth playing through to a reasonable conclusion. You may also find that you and your group are all excited to start a new campaign with 5e rules and a more wide-open play style.

The answers to many game mastering questions boil down to talking about the game with players, and this one is no different.

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Well, the 4e campaign has already turned into a 5e one, I fell in love with the system and it just feels like I'm not squeezing it enough, and I just can't think of how to deal with this current campaign because it just feels odd without 4e, and the players DON'T want any more 4e. –  Aldath Le'Carde Jul 22 at 4:14

There is a cheesy way out that no one has yet mentioned. Switch to the new campaign, but work in a bridge from the current campaign and pretend they are the same. This can work even if you switch to a new system (you can upgrade the characters in place rather than start new ones).

Of course, sometimes the new idea is really incompatible with the old one. If so, you can sometimes get away with just tying the 2 stories together and having players switch between characters in one story and another.

Don't be afraid to be cheesy if you have to. The bad guy in your new campaign can be summoning minions from the video game the players are trapped in, and the new 5th edition characters discover the 4th edition characters and need to coordinate strategies with them. Or the 4th edition characters break out of the video game and become "real" 5th edition characters. Or they "astral project" as 5th edition characters (or vice versa).

I've played in campaigns where each mini-campaign was rather different than any other, and it can be fun. Also, as far as cheesy plot devices go, a lot of stupid stuff I've done as a GM because I'm backed into a corner ended up being really popular with my players.

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This might be superficially a solution for not killing off campaigns, but it doesn't solve the underlying problem of boredom and never finishing the stories the players have invested in. With that problem still intact, this would just result in a never-ending world-hopping parade of hyped-up but incomplete plots and campaign premises. –  SevenSidedDie Jul 22 at 18:10
    
@SevenSidedDie Nope. It doesn't usually work out that way. You just have to make the plots fit together in the player's minds. The usual RPG has somewhat limited plot coherency to begin with and you can often get away with it without the players feeling let down at all. –  psr Jul 22 at 18:14

I have two suggestions.

First: Stop planning the ending.

Seriously. What I'm hearing (and I could very well be wrong) is that you get ideas for stories and try to run people through a story - not through a campaign. Let yourself discover what the ending of the campaign is going to be, based on what the players are doing. Let yourself be surprised by the twists and turns of every session.

Second: Take your fascinating new ideas with starts, middles, and ends, and write them down.

Maybe it's a short story. Maybe it's a novel. Maybe it's a campaign module. Maybe it's a living story you can tell over a blog. You can invite your friends to make the characters to insert into it, but start diverting some of that energy for the grand story into something that won't involve getting everyone together for several hours worth of game time.

Maybe it's just notes on future campaign ideas, and as you write down these notes during the time you play one campaign, you'll discover that these three ideas actually combine together into a single campaign... creating a much more grand and detailed story for your next campaign, when this one is done. And these other two can stay on the back burner while you do that, while you meanwhile discover some other ideas that fit in nicely with them. Go ahead and let them simmer for a long time - maybe the flavor when you actually taste them will be a little more full-bodied.

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+1 for "write it down" in alternate forms. –  Bobson Jul 23 at 18:03

The problem is you are creating when you should be game mastering. The creative itch pulls you into going way farther than is necessary, given the short time frame of your attention during gaming. I would suggest developing one campaign while running another. You can pull in concepts from the developing campaign without tying your development to an actual game with other people on the hook.

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I agree that there is little chance of solving the problem while you're GMing in this way and, sadly, if you keep doing this you won't be able to find anyone that wants to play the games you're designing. That said, I'd like to submit an approach that was used as the foundation for a campaign world that lasted ten years and at times had three or four groups playing in it.

After submitting the suggestion below I've re-read the question and agree strongly with wraith808 suggestion that you are perhaps planning too much, or possibly have a gaming groups that's quite passive. I had problems with boredom with a particular subgroup of players that didn't want to do any thinking, they just wanted to watch the game unfold like a movie. I fixed that, as wraith808 did, by doing less planning and forcing the players to drive the story. Unfortunately two players in particular became so involved that the work of unfolding the world's reaction to their actions became enormous, but at least it was interesting.

I was part of a gaming group that was sick of the "three month campaign" disease. When we started a new campaign using a game world and system that I'd designed we laid down an agreement that defined how the world was to be changed:

  1. The game rules and campaign world are owned collectively by the players and the GM. Any change has to be agreed by everyone.
  2. The players own their characters, and the parts of the world that make their characters real and relevant. The GM has to discuss world or game rule changes that would impact characters.
  3. Non-player characters are bound by the same rules as player characters, but the GM doesn't have to explain anything that seems impossible or justify a character's actions - it's for the players to find out what they're missing.
  4. No rule or world meta-discussion while the game is active. For that period the GM is in charge and their decision is final. If you want to disagree with a decision or propose a rule or world change you do it after the session has ended.

There was more to it than that, but the first two rules attack the problem you're trapped in. Under this agreement the campaign I ran dramatically changed it's rule base three times and worked through multiple story arcs but each rule change or new story could only be introduced after I'd worked out how to migrate the existing characters. Because I had to abide by that rule some changes just weren't worth making.

A new story or game system that would require completely new characters was run as a one-off, sometimes in the same world, sometimes not - depending on whether the new story would break the existing world. The key to that was that everyone knew that it was a short-term story. This didn't happen much because if we didn't like the rules we'd change them.

Now let's be clear: doing things properly was a HUGE effort. Much more work. It created a world with a rich history and characters with amazing backstories, but we struggled for months with some of the changes. An example was when it became obvious that a certain set of rules made mages vastly over-powered and team-based gaming redundant. I wanted to introduce changes that made mages and fighters vulnerable to certain attacks and made teams not just sensible but essential. Those changes made for some furious all night arguments while we thrashed out what would go and what would stay.

The bottom line was that because the players knew that they had a say in what happened they invested in the campaign - they got committed to the characters and would come to me with story concepts and character goals that enriched the world. With campaigns owned by the GM I've never seen that level of engagement by the players.

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Really I have 3 ideas here.

  1. This has already been said, but make shorter campaigns. You get bored quickly and so build the campaigns in a way so that they will be shorter. This lets them get the feeling of completing the campaign as well as giving you less time to get bored.

  2. Write a very generic/open ended story. Come up with a solid start then make an idea for your mid/end but don't fill them out. Plan only a session or 2 ahead so that you can adapt your story and make new interesting things happen. It's a lot more dynamic this way and so if you get bored with one idea, you still have plenty of time to build it into another.

  3. Rotate sessions. Have more than 1 campaign going at a time so that you can do 1 campaign 1 week, and another campaign the next week. You likely need to make your campaigns shorter if you use this idea since they will take twice as long to get through each.

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To me these are 2 different things.

The rules 3E/3.5E/4E/5E are just rules for how things happen.

The campaign and story is independent of these rules (for the most part).

I would not throw out both at same time, if the campaign is not working fix it. If its the rules fix it or switch to a diff set of rules, heck mix the rules if you want.

The biggest thing (to me) is to just play and have fun.

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