I’m not sure how long it’s been since my group played D&D. We get together pretty often, and we play a lot of board games and let off a lot of steam. But I honestly can’t remember when we last played D&D. I think it’s going on two months now. That’s not a good thing. I know my players have been missing it, mostly because they say things like “MATT. WHEN ARE WE PLAYING D&D.”, using periods instead of question marks so that I know they are serious. I have a variety of reasons we haven’t played. We’ve had work conflicts, Gen Con, my family being sick, and this past week, I just couldn’t get it together.

I’ll admit, game night snuck up on me a little. We’d just come off a 3 day weekend, and I was still fried from taking care of Sam while my wife was sick for most of the previous week. One of my players asked me on Tuesday some questions about the campaign, and the little monkey in my head freaked out. I calmed down a little when I realized I had a few days to plan, but I had no idea what I was going to do. I tried to roll some ideas around in my head, but couldn’t get anything to coalesce. I put it off until Wednesday, hoping my head would clear a little.

It didn’t.

By Wednesday, I hadn’t stopped thinking about running Thursday night’s D&D game, but now it was in terms of worrying about making sure it was a good game because my players had been waiting so long. Problem was, I couldn’t remember many of the details of the previous session, and I really wanted to tie everything in the campaign together under a bigger story. Also, my players have a way of preparing for the worst and blowing my carefully planned adventure to bits. It’s terrifying and wonderful when they do this, but the thought was stressing me out this week.

As you may have guessed, nothing got done Wednesday night either despite an entire night thinking about it. Now the worrying had progressed into full blown panic, and I decided that I was going to screw everything up if I tried to run something completely half-assed and everybody would have an awful time. I may have also worried that everybody would be super mad. I was, at least, able to stop this before thinking the situation would eventually degenerate and my gaming group would disintegrate and everyone would want me dead. Mostly.

Momentum: It’s Got What Plants Crave

In case it wasn’t already really obvious, I have some issues with self-confidence and anxiety. When those particular demons are running wild in my head, it’s hard for me to get things done. Creativity dries up almost completely, and analysis paralysis rules the day. It sucks. A lot. It comes and goes, and thankfully it’s usually not this bad.

When I’m feeling like this, trying to gain momentum is the absolute worst. I frequently bang up against this particular wall while blogging or writing, and it’s hard to get the wellspring flowing again. Fortunately, as long as I’ve got enough time in the night, I can usually get enough of a foothold to get moving and I’m OK from there. If I’m worried everyone will think it sucks, I have time to polish it. I can spitball ideas on paper, nobody will see it, and I don’t have to worry about embarrassing myself.

DMing is a different beast. The moving happens whether you like it or not. There’s no hiding, no posturing, no avoiding. Players can and will call you on things because many times it’s literally part of the game (and boy does it suck when it wasn’t intentional). It’s scary when I feel like I can’t come up with anything. I feel like nobody’s going to have fun and it’ll be my fault. It’s no wonder I bailed. Sure, I had reasons. They were all true. But this was really it.

I’ve known for many years that I crave finally gaining creative momentum. I do my best work once I’m there, and I continue to do good work while I have it that lasts for days and weeks. This is why going several months between D&D sessions sucks for me. I’m starting to think, though, that maybe this concept of “momentum” is really just the little self-confidence monkey in my brain finally relaxing after he sees he’s not going to explode after a few tries at something scary. And he has an awfully short memory. I’ve heard from about a million different writers that you need to write every day. I think this is why.

You Got To Move It Move It

I’ve been trying to go over some ways that I can get (and keep) things running smoothly. One strategy I’ve used to some limited success over the years is to jump headfirst into a situation before I can get too scared to back out. I’ve found myself behind a DM screen a few times like this. As with everything else, sometimes, it works out OK and sometimes it doesn’t. I think what I’ve been missing here is that regardless of a perceived success or failure, I’m still running on the creative hamster wheel and the lights haven’t gone out.

It might also be important to show some old photos to the self-confidence monkey to let him know early on that he’s never exploded. A couple of my players reminded me at the end of game night Thursday that one of my “bad” nights got her hooked on playing D&D when she didn’t care for the game before. Another said we always have fun when we play regardless of what happens.

Looking back on some of our D&D sessions, and the lessons I took from them, I realized something strange. I had been bearing the entire weight of making sure everyone has fun at the game. It would be my shame, my embarrassment if they did not. And yet, so often, it’s what the players bring to the game and the interactions between themselves and me that really make things shine.

Perhaps I am not as important to the game as I thought.

It seems strange and self-deprecating to say this, especially with my self-esteem being what it is, but this idea gives me a lot of solace.

I really love my group. Thanks, guys. I learn a lot from all of you, in ways I never imagined.

Next session should be fun. If not, that’s OK. Also, rocks fall.

Photo Credit


  1. Just because your previous session was part of a campaign doesn’t mean that your next one has to be part of a campaign as well. I wouldn’t complain if our current DM said “You know, I don’t feel like I can do a good job on the next adventure in this campaign right now. Come to D&D next Thursday with a new character of level 10 and I’ll run you through an adventure I got from the Friendly Local Game Store.” Much of the time, playing an adventure not written by the DM > not playing at all.

  2. DarkplaneDM says:

    Definitely been there. When I’m struggling with creative momentum, I like go to the PCs for answers. It helps to recognize when the well is flowing, and make lots of notes about the central characters and dramatic questions of the story. That way when it runs dry, I can look at the notes and say “okay, tonight I’m going to focus on revealing this secret, or making this pending event happen.” It gets something on the page so I can springboard instead of looking at white space and despairing.

  3. I started running D&D games because my husband was the only one running them, and he was in serious danger of getting burnt out. In fact he said after our current two campaigns are over, he would not start another until someone else ran one.

    No one else stepped forward.

    So, I did. I am not that experienced as a DM yet, and Wesley has been running excellent games for years. As a result, I felt under a lot of pressure to make each session this amazing, perfectly planned, exactly challenging enough, game with lots of character growth and danger.

    Yeah. Right. So, yes I stress and plan and scribble monster cards til hour zero, and yes the PCs frequently surprise me. But, I too have noticed that they bring their own good time or bad time with them through the door. Usually, the game improves them at least one category though toward friendly.

    We too have the on going problem that people are busy, and the main campaigns are at points where every player has to be there for it to get to happen. So this weekend, I decided to run a one shot module for whoever can come. We’ll cook good food or order carryout and have a blast. I’m setting it in a corner of my campaign world no one has ever gone (cause it won’t exist until this module), and not sweating it.

    (Until hour zero when I will be absolutely terrified.)


  4. You don’t need creativity to be a GM – run a module! Reliability is far more important than originality.

  5. One way I keep myself pumped up and keep the players momentum going is doing a write-up on each meeting. Hopefully right afterwards so it’s fresh in my mind. Then if there’s an extended period, they can go back an re-read what was going on and even realize things they didn’t while the game was going on.

    Also, I wanted to say “THANKS” for doing the blog. It’s great to read what other GM’s go through, ideas and just helping to get the creative juices flowing.


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