5
Oct

Tabletop Tidbits: The Measure of Success in Relation to the Mental Movie

One of the things people often say about success is that it’s a state of mind. The basic idea being that if you think of yourself as a success, or in terms of success, then that positive outlook will assist you in overcoming obstacles and you’ll start being more successful. With respects to GameMastering, I always sort of translated this premise as the mood I was in when writing. If I was “in the zone” while working on my game, then surely that would find its way into the material, and eventually into the presentation of the campaign itself.

The problem for me, however, was this wasn’t actually happening in practice. Over time it even started having an opposite effect. My mind would be full of these great visuals, and amazing moments from my writing sessions, and then when it came to the game sessions, the players would quickly find some way to dash all of these fantastic things I had been anticipating getting to share with my friends at the table. What would begin as Game of Thrones or the Lord of the Rings movies in my head would end up looking like something from the Benny Hill show on game night. Rather than coming off the night on a high, I would go home pissed off.

Occasionally, I would talk with one or two players after we had wrapped up for the evening, and I’d vent some of my frustrations during the conversation. I mean, these were my friends after all right? Naturally, they would hear that I was taking issue with some of their antics and try to help me out by curbing some of the zaniness right? …right? Wrong! While there was always a level of sympathizing during these post-game discussions, nothing ever really came of them. The next session would come and go, and there I’d be once again, driving home so angry at the ruin of my mental movie that I’d want to swear off the hobby forever.

If I had to sum it up in an image – what the game looks like in my head versus what the players would turn it into on game night – it would look something like this:

Now, that’s not to say I take issue with Monty Python, because I don’t. I do however feel that there’s a place and time for that sort of thing – and it’s not during my campaign! Getting that message through to my players though… let’s just say that’s one area where success still eludes me even to this day. I guess when you get right down to it, we will always have different ideas on what’s too outrageous for a serious game.

Having said all of that, the issue did eventually lead me to the realization that my initial translation of the “state of mind” principle was flawed. While focusing on my mood when writing kept my outlook on what I was creating positive, it didn’t have anything to do with the campaign as a collaborative effort with other people. I needed to think about the campaign in terms of success for what it was, not what I wanted it to be (or thought it should be). As the saying goes, no battle plan survives contact with the enemy… (who knew that success would come from looking at my players as the “enemy”?)

As it turned out, I needed to incorporate the players into my “zone” when writing – not just their characters. While slotting the PCs into that place was helpful to keep the narrative intact internally, it didn’t prepare me for the random absurdities that were certain to creep into the actual sessions. It didn’t prepare me for what the game would actually be when played. I wanted the players to be part of the campaign’s success while not factoring them into my calculation of what success was.

It was a bit of an adjustment moving to this new scale of measuring my GMing success, but I think the effort has been worth the while. On the plus side, shifting the method hasn’t really changed my development process much (but the results have been better). I still get to have my mental movie, I just need to kind of meet the players halfway. Instead of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, it’s more like the Hobbit movies. A little bit more goofy, but at least set in the same universe – where serious events are taking place.

These days it takes something truly drastic for me to drive home angry from game. I still think most of the players aren’t as invested as I am in telling a gripping, gritty, film-worthy story, but I’ve learned to be okay with that, because that’s not what makes my campaign a success. It’s a tad cliché, but the point of playing is and always has been having an enjoyable time with your friends, and that’s where the real success lies.

In the end, my more recent positive mindset has done wonders for overcoming the minor obstacles that pop up during each week’s session – and wasn’t that sort of the point behind the premise about success in the first place?

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