When Motivation Fails

Maybe it’s a product of the season, my busy life or my chaotic health, but one of the things I used to cling to for escape from daily life no longer seems to do the trick.  The hobby that created this blog and spurred my creativity now seems to be one of my sources of stress.

Don’t get me wrong… I still love the setting of Shadowrun, I devour new sourcebooks and when talking with friends about the game, I can babble at length like no one’s business.  However, when it comes to writing material and running games, the motivation isn’t there.  I talked about creating a compartmentalized campaign, with aligned characters, a coherent multi-path story with an actual start, middle and end.  I’ve gotten to writing one-offs for so long, that I felt a change was in order.  And between conventions (Phantasm and GenCon), work and diving headlong into LARPing over the summer and fall, working on Shadowrun has fallen to a much lower priority.  My 7th Sea campaign died over a year ago due to my interest being murdered and I now find Shadowrun going the same route.

I can’t even use it like a blanket statement though… I still love running at conventions and one-off games here and there.  So, my excitement has grown with each new character idea or campaign hook, I find that none of these ideas last long enough to see daylight on average… I recently took mental stock about the game, my home campaign and what sets it apart from convention games.  The first thing that hit me was a bit of a shock:

The very reason I got into RPGs in the first place no longer exists in my home game.

At my very core, I am a writer.  I love to tell a good story, with dynamic characters, a multi-faceted story to tell and a reason to come back for the next game… what might happen next?  A ragtag band of flawed “heroes” working together (sometimes reluctantly) to solve the crisis of the moment and thwart the villain… maybe they kill him, maybe he escapes… maybe the PCs make an error and an ally falls, but they bounce back and keep fighting…

In many ways, I’m my own worst enemy.  I don’t like telling players “no”.  I have an active disdain for railroading.  This willingness for a truly open world, where the players have creative control has prevented me from having a recurring villain for years… my players are extremely thorough in not only ensuring a would-be villain does not escape, but leave no way that even burning Edge could logically justify the bastard’s survival.  The players that attend session to session varies so wildly (one week, I might get three people, the next I’m turning away half of twelve who show interest) that having a run spill from one week to the next isn’t feasible half the time.  Due to the inconsistency, I started running smaller events to try and wrap it up neatly with the group that made it out that given night.

So, rather than the story of ups and downs, tragic falls and triumphant victories that I want, I end up with snapshots of carefully calculated characters, with tightly controlled actions, working to complete missions efficiently.  It’s not a flowing story, but rather a crafted cutscene for a video game, where none of the protagonists make mistakes, or serve self-fulfilling goals and the villains never win.

And this is why I enjoy conventions… with no character attachment, players are willing to take on the mentality of “Meh, fuck it” and going for the Hail Mary.  Instead of engineering characters for minimal flaw impacts, they look at the flaws on the page and indulge.  The alcoholic going to meet Mr. Johnson at a bar and thinking “Well, one won’t hurt…”, the troll mercenary throwing subtlety out the window and kicking in the front door guns ablazing.  I’ve seen characters die heroic deaths at conventions that no player in my home game would ever contemplate.  They are the actions that I hear about years later, when a player sits down and regales those gathered about the fall of their character at the hand of the big bad.  Aside from comedic moments in my home game, no one recalls those moments of a character’s fall or foolish heroism… because it never happens.  No mistakes are ever made and no one escapes to tell the tale…

Which is why after nearly six months of intermittent planning, this campaign still does not exist.  I have pages of notes and planned campaign structure… and no drive to actually get it finished.  I had asked for a pool of characters to be used for the campaign.  The idea being that if we had a pool of characters, then regardless of who showed up and how many, the same characters would be in the field and all equally leveled to prevent superhuman characters being teamed with rookies.  Instead, I have two-thirds of what I requested and rather than generic characters, I have characters created by those who made them to serve as personal characters and many have already begun accruing karma outside of the campaign due to players showing up with no character except the new ones, therefore shattering the balance I was going for.  I also have an over arching story line in mind, but deep down that it will be no different than all other campaigns I’ve attempted in the past… the plot I’ve developed will get torn to shreds by the very freedom I want to give my players.

So, I open the mic to any who read my rambling rant here… how can I reconcile the game I want with the game I have?  I fear the trench is simply too deep at this stage and that my only recourse is to simply quit and take a long sabbatical until I can find the passion for an ongoing game again.  The very thing that drove my wife away from the game over a year ago now threatens to kill my love for the game as well.  The freedom to tell a story and to allow for mistakes to be made… conforming to a lack of commitment has made my material lazy and uninteresting for me… and my refusal to recognize it has allowed that resentment to fester.

So, what do people recommend for salvaging a game I love from being another game system that I blow the dust off at convention time?

~ by 1nsomniac on November 17, 2015.

5 Responses to “When Motivation Fails”

  1. It’s been a while since I’ve had a conversation with you. I think the last time we met was a birthday party for a mutual friend, and I didn’t get to talk about Shadowrun like I wanted to. I love bouncing ideas off you and asking questions to see if my crazy ideas can work within SR canon.

    It sounds like the game you want and the game your players want are two different things at the moment. Your expectations are for a story filled with dimensional characters, with flaws, goals, and ambitions outside the norm. Your players seem to want to be Mary- or Gary-Sue characters and see the game as an obstacle course, simply collecting nuyen and gear to go on the next challenge. While both are valid ways to enjoy any RPG, they’re in conflict with one another.

    One thing I could suggest is giving each of your players a disadvantage at random that they MUST incorporate into their character. While this doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll create a more dimensional character, at least it will be more interesting to deal with. After all, the best characters in any story are flawed characters.

    Another suggestion: Perhaps just put the GM screen away and just be a player for a little while. Let someone else take the reins on the story and just enjoy from a player’s perspective. Take one of the character concepts you were going to use for a campaign and make a shadowrunner out of them.

    You could have a chat with your players as well and talk about the expectations everyone has for a campaign, and for their characters. You’d be amazed at how people will listen if you just have a conversation with them about what you all want out of the game.

    One of the best aspects of LARPing is collaborative storytelling. Both players and plot work together to create great moments through Role-Play. It can be the same in table-top, but often times the developers of table-top RPGs relegate it to the “Monster of The Week” games, and that’s often the expectation the majority of players will have.

    I currently have a Shadowrun group of my own. We meet when we can, but they’re so excited for it every time they get to play. The have a blast! And part of that is from the few games of SR that we played together. We’ve only played a few games together, but they were always fun when I attended so long ago (even with the cat allergy taken into consideration), and I learned a lot from just paying attention to how you run the game. It would be really sad to see you walk away from Shadowrun. But if a break is what you need, then do what you need to do to keep yourself sane.

    Stay classy, sir.

  2. I don’t know if this will be particularly helpful, but…

    get people who are mostly new to the game or who are friends and into similar games like d&d to help create characters. And writer friends. People who will be very creative and have an understanding of the game and characters or who would be willing to learn, but who are not already overly invested…because from what you’ve said, it sounds like that is a big part of the problem at ongoing home games vs cons.

    The thing I really like about you and most game masters I seem to meet, even though I’m still a big ol’ n00b, is that with every game and campaign, you have the enthusiasm for it as if it were new to you. Maybe what you need is some other people with the same enthusiasm, and that can mean fresher eyes.

    Or, during your regular game nights, have an entrance fee of one new character creation per person (even if it’s not fully developed) …with the added caviat that the characters will only be used at a later date, to be determined by you, and given out at random at said time?

    Hope this was helpful 🙂 and sorry if it was not… I hope it all works out for you, either way!

  3. As with most relationships, the best way to make things run smooth is open communication. One thing you might consider is showing this article to the players in your group. I think you’ve articulated the problem fairly well and now might be the time to see if they’re willing to read it.

    Beyond that, while I’m also not a fan of saying “no” I’ve seen so many games crash because the GM didn’t know when or how to reign things in. The more I play, the more I think it’s less a matter of quantity of freedom as opposed to quality.

    Having no idea on who and how many will be showing up at a session just isn’t healthy for the game. Specifically a game with any sense of story. Do you have any consistant people? Anyone who makes it to three quarters or more of the game? If so, focus on running things around them and their characters, then use everyone else like a cast of secondary characters.

    Wish I had more to say, but I’m going through something similar but different. Getting ready to run a game, and I’m not sure it’s really the game I want to play.

  4. Have you read “listen up you primitive screw heads”?

    • No, I haven’t. I’ll keep my open for a copy of it. I think I need to learn to be more of an asshole when GMing… to willy-nilly throw PCs into the blender, rather than pull punches at the last minute…

      That might re-align players into sticking at least somewhat close to the story I’m trying to tell…

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