Table Reflection: Dealing With Writer’s Block

One of the greatest things that I’ve seen kill campaigns is the same plight that many writers and authors face: “Writer’s Block”. It’s a major problem, especially if the GM is the central driving force in the campaign.  At a certain point, either they can’t work through the current issues they’re facing or they don’t have the willingness to continue with the campaign because they’ve lost interest.

First, I should be honest. I can’t help you if you’ve lost interest in your campaign, at least not in the scope of a single article.  Before starting a campaign as a GM, you need to evaluate some things and make sure that you’ll actually enjoy the game, and it’s a deceptively difficult process-being a GM is not only a measure of learning the game and narrative conventions to play, but also managing a social group and taking on a major responsibility, and it’s easy to burn out.

However, there are a few things you can do to prevent or work past writer’s block that stems from an inability to find a path forward. and they’re relatively painless. In addition, the GM’s form of writer’s block is very simple to overcome; if you run into an issue where you can’t continue, a sparse outline and some on the fly improvisation will usually get you past it, so long as you’re willing to rise to the occasion.

The first thing that I recommend that all GM’s do is to create a lot of sparse outlines of things. Not so much that you get attached to them and can’t operate freely, but enough for you to use as a backbone while going by the seat of your pants. In addition, you’ll often find yourself in situations where your players surprise you, and rather than having to force them back on the rails you could either start in a new direction or softly redirect them back to the original agenda using a minor character or historical event that leads them back to the task at hand. It’s particularly useful, however, when you just can’t think of anything to put up next. If you’ve already got something, you’ll be covered and you’ll likely find some new inspiration.

Another really nice thing about tabletop games is that you aren’t the only creative force at the table. Should you encounter a situation where you can’t think of a continuation of the plot, it’s remarkably how well simply asking “So, what is your plan?” can turn out. This works best if you’ve invested your players in the setting, but it’s always surprising how much players can think about themselves (file that under the “useful” and not the “narcissistic” category) and the ways that they’d like the game to go. Players are a great resource for when you’re stuck, and it’s not lazy to rely on them when you hit a snag.

Another hint for overcoming writer’s block is not to worry about it. I’ve found that desperate struggles with a lack of imagination only result in poorly thought out ideas. If you’ve got time, procrastination may be just the solution, but there’s also no shame in searching out inspiration. Reading books, watching TV or movies, or playing a video game can serve as a way to destress but also can give you ideas for how situations could pan out. Don’t try to force inspiration; unless you directly copy, it’s typically better to be a little uncreative and find something that works than to crash a game into the ground because you don’t know where to take it next.

So, in short, prepare outlines of interesting elements to the setting, use the players, and relax and search for inspiration when you find yourself needing a path to take your games.

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