Difficulty staying interested and focused...

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First, some context.  I've been playing D&D since AD&D 2nd edition.  I've been DMing on and off since that time and almost always create my own campaign world or towns in existing worlds (Forgotten Realms or other).  I've always tried to make my games 75% roleplay and 25% combat mix, roughly...

I've always had a wax and wane of interest and creativity with tabletop gaming and have played a few regular groups over the years.  Everyone is very mature and we typically don't have drama issues.

All that said, I'm finding myself exhausted mentally with the game.  I enjoy the time with friends drinking beers and goofing off, but the desire to inspire players with fear, heroism, peril, etc has steadily fallen off over the last year or two.  It's gotten to the point where I've handed over the DMing reigns to friends as I just don't have the interest in maintaining my campaigns.

When I think about it, I think the real reason behind it is that I don't find much novelty or excitement in the usual fantasy tropes any longer.  There aren't many scenarios that I find exciting to dream up and flesh out for players.  After 20 years, I get the feeling that I've told all the stories I wanted to tell and had adventures in all the situations I wanted to test them with...(defend the castle, lone winter cabin hunted, countless dungeon crawls, rescue the person, return the item, destroy the bandit leader, attacks on caravans, secret trade power struggles, cross-plane nefarious alliances, alamo-style defense against countless horde, etc etc etc).  It all feels somewhat tired.

Anyone else gone through this kind of dry spell?  What did you do to invigorate yourself as DM?  

I'd hate to think it was time to hang up the dice bag...

Yes, I have gone through this.

I have two solid suggestions for you.

1. Take it back to basics. Big time. Instead of messing with fantasy tropes, reduce these tropes down down down. Simplify simplify simplify. It will make the fantastic FANTASTIC again.

2. Failing that...read. Alot. But do not read the standard fantasy...read what came before. The stuff rarely taught in school. Not greek or european fiction. Read Indian epic poetry. Its great with gods doing battle, flying fortresses that have weapons of mass destruction and just general awesomeness. Read Chinese classics like Journey to the West. Read all about Japanese mythology. Just read. Voraciously. Read outside your comfort zone.

Your own ideas are a finite resource like gas in an engine...you need to refill it. Refilling it with the same fuel will give you the same gas mileage...but pour in new stuff and see where it takes you.

I'm on a journey of enlightenment, learning and self-improvement. A journey towards mastery. A journey that will never end. If you challenge me, prepare to be challenged. If you have something to offer as a fellow student, I will accept it. If you call yourself a master, prepare to be humbled. If you seek me, look to the path. I will be traveling it.

 

Proudly playing in many wrong ways. I'm not afraid of playing wrong according to the rules. Why are you?

 

100 Crack Reply of the Yagamifire. You are already wrong.

First, some context.  I've been playing D&D since AD&D 2nd edition.  I've been DMing on and off since that time and almost always create my own campaign world or towns in existing worlds (Forgotten Realms or other).  I've always tried to make my games 75% roleplay and 25% combat mix, roughly...

Combat is not the opposite of roleplaying.

Anyone else gone through this kind of dry spell?  What did you do to invigorate yourself as DM?  

I'd hate to think it was time to hang up the dice bag...

I've often felt disillusioned about D&D. I once sold all my D&D & 2nd Edition stuff, and didn't play any D&D for 6 or 7 years, until coming back to 3.5. If 4th Edition hadn't come along, I probably would have quit that before too long too.

What has helped keep the game fresh for me has been to break out of some of the traditional methods of playing the game. For instance, I don't make games for my players any more. They and I work together to figure out the game that would be interesting for them. I am no longer stressed out trying to get everything right for a game that I'm not even sure they'll enjoy, or trying to deflect their ideas and plans that would dismantle my careful arrangements.

In parallel with this, I've been trying lots of other roleplaying games. These are often fun in their own right, but either I find they lack something about D&D, or my usual players aren't interested in trying them. So, I pull the interesting concepts and approaches that I can from those games and try to utilize them in my D&D game.

[N]o difference is less easily overcome than the difference of opinion about semi-abstract questions. - L. Tolstoy

Yoga,

1)  How does one further simplify "fetch me X", "destroy Y", "rescue Z"?  It's already pretty distilled it seems...but perhaps I'm not understanding your point.

2)  This seems like really sound advice.  I need to take more time to stir the creative juices with an influx of materials.  Reading and fantasy/action movies could help produce interesting situations and relationships and twists.



Centauri,

Combat is not the opposite of roleplaying.



Never said they were opposite.  I just have seen a big difference between negotiating with a merchant, arguing with a royal, snooping around town for info, infiltrating a guild, and manipulating a guard and the events that follow "roll initiative".  You knew what I meant.

Centauri, I am curious though about your comments on working with your players to develop the world/campaign.  How can that work?  If the players know the people, their relationships, the organizations, the plots, the twists, etc....what do they discover?  Where is the fun for them exploring?

Do you have any recommendations on these other games?



Thanks to both of you for the responses.

 
Combat is not the opposite of roleplaying.

Never said they were opposite.

Never said you said they were. Whee, this is fun!

I just have seen a big difference between negotiating with a merchant, arguing with a royal, snooping around town for info, infiltrating a guild, and manipulating a guard and the events that follow "roll initiative".  You knew what I meant.

I do know what you meant, and this is a major problem with the game and with keeping a general interest in it. Once the line blurs between those activities (which some games already do better than D&D probably ever will) a lot of the routine we think of in D&D drops away and things are new again.

Centauri, I am curious though about your comments on working with your players to develop the world/campaign.  How can that work?  If the players know the people, their relationships, the organizations, the plots, the twists, etc....what do they discover?  Where is the fun for them exploring?

I don't know. I never found exploration that fun, nor did I ever have much luck getting players to explore the things I had worked so hard to create for them. I'd prefer they just know about the cool stuff, and let their characters do the exploration. And since they know about it, they can help me come up with it, along the lines of what really interests them. Because if it doesn't interest them, then there would have been no point in them exploring for it if they didn't know about it (and lots of disappointment once they did) and little incentive for their characters to bother discovering it.

But, back to the first part of your question: basically they don't know everything. It's not all upfront creation. I worked with my players to create a drow city, and we all discovered, as players, things we didn't know about before. Not everyone discovered every detail, but everyone discovered something that their character could see just by looking, and we are all now very invested in this city. There are still plenty of secrets about the city, but very few of them have actually been established. We'll create them as a group as we go along.

Basically, it's improv. It's entirely possible that a connection will come to light at some point that no one had considered up to that point and which didn't actually "exist" until someone (maybe I) said it. It could be a world-shaking twist. Believe it or not, something like that can be as shocking to the person who just declared it as it is to everyone else around the table.

Do you have any recommendations on these other games?

Wow, so many.

Spirit of the Century, Dungeon World and Fiasco are ones I've played that put much or all of the narrative power in the hands of the players. Spirit of the Century is meant as a pick-up game, run with little or no prep. Character creation is involved, but highly collaborative, and once you have the characters you can bring them out for quick episodes whenever there's a bit of time. The game is basically run on the premise that players can declare benificial details in exchange for points, and declare inconvenient details to get those points back.

Dungeon World is like a modern D&D D&D but with modern design. As such, there's meant to be more prep for the DM, but it can be run pretty much on the fly by anyone familiar with the tropes. Where the player collaboration and control comes in is in how some of the "moves" work. For instance, the Bard (at least in early testing) has the ability to declare the existence of a contact. Other characters give options for declaring what success, and even failure, look like.

Fiasco is meant to be run as a one-shot, to simulate movies like Fargo, A Simple Plan, and Brick: a web of relationships and demented plans that collapses in on itself magnificently. Very quick and easy to run, highly narrative.

Lady Blackbird I have yet to try, but it exhorts the GM to ask leading questions of the characters, to shape what comes next.

By and large what I think you'll find is that the hobby is moving away from the idea of one player creating a fiction that the other players just plug into. As the player without a personal character, the DM still has an important role, but that role is less about writing a story and more about hooking everyone's brain in parallel and managing the output from that. It gets pretty amazing, and it might spark some new interest in you either for those games or for new ways to run D&D.

[N]o difference is less easily overcome than the difference of opinion about semi-abstract questions. - L. Tolstoy

Yoga,

1)  How does one further simplify "fetch me X", "destroy Y", "rescue Z"?  It's already pretty distilled it seems...but perhaps I'm not understanding your point.

2)  This seems like really sound advice.  I need to take more time to stir the creative juices with an influx of materials.  Reading and fantasy/action movies could help produce interesting situations and relationships and twists.



1) What I actually mean is if you strip away all the pretense and go back to real basics with the game itself, this can reinvigorate your play. No extraneous material, no homebrew...no nothing extra. Maybe go back to something like AD&D and reduce everything to bare minimum basics. I know it sounds very subtractive and probably not helpful, but you would be surprised how often it can help, especially with experienced players...put a lot in their hands and roll with it and see what they do. Take the safeties off and go crazy...flex the heck out of your improv muscle as much as possible as your players start going off on their own ways.

2) Believe you me, this is about the best thing you can do. I've even spent time just getting lost in wikipedia reading the description and summaries of stories...but nothing beats the original stories. Journey to the West is particularly good and has quite a few different very readable versions.

I'm on a journey of enlightenment, learning and self-improvement. A journey towards mastery. A journey that will never end. If you challenge me, prepare to be challenged. If you have something to offer as a fellow student, I will accept it. If you call yourself a master, prepare to be humbled. If you seek me, look to the path. I will be traveling it.

 

Proudly playing in many wrong ways. I'm not afraid of playing wrong according to the rules. Why are you?

 

100 Crack Reply of the Yagamifire. You are already wrong.

Anyone else gone through this kind of dry spell?  What did you do to invigorate yourself as DM?



Definitely been there. Centauri perfectly outlined how I got out of it with Dungeon World being the major influence on my revamped DMing style. (See my sig for a couple interesting links and the GM's agenda in Dungeon World.) When I came back after a short break from 4e, my approach was completely transformed and my excitement for the game carries on.

I'd also throw a plug in for Marvel RPG. I've never read a comic book outside of possibly something that may have come with a Happy Meal when I was 6. But I had a chance to read the rules and play recently and it is very fun. The way The Watcher (the GM) sets up the game also closely mirrors how I do things in my D&D game, as it turns out.

Just looking at some of the stuff you're tired about, those two articles in my sig might be enough to get you started thinking a little differently. 

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
DMs: Don't Prep the Plot | Structure First, Story Last | The Art of Pacing (Series) | Improvisation Guide | Prep Tips | Spoilers Don't Spoil Anything | No Myth Roleplaying
Players: 11 Ways to Be a Better Roleplayer | You Are Not Your Character
Hilarious D&D Actual Play Podcast: Crit Juice!
Check Out My D&D Next Playtest Campaign: The Next World

Follow me on Twitter: @is3rith

I don't find much novelty or excitement in the usual fantasy tropes any longer.

Try another genre. Maybe Gamma World?
Alternately: try a few adventures written by someone else. Living Forgotten Realms has hundreds.

Anyone else gone through this kind of dry spell?  What did you do to invigorate yourself as DM? 

I'm undergoing that right now. I'm burned out on 4e, so I decided to end one of my campaigns. If 5e doesn't invigorate me, I might switch genres.

2. Failing that...read. Alot. But do not read the standard fantasy...read what came before. The stuff rarely taught in school.


This is a good thing.  Take a couple months off and read instead.  I would suggest something not so happy though. 
Go with the grittier side of fantasy.  Check out Dresden Files or The Black Company.  Both are very different and are still considered some of the best fantasy books made.

Design something completely off the wall?  Go fetch is boring.  But what about Evil Santa Claus?  Turn the holidays around and make them dark.  Turn holloween into flowers and candies, then let the players search for answers.  Or go extra planar.  Or time travel into a decrepid future.
Alot of what people already said mirror some of my suggestions for it, but there is of course the option to have someone else be GM for awhile and then offer them help.  Nothing can get your gears turning then tutoring someone in the ways of GMing.


Also don't forget to play some video games or watch some movies.  Not just main stream stuff, but movies/games that make you think. 


Although it is mainstream have you ever put your players in Inception?    
Gonna second Spirit of the Century and add to it all other variations of the Fate system.  In fact there are a few different versions of Generic Fate Systems that can be purchased as PDFs for cheap and tailored to whatever setting you want.

A lot of your complaints seem to be about Fantasy Fatigue so get away from that.  Instead of doing fantasy do:

Pulp Fiction
Super Heroes
Detective Noir
Urban Fantasy
...IN SPAAAACE
dystopian near future
Current Sci-Fi

Once again I have to say that the Fate system is probably your best bet for a game that can be tailored to any sort of genre.  Heck you could even do it yourself with little trouble.  I once did a startrekesque space exporation game with about half an hour of houserulling off of the Spirit of the Century rules..  
Another thing you might try doing that worked for me - stop thinking long-term. Sitting down and thinking about how to fill a year-long (or more) campaign with stuff is not only daunting, but usually ends up meaning the PCs are hunting for their food or shopping for potions some sessions. Shopping and whatnot is stuff I can go do with my girlfriend in real life and score brownie points; it's not something I care to do in a fantasy game because the rewards won't be nearly as interesting as the former. It's hard to look forward to sessions like that as a player or DM in my opinion. But if we're stealing a crashed spaceship, launching into a Spelljammer-esque adventure killing space pirates and giant space hamsters, count me in!

Narrow your focus - Heroic tier only. Or maybe just levels 4 to 8. Or just one level. Pick a single location and make it awesome rather than a whole region with different cities or the like. Drill down into what makes a location interesting thematically and turn the volume way up. If the players are really engaged by it, maybe you continue with a follow-up adventure. Or maybe just call it a one-shot and do something else.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
DMs: Don't Prep the Plot | Structure First, Story Last | The Art of Pacing (Series) | Improvisation Guide | Prep Tips | Spoilers Don't Spoil Anything | No Myth Roleplaying
Players: 11 Ways to Be a Better Roleplayer | You Are Not Your Character
Hilarious D&D Actual Play Podcast: Crit Juice!
Check Out My D&D Next Playtest Campaign: The Next World

Follow me on Twitter: @is3rith

Running a Dresden Files FATE game right now, and it's amazing.  Completely different from running or playing D&D, and I think it's improved the D&D game I run as a result.  

I think everyone should play a completely different style of RPG occasionally, if nothing else to learn what works and doesn't. 
Thanks for the insightful feedback.  I'm going to start with picking up some new books.  Any feedback on Shadowrun 4e?

I will consider retiring both campaigns and start fresh to clear the burden of those efforts.  Having a tight small story arc spanning only a couple levels seems like a nice way to concentrate an effort as well. 
Having a tight small story arc spanning only a couple levels seems like a nice way to concentrate an effort as well. 



Check out my sig for those two articles - not planning out a story arc will help with keeping you interested. At least, it did in my struggle with burnout. A good way to ensure you're not planning out the plot or storyline is to use location-based (closed location) adventures. The Haunted Keep. The Dungeon of the Worm. The Shrine of Nerull. That sort of thing.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
DMs: Don't Prep the Plot | Structure First, Story Last | The Art of Pacing (Series) | Improvisation Guide | Prep Tips | Spoilers Don't Spoil Anything | No Myth Roleplaying
Players: 11 Ways to Be a Better Roleplayer | You Are Not Your Character
Hilarious D&D Actual Play Podcast: Crit Juice!
Check Out My D&D Next Playtest Campaign: The Next World

Follow me on Twitter: @is3rith

First, some context.  I've been playing D&D since AD&D 2nd edition.  I've been DMing on and off since that time and almost always create my own campaign world or towns in existing worlds (Forgotten Realms or other).  I've always tried to make my games 75% roleplay and 25% combat mix, roughly...

I've always had a wax and wane of interest and creativity with tabletop gaming and have played a few regular groups over the years.  Everyone is very mature and we typically don't have drama issues.

All that said, I'm finding myself exhausted mentally with the game.  I enjoy the time with friends drinking beers and goofing off, but the desire to inspire players with fear, heroism, peril, etc has steadily fallen off over the last year or two.  It's gotten to the point where I've handed over the DMing reigns to friends as I just don't have the interest in maintaining my campaigns.

When I think about it, I think the real reason behind it is that I don't find much novelty or excitement in the usual fantasy tropes any longer.  There aren't many scenarios that I find exciting to dream up and flesh out for players.  After 20 years, I get the feeling that I've told all the stories I wanted to tell and had adventures in all the situations I wanted to test them with...(defend the castle, lone winter cabin hunted, countless dungeon crawls, rescue the person, return the item, destroy the bandit leader, attacks on caravans, secret trade power struggles, cross-plane nefarious alliances, alamo-style defense against countless horde, etc etc etc).  It all feels somewhat tired.

Anyone else gone through this kind of dry spell?  What did you do to invigorate yourself as DM?  

I'd hate to think it was time to hang up the dice bag...




Why not try something radically different? Ever run an evil campaign? Instead of going for a tale of heroism, fear, or peril, let the players be massively evil. See how badly they can screw up the world, defeat heroes who would take them down, and pillage anything they come across. Come up with a quest where they need to stop the great hero from destroying the crystal of good, and upon doing so, they can corrupt the crystal and gain great powers of evil. A simple change of light to dark can be very...interesting. Especially once players realize they can put a king at their mercy.

Otherwise, what about just playing in an established setting? I like Forgotten Realms and like to use it to take a break from making my own stuff. It also becomes much easier to just set up an adventure/campaign and just go. Since all the info you really need is there. 
My username should actually read: Lunar Savage (damn you WotC!) *Tips top hat, adjusts monocle, and walks away with cane* and yes, that IS Mr. Peanut laying unconscious on the curb. http://asylumjournals.tumblr.com/
I'll echo all the other advice in this thread and throw in the following:

Find some new players and DM for them.

Nothing invigorates me more than seeing new players engage with the game. Hearing the crazy ideas they come up with, and helping them turn those ideas into something that works in-game. Watching as their eyes open to the fact that in D&D, you really can try anything you want to try -- there are no shackles other than your imagination and the sometimes cruel, cruel dice.

Sometimes the new players don't like D&D, or they claim to like it but never come back. That's OK, and in a weird way it can also be invigorating, because it reminds me: "different strokes for different folks." What they don't like about D&D might be what I do like about it. And then I get the hankerin' the play/DM again. 
When I think about it, I think the real reason behind it is that I don't find much novelty or excitement in the usual fantasy tropes any longer.


What may be so obvious that it gets overlooked... try UNusual fantasy tropes.

(Says the guy who played Rapunzel in a series of James Bond-derived D&D adventures a while back...)

Or reverse the usual fantasy tropes. You can even do Tolkien from the other side...

Or set fantasy aside and do mysteries.
"The world does not work the way you have been taught it does. We are not real as such; we exist within The Story. Unfortunately for you, you have inherited a condition from your mother known as Primary Protagonist Syndrome, which means The Story is interested in you. It will find you, and if you are not ready for the narrative strands it will throw at you..." - from Footloose
When I think about it, I think the real reason behind it is that I don't find much novelty or excitement in the usual fantasy tropes any longer.


What may be so obvious that it gets overlooked... try UNusual fantasy tropes.

(Says the guy who played Rapunzel in a series of James Bond-derived D&D adventures a while back...)



I can't argue with this idea, considering the proportion of characters in my character builder who are inspired by Gilbert and Sullivan.

Narrow your focus - Heroic tier only. Or maybe just levels 4 to 8. Or just one level. Pick a single location and make it awesome rather than a whole region with different cities or the like. Drill down into what makes a location interesting thematically and turn the volume way up. If the players are really engaged by it, maybe you continue with a follow-up adventure. Or maybe just call it a one-shot and do something else.



As a sidenote, I think levels 4 to 8 are some of the best levels for adventuring.  In heroic tier, things are still simple and flow smoothly, but you've still got a few feat slots and powers you can still play with.  Plus, at "odd" levels, you don't need to put as many points into primary stats (you get the same effect with a starting 15 and your L4 bump as you would with a 16), so it gives you more opportunity to play unorthodox multiclass or hybrid combinations without worrying about being too MAD.
DM advice: 1. Do a Session Zero. 2. Start With Action. 3. Always say "Yes" to player ideas. 4. Don't build railroads. 5. Make success, failure, and middling rolls interesting. Player advice: 1. Don't be a dick. 2. Build off each other, don't block each other. 3. You're supposed to be a badass. Act like it. Take risks. My poorly updated blog: http://engineeredfun.wordpress.com/
You can also try reading some Grant Morrison stuff like the Invisibles or Doom Patrol or the like. I've found it's often useful for crashing your entire imagination and forcing a hard-reboot. It can clear stuff out and defrag your brain quite well!

I'm on a journey of enlightenment, learning and self-improvement. A journey towards mastery. A journey that will never end. If you challenge me, prepare to be challenged. If you have something to offer as a fellow student, I will accept it. If you call yourself a master, prepare to be humbled. If you seek me, look to the path. I will be traveling it.

 

Proudly playing in many wrong ways. I'm not afraid of playing wrong according to the rules. Why are you?

 

100 Crack Reply of the Yagamifire. You are already wrong.