A Few Tips for the Busy Gamer

Back in university, when I started gaming it was very rare that our weekly game would be missed, if it was it was a huge deal. I knew that every Friday night I would have a game to run it would probably last for many hours and take even longer to plan for. It was okay though because I had the time, I had Fridays’ off so usually all my planning happened Thursday night and all day Friday. When my school career as a student ended and I was thrust into my new grown up world of work I was so busy at first I barely had time to be sad about the fact I was not gaming. I had a new job, a new boyfriend and what felt like a million other things to do.

                It’s been a year and a half since I entered the adult world and let me tell you it didn’t take long for me to miss my fantasy world. In February 2009 I attempted to start a game again and we got through one or two sessions but then when we tried to schedule the third session we couldn’t find a time when everyone was free. Weekend after weekend just didn’t work for everyone, winter turned to spring and spring to summer. The summer was very busy and game did not happen, then suddenly school was starting again, I was teaching new subjects and once again my time became precious. My fiancé and I (I said it was a busy summer didn’t I?) spent the weekends in the fall working on wedding plans, and attending family functions. It was in November before my birthday when my fiancé started asking when we’d be playing again, he suggested scheduling a game over the winter holidays, so I did. Since then I’ve been able to run a game at a pretty regular interval, one which accelerated when we scrapped the campaign we started a year ago, and started fresh with a couple of new faces. It’s come to the point where my group and I are basically playing every Sunday.

 I’m not an expert when it comes to time management but recently I’ve discovered some tricks to help with balancing a gaming life and a busy real world life and I figured I’d share them with you. They aren’t ground breaking or innovative just a few things that I have found work for me as a GM.

At the end of each game talk to your players who are present and plan when the next game can be. Doing this right away keeps you out of the trap I fell into last year where it takes you a whole year to get to your next game, as well since you are all together anyways it’s better than e-mail or phone tag which has less than instant answers. If you get your players used to making plans at the end of each game they will make sure to come to game knowing when they are free.

 Once you’ve set a date, make sure to be firm whenever possible when it comes to the date and time. I let my players know that if you are planning on coming to my Sunday game I need a commitment by the Wednesday before hand. I also make sure to post the game on Facebook to keep my players organized as well, that way there can be no excuses for not knowing when game is.

Don’t Try to Get a Date Good for Everyone
I used to only want to run my games when I knew everyone could be there, trying to do this made my games just not happen. Instead I have told my players that if I can get three players plus myself I will run a game. Having this number guideline has taken the uncertainty out of scheduling, as it makes it easier for me to confirm when game is if I have enough players. Sure a couple people miss out on game and you have to deal with the ‘missing player’ syndrome but the majority of you still get to play.

Pick Your Game Day Wisely
As I have already stated I’ve recently been playing on Sundays, this is not my favourite day to play because I tend to prefer to play on a day or evening that I don’t have to work the next day, but Sunday works well for everyone else in my group. The reason I say picking your game day is important is that if you’re constantly playing on Friday night and one of your players has a very active social life outside of game, then chances are they won’t be showing up. As well if you’re anything like me as a GM, post game you are tired out and need to recuperate, this is why I’d rather play on a Saturday or Friday night when possible. Knowing which days work best for you will keep you from burning out and needing frequent breaks from running game.

Be Organized
Yes this is really just a good rule for any GM, and it is one of the more obvious things on here, but I figured it’s worth mentioning. I am not going to get into my super hyper organized system right now (it involves a label maker, sticky notes and a slight case of OCD) but I know that when I am organized I know where everything is and I feel better. If I know where everything is than planning time is cut down because I am not spending any time searching for an NPC name, a map or a source book I left somewhere in the house other than the office. If nothing else make sure to keep you plans and notes from the previous game somewhere you will know to find them, having that information while plotting makes life easier and can make the task go faster.

Okay yes, maybe you would rather create a detailed world map, or paint that new mini right now, but if your game is happening soon, and you don’t have anything ready you might want to deal with the stuff that has to do with the game you’re actually going to be playing. This is another no brainer, but I find myself distracted a lot by things I’d rather be doing, such as those stated previously, so I make myself sit down and start plotting my game. I use the idea that I can reward myself with a different activity when I am done plotting.

Make Use of Your Everyday Down Time
I have an hour bus ride to and from work each day, I could spend this time sleeping, or day dreaming or marking but more often than not I am doing something related to my upcoming game. Bus rides or other waiting times are great for reading that obscure sourcebook you want to use but feel you don’t have the time to really read, or for going over notes from previous games, I’ve even spent the above ground parts of my trip calling my players to discuss important information.

Keep an Idea Notebook
You never know when a good idea is going to hit you, and the worst thing about getting a good idea when you are least expecting it is not having a way to remember it for when you can actually use it. Personally I use the note feature on my iPhone, and whenever I get an idea, no matter how obscure or unrelated to my current game I jot it down. There will always be a time when you hit a brick wall and don’t know exactly what you want to try with your players, that’s when it’s a great time to check your book and see if there is anything you can pull out of there.

Take Breaks from the Screen
Yes, GMing is a really hard job, it can be really fun and quite rewarding but that doesn’t counter the fact that it’s a lot of work and it is really easy to burn out. If you feel like your life has been taken over by game, tell your players you need a weekend which you don’t have to plan for. They will understand and you might get to play a fun one shot out of it, or you might just get the relaxation you need. I’ve just recently decided to take a small break from playing, both due to scheduling issues and the fact report cards are due soon, and when we do start playing again my fiancé and I are going to take turns running different games. This way both of us will have the chance to play, and we don’t have to stop yet another campaign before its come to a proper end. If your players do freak out and whine don’t let it bother you too much, it just means that you’re doing a great job, however don’t back down about needing a break you don’t want to get to a point where you are dreading having to run a game.

On that note….

Make Sure You Are Still Enjoying the Game
You have heard it said before, RPing is about having fun and that doesn’t just apply to the players. If you really are not enjoying the time you spend planning and running game then maybe you should look at taking an extended break from being the one behind the screen. Life is busy, and although seeing as you’re reading this article I can assume you like playing everyone does tire out if they try to do too much in too little of a time. There is no point in investing all your time and energy into a game that you just aren’t going to enjoy, it won’t be fun for you and in turn it’s very likely it won’t be fun for your players as well.

Well that’s it for today folks, like I said before these are just simple ideas that I have found work well for me. I’ve been able to balance teaching, planning a wedding, the normal family social events and an almost weekly game. Yes I know some people do more, however for me this was a big achievement, I hope some of my experience can help other people out there.

[tags]Tabletop, Role Playing Games, Game Mastering, Busy, Tips, Real Life[/tags]

4 thoughts on “A Few Tips for the Busy Gamer

Add yours

  1. Nicely done, JB. My biggest problem isn’t scheduling with myself but scheduling others and getting them to commit. Every year I get older, it seems more and more difficult to pull off.


  2. One of the reasons my current group is awesome is we have set aside every Tuesday night as game night. We do run some monthly games on some weekends, but the regular rotation happens at the same time every week. On the subject of taking breaks, we change GM’s and games about every 8 weeks, so that nobody gets bored or overtaxed.


  3. Good tips. In college our rule was three to make a game, but not the three to four who lived together. They had their own game going which they’d play when they couldn’t get the rest of us. Otherwise it wouldn’t have been fair.

    As for me, I need to find/start something. I have some friends who might be up to start a Call of Cthulhu game in July, once one of them is done managing a play. I need to start reading up/plotting now…even if we don’t end up playing together it’ll still be good prep.


  4. Thanks guys.

    Nundahl I know what you mean about getting other people to commit. I have a few players that it feels like I’m pulling teeth not trying to get them to be sure about a date, and the answer of “I’ll try my best” drives me bonkers when it comes to commiting to game.

    Mati- I LOVE the idea of a weeknight game night, I’ve never been able to pull it off by maybe some day….. *big eyes*

    Ruth- The hardest part about gaming period is starting. Good luck with your quest to find others!


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