I like games and I enjoy competing. Years ago, after getting riled up during one too many board games, I realized my competitive emotions were ruining the fun for me and others at the game table. I reflected for quite awhile on this as I took a break from board gaming. Suddenly a solution came to mind, and board games have been fun and pain-free again ever since (with just a couple of setbacks over the years). I’ll tell you my solution in a minute.
I have recently realized the solution also needs to apply to my GMing on a couple levels (pun intended!).
First, I am about to end one campaign and start another. The PCs are reaching the climactic conclusion of a 14 month long, 29 session-and-counting D&D 4E game. I cannot wait to start the new campaign, and that is making me impatient to get the old campaign done with. You know – something new and shiny is always more exciting. Plus, I am keen to try out the Pathfinder rules.
The problem is I am sacrificing game quality with my impatience. I joked a few sessions ago we should roll a d20. If the result is 10 or higher, the PCs win the campaign.
I want to finish the current campaign well, though, and my board game solution will work here.
Second, while I am GMing I constantly live a few minutes in the future. What’s the next encounter? What do the PCs’ current actions mean to my session plans? How will NPCs in the region react to the current encounter? What are my upcoming hooks?
These are important thoughts, but they have their proper time and place. And that is not during the current encounter! I get to the end of sessions and wonder where all the time went. I failed to stop and celebrate the moments.
Constant thinking three moves in advance creates a lot of needless stress too. Because I’m never 100% engaged in what’s happening now, as part of my brain is always angling to arrange the future, I’m often slightly distracted, which comes at a cost of added stress.
The solution: create the perfect turn
I realized a decade ago my board game problems stemmed from too much investment in the outcome. If I lost I took that personally. Therefore, if I was losing I would take that personally as well.
This caused me a lot of frustration during down cycles during games, to be grouchy, and to be a sore loser. Not fun!
Once I noticed my emotions hinged on victory status, I sought to redirect my competitive energies:
- I figured out that a key to victory is to make no mistakes.
- I have no control over luck (except in risk management). Therefore, I cannot get upset over what I cannot control, including the roll of the dice.
- Other players are often better than me, and I definitely cannot control them. So I should let respect replace anger if they play well.
Putting this all together, I created a new gaming philosophy for myself: the perfect turn. Each turn I would play to the best of my ability and focus on optimizing everything under my control. What I could not control I would enjoy, because there is no longer shame or regret or self-judgement when you are doing your best.
I entered every new turn fresh, like I was just starting a new game. Previous turns just gave me a start that was in media res. A trick of the mind, perhaps, but not untrue. So I could not be upset over what had happened previously; it was all just feeding the starting conditions each turn.
Future turns were completely out of my control. I could try to set myself up for positive future situations and positioning right now, but with so many other variables out of my control doing my best meant gaming the current turn as well as I could without worrying about the future.
This detachment from future expectations meant I no longer cared about victory. I only cared about making the best possible choices each turn.
Making the perfect turn – one with no mistakes, every option considered, and best strategy and tactics applied – became my goal.
The effect was nearly instant. It was amazing. I immediately had more fun every game. Regardless of the results of my turns and the turns of others, I enjoyed how games played out. I enjoyed the challenge of making the perfect turn each time, though I did not achieve that goal often. Rather than getting upset at results, I now saw them as learning opportunities for my next stab at a perfect turn.
I have no idea if I won more games after that. I stopped counting. It was no longer important. Instead, I kept a mental record during games of mistakes to weigh next turn, and then watched the actions of others so I could learn from their mistakes and successes too.
I remember playing games with one player in particular who would make it his turn’s purpose – each and every turn – to counter me or weaken my position in the game. It didn’t matter what board game we were playing. And he’d do this without any attempt to win games himself. This used to bug me a lot. After my change in gameplay style, I thought this was funny. It was just another variable. I no longer took it personally. At that point, when I stopped getting upset when someone was deliberately trying to push my buttons, I realized this was the best way to play games for me.
The perfect turn for GMs
So, it is time to apply this philosophy to my GMing. I’ve got a campaign running right now. Forget the next one, I need to make the perfect turns now and end this campaign with a bang. Hopefully, a total party kill! Haha, just kidding. Maybe.
In addition, I need to sit back while in the game and just enjoy the moment. I need to think less about five minutes in the future and instead focus 100% on what’s happening now. The perfect turn requires the best roleplaying, tactics, refereeing and imagination in each moment.
To get ahead a little bit on mid-session reactions and planning, I’ll call more 2 minute breaks. While in a break I’ll think ahead.
Otherwise, the perfect turn for me is enjoying the company of friends and what’s happening in the game right now, not 3 rounds or 3 turns from now.
What is your perfect turn?
I hear from GMs periodically by email who have difficulty with certain players in their group. Some of the time I believe part of the issue rests with the GMs themselves. It takes two to tango well. Perhaps this perfect turn philosophy might help in those situations.
I’m also thinking this style might help GMs who feel overwhelmed or harried during games because there is too much going on. Maybe a solution for you is to stop living in the future and just live in the current moment?
Have more fun at every game!