Anxiety as a Game Master

Anxiety as a Game Master

Feb 23, 2021

I see a lot of posts on Reddit, YouTube, Twitter and other places about new GMs who feel unprepared to start running a campaign or GMs who are mid campaign feel like they are getting burned out, so I made a video to talk briefly about anxiety and success as a game master.

I think it’s an important topic because so many people play games like D&D to relieve stress. However, the game can get overwhelming because of all the pressure we put on ourselves to try and be successful in different aspects of campaign creation and preparing for our next session for our players. That desire for success can be a bit of a moving target due to the idea that we may not have figured out what success actually looks like. When that feeling gets to be consistent it can lead to anxiety about running the next game. I know it has for me.

I think that understanding anxiety could help some GMs find success. The three types of anxiety I talk about in the video are: Ego anxiety, discomfort anxiety and anxiety about anxiety.

You can watch the video I made about it here if you like:

Anxiety as a Game Master

I want to be clear, I’m not saying that you are suffering from this. I wanted to talk about it because I see GMs bringing it up from time to time and I thought going into more depth with the idea could be interesting/helpful.

For those that want to know a little more:

Ego anxiety is the type of anxiety that comes from assuming a game will be a failure. By looking at a situation as a surefire failure a DM may be assuming the worst about it before it even happens. Sometimes this is called catastrophizing or awfulizing.

Sometimes a helpful way to deal with this is take a moment and focus on the work instead of the outcome. By keeping focus on the present DMs may be less likely to focus on a future that seems intimidating. Another way to think of this is to take stock of previous successes. Has a game already been run? What was enjoyable about it in the past? What was an accomplishment made in a past game? If someone is starting from zero this can be hard, but keep in mind that every journey starts somewhere.

Discomfort anxiety comes from the expectation that a DM may feel afraid or that their emotional status will be negatively disrupted sometime in the future. Someone may not feel like they need to be the best GM ever, but they may still be afraid that any effort they make will come up short. If a person feels like they won’t be a good GM until their story is ready, they could ask themselves “How will I know when my story is ready?” or “How will I know when I feel comfortable enough to run my game?” It could also be helpful to set a goal that feels more manageable. Maybe instead of building a whole world, focusing down on the town the campaign starts in can redirect focus. By challenging themselves a GM can prove to themselves that they are more capable than they originally thought.

When someone does meet a goal it’s important to take the time to recognize and acknowledge it. It may feel corny but pointing out successes is a great way to help build up self-confidence.

Anxiety over being anxious can happen when someone notices that they’re anxious and end up focusing on the anxiety itself and not the thing that created the anxiety in the first place. This new anxiety becomes a distraction and only serves to amplify the original fear. If a DM finds themselves becoming anxious over being anxious it’s okay. Practicing acceptance of anxiety can be a really helpful way to work through it. Anxiety happens and it doesn’t make someone weak or bad.

You already have what it takes to be a great DM! Have a great day!

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