Gamemaster’s Guidepost: Overcoming GM’s Block

“We’ll play next week guys…maybe, I just need to get over this block.” It’s happened to all of us at one time or another. Whether it’s for fifteen minutes or 15 weeks, it happens to the best of us. Anyone who says otherwise is trying to sell you something. So when the ugly aegis of the Gamemaster’s Block rears its ugly head here are a few things I’ve found that helps.

Change of Venue
Sometimes the best way to shake things up in your head is to shake up things around you. Humans like novel things and places and we can fall into funks when things stay the same for too long. Even small changes of your environment can help. Take your GMing notes out to your patio or yard and work. Go to a friend’s or relatives house. If you can’t do any of those consider writing in another room or changing the composition of your typical writing room around.

Change of Views
Running a fantasy campaign you can’t get your head around? Run a modern supers game. Got a contemporary urban fantasy that just won’t start? Run a space opera. It doesn’t have to be anything more than one or two sessions, but coming at a problem from a different angle is often the only way to solve it.

Be the Player for a While
Sometimes you just need to play a game and not GM at all. For those who GM often (like myself), this can be hard because we like to GM in the first place and letting go and putting ourselves in someone else’s hands is HARD. Sometimes you just have to do this, whether it’s to get a fresh perspective or just to “veg out.”

People Watch
This one is kind of specialized and might not apply to everyone, but one of the best ways to be inspired for a campaign is to go to a public place (shudder! I know introverts – I’m there with you, but bear with me) and people watch. Listen to the roar of the crowd, watch people carry on their life, and pay attention. Sometimes it only takes a snippet of conversation to spark the creative engine.

Get Out of the House
Grab a notepad and pen and then just leave your house and go somewhere. Maybe to your FLGS or maybe to the park. But go somewhere. If you can go to somewhere you haven’t gone or rarely go, even better. Sometimes you can break a rut by simply going off road – it might take you a while to get back to where you wanted to go in the first place – but it’s better than being stuck.

Consume Pop Culture
I’ve found that some of the best ways to be inspired to run a game is to watch, read, or listen to the sorts of popular culture you want to imitate in your campaign. For instance, if you want to run a supers campaign similiar to Marvel’s premise it’s time to gear up the MCU and DVR Agent’s of S.H.I.E.L.D. One thing I’ll note here is that sometimes watching, reading, or listening to material that has NOTHING to do with what you are trying to run can be helpful.

Do Related Activities
Sometimes you need to think about what you want to GM, while you are doing related activities. Having trouble writing down notes? Create a map or sketch out a relationship chart. Maybe do some research into the themes you’re intended to run, whatever it is, work while you wait.

One of the things that helps me clear my head the most is building soundtracks for my campaigns. Aural stimuli is incredibly important to me as a GM and my players have come to rely on it as well. I’ll spend hours building the right “mix tape” for my campaign (or even game sessions). I find that it helps me focus on what’s important and what needs to be done.

No Gaming
Sometimes you need to just break from the hobby. Take time off from gaming or thinking about gaming. Occupy yourself in other ways. I tend to binge on video games while I’m taking a break to let my creative batteries recharge. Videogaming is very zen for me because I play until I’m exhausted and then I sleep and do it again. Now, that’s not for everyone because I set my own work hours so I can do that.

Time Isn’t On Your Side (No, It Isn’t)
Sometimes, no matter how much you may wish otherwise the only thing that’s going to cure your block is to not GM. That’s a hard thing to accept, but some folks just need to recharge the old fashioned way and time is the only thing that really works. Sometimes you just need to give your mind time to rest, recoup, and rejuvenate.

Picking Over the Bones
When it comes down to it, you’ve probably got a good idea of the sorts of things you need to do to get back in the game. Maybe you jam Eye of the Tiger before each session complete with air guitar solos – that’s probably just me – or maybe you bingewatch Game of Thrones for the the fourth time in a month – also probably just me – but whatever it is…do it. Whatever you do, stay occupied and don’t worry about lack of ideas. The ideas always come eventually, you just have to be patient.

Posted in Gamemaster's Guidepost and tagged .


  1. Never had it.

    On the other hand there are genres and campaigns that I deliberately avoid because I wouldn't know what to do AND I make no claims to the actual quality of what I do do.

  2. I see. Well, I'm a bit skeptical (no offense), everyone gets GM's Block at some point in their career. Even if it's only for a day or a few hours. Even as much of a font of creativity as I am I get blocked some times. You must be quite lucky to have no had to deal with a major block at any point in your GMing career.

Leave a Reply