Behind the Screens – Drawing a Blank

Writer’s block. It happens to everyone eventually. It can happen to professionals or hobbyists. You reach a point beyond which it feels like you’ve nothing left to say or nothing decent to commit to paper. Fear not! I’m experiencing no such thing and Behind the Screens is still going strong. But I bring writer’s block up today because a similar thing can happen to GMs and their games. The point at which a GM feels like everything feels the same. Each encounter is just like the last one. Or the the plot has painted itself into a corner and there’s no clear indication which direction to take things. It’s where long running run into the danger of stagnation, when players begin to mumble about campaign fatigue. We’ve all experienced this sort of fugue at one point or another. And it can be difficult to work your way out of it. But there are options out there. The following is a brief list of my go-to methods to break out of GM’s block.

1) Re-immerse myself in the fiction
There’s lots of amazing authors out there writing fantastic and creative stories. And chances are, if I’m hitting a creative wall it’s because I’m not consuming enough of – well – anything. It’s a rare individual that can create stuff in an isolation tank. And we can occasionally forget that even as creators we also need to be inspired. Or perhaps especially as creators.

So I’ll pick up a book, or a movie, or a videogame related to the genre that I’m feeling and just immerse myself in it again. Obviously this approach requires some care when there’s a deadline looming. But sometimes taking a break to sharpen the axe, so to speak, makes felling the tree easier.

2) Dive into history
This is probably a corollary to the above. But I wanted to give it its own category. Whether it’s a pivotal battle in some ultimately inconsequential war to a Bavarian Princess who thought she was made of glass, I love learning about these obscure moments in world history. Because, as is often the case, real life can be just as fantastic, or cruel, or strange, as fiction and it can be a great source of inspiration.

3) Get a good night’s sleep
Maybe it’s a bit obvious. But I stand by it. Often times when I can’t seem to think straight or figure out what to write or maybe what not to write, it’s because I haven’t slept enough recently. I know that there are some writers out there who thrive on the late-night, caffeine fueled, marathon. I admire and respect those who are able to work under those conditions. But I can’t. And I notice that if I force myself to try and push out a project when I’m short on sleep it can end up much worse for it. So… yeah. Take that nap!

4) Revisit the outline
Sometimes it can help to take a step back from a project and take a broader view of what you’re supposed to be doing. Or in this case, what the PCs are supposed to be doing. It can be easy to get caught up in the dungeon delve, encounter after encounter, and both you and the PCs sort of forget why they’re in the dungeon in the first place. So take a moment to revisit the outline (or maybe write one if you didn’t before). Reminding yourself which direction you were headed with your narrative and what set-pieces you meant to hit in order to get there can really help jump start your campaign out of the doldrums.

5) Talk things through with a friend
We humans are social creatures. And as I mentioned before it can be really difficult to create in a vacuum. Having someone to bounce ideas off of can be an invaluable asset to a writer or GM. If all your friends are your players and you don’t want to spoil anything for them, there are a whole host of forums and messageboards out there for you to post your ideas and get feedback. Don’t struggle with your block alone!


So that’s it for this week. Short and sweet. Anyone else have any solutions to GM’s block? Post them in the comments section below or in the forums!

Anthony Li

Anthony Li has been pretending to be someone or something else for about as long as he can remember, which some people might consider a problem. He cut his teeth on 2nd Edition AD&D when he was 14 years old and his only regret is that he didn’t start rolling dice sooner. Due to an unhealthy addiction to Magic: the Gathering he missed the entire cultural phenomenon that was the 3.X era of D&D. After a brief stint with 4E, he was dragged kicking and screaming into the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game where he has since acclimated, adapted, and thrived. Most of his roleplaying experience has been behind in the GM screen where he has trained his dice to confirm crits on command. He always roots for the bad guys.

We Con When You Can't
We Con When You Can't