Sunday, 13 August 2017

Dungeon Master: Restricting Movement

Movement is an important part of combat. It can keep you out of harms way, it can allow you to take on massive odds otherwise not possible, or it can doom you to be ripped apart by a group of zombies. It's also one of the major decisions, along with your action, that you can make in a round of combat in Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition. However, keeping it interesting can be a bit of a challenge. Often players will come up with a formation and stick to it. For that reason, I hope to share some of my thoughts and twists for making movement play a bigger role. In retrospect, I really should have done this topic before confined spaces and many enemies. Alas, here we are.

Reason to Move

From the start, there needs to be a good reason to move. Standing still can be the right choice in some cases. As a fighter, you might want to protect your wizard from arrows. However, in these cases movement options still need to look attractive or there really isn't a choice being made. What often tends to happen, from my experience, is that combat will start and something will happen. Maybe the enemy is primarily melee based and they will try to charge forward. However, after that the fight locks in place and stays static until something dies. Again, fights can go this way, but I think it should be a choice made by the players instead of simply the default and best option.

Avoiding

A classic reason to need to move is that something will happen if you don't. Maybe you'll get charged at by a giant creature. Maybe you need to duck down and move so that the wizard's fireball has a chance of missing you. In these cases, there is often a need for cover to hide behind or something special about the creature in question that can be avoided through movement but not by standing still.

Goal

A goal can force different kinds of movement and formations. If the players are chasing after someone who has something they need, they will be forced out of a static formation. Likewise, if they need to get something in the hands of one particular bad guy, it gives an incentive to break formation and go after the objective. When being used, I find it's better when breaking formation is a tempting option but not the only option. Perhaps they can go from rooftop to rooftop trying to shoot them down with an arrow. Perhaps they can chase after them on the streets. They can also try to get into formation and throw insults at the bad guy, hoping it'll force them to move. In this last case, they'll still be in formation but other options will probably at least be thought of. It also still something the players thought of and tried to do.

Environment

There are plenty of things you can throw into the environment in order to make movement look tempting. Adding some form of verticality to the encounter can give new tactical options. However, to employ them the character needs to get into position first. You can also have your encounter take place in a collapsing tunnel, forcing a weird encounter where both sides are running away while still trying to off each other. Another option is to have cover that might get destroyed if it takes too much damage. One of my favourites is to include environmental hazards or traps. Things such as drops, holes in the floor, or actual traps that might be noticed in combat and exploited all setup interesting encounters. Maybe the players will fake a retreat in order to get their pursuers to trigger a trap they noticed when fighting. Maybe the enemy will.

Direction

A common reason for a static formation is that the enemies always come from one direction. This means that the players can just set up their formation, block the tunnel and slog through the rest. When multiple directions are used, things tend to get more interesting. Even in the worst case scenario, the formation will need to turn to face the new threat. This can still be a tense moment due to the order things happen (initiative order can make things tense in such situations), unnoticed threats or simply being unable to respond completely perfectly in time.

Why Standing Still Is Bad

If you want to have elements of combat that prevent movement, then it should be a real loss. If you prevent a character from moving when they'd just rather stay in formation anyway, they haven't really lost anything. For this reason I like to consider why I'm adding an encounter feature that prevents movement. If I can't think of one, I don't put it in. If players are moving to areas of light and getting caught by a shadow hand coming from the ground will allow the shadows to catch them, there is a reason to move. Of course players can attack the hands and set each other free. However, when they know they have to in order to survive and need to consider giving up their important action to regain their ability to go to safety, both options can look tempting.

Forcing Movement

Built into D&D 5th edition are multiple things that force movement for players. I've seen far too many times when a Dungeon Master forgot about the ability to shove creatures or grab them and drag them out of the way. This is especially true where zombies are concerned. However, there are other such effects too. From feats to spells such as Thunderwave, there are many ways that movement might be forced on players or creatures alike. However, we can also do it in other ways. I'd call falling a method of forced movement. However, being on a ship as it's tilting can also end up forcing movement when the angle is too steep. Flying in a storm can do so as well. However, when I do so I don't want to just take away the players ability to move. I find that it works better to force players to trade something in order to move, or still allow them to move but shift it a little. If the player tried to fly 15 feet to the left, the wind might shift their movement path but they still moved. This means moving and dodging things can still be done, but there is a risk associated with it. For this reason I thing being careful not to take the option away completely, particularly when often holding formation is the go to choice, is important.

Enhancing Movement

You can also create special effects or conditions to increase movement. Getting double the movement speed or being in a special location where they can fly gives them new tactical options. Having these options lost to you makes the impact bigger.

Novelty

Many of the things I mentioned earlier will come off as novelties. However, it can depend heavily on your type of campaign. If your campaign is more horror oriented and players will often need to avoid contact with things or flee, it can be a reoccurring feature of your combat encounters. The big ones that apply most of the time is the direction the players are being attack, stealth, goals, cover, and environmental hazards. The other cases are nice and make combat memorable but don't feature as often unless your campaign is based around them from my experience.

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Dungeon Master: Many Enemies

A Dungeon Master has many options and many decisions to make when designing combat encounters. One such decision is about how many enemies to include in an encounter. Large groups of enemies can give a feeling of tension while also making the players feel powerful. However, there are some possible issues with the approach. Rolling can take a while, and it's possible to end up with a combat encounter that isn't all that different than fighting one enemy with many attacks, among other things. Having seen many such situations, I hope to get my thoughts on the manner recorded. It helps me think through the topic for my own benefit and hopefully someone, somewhere, finds it useful.

One Enemy

We could approximate some large groups of enemies by using one that has multiple attacks. As it takes damage, it gets fewer and fewer attacks until it finally dies. Now, that can make for an interesting single creature encounter. The issue I see, however, is that in these cases there often isn't much of a difference. It would be best if when we use one or the other, there is a marked difference. The one difference that does exist is mobility. Many enemies allow you to restrict movement and also to position them in ways that threaten multiple people. One enemy fighting a party is the opposite situation. It is your single enemy that is or can be restricted.

Movement

There is a lot of potential for enemy movement and clever use of positions when many enemies are encountered. Some could try to go into tactical positions, block access to certain routes and force players to hack their way through, or go around and flank. They don't all need to move in the same way either. Some can attack at range, some close up, some could be flying, as well as many other options. This is one of the major differences from using one enemy. It also means that multiple people can be engaged while also avoiding opportunity attacks. If it was one creature attacking everyone in the party, it would need to move between them and possibly trigger an attack from every one of them if using melee. It's a bit different with ranged attacks but we could still get into such a situation when cover is used. It would also tend to go after one goal, where a large group lets you go after 2, 3 or even more. I find that a static encounter is what we want to avoid here. For more on that topic, you can check my other post here. That one was about confined spaces but the central issue is being locked down in an encounter in both cases.

Carving a Path

When surrounded and forced to move, not every creature necessarily needs to be killed. Also, not every goal needs to be chased. The players could pick one and pursue it fully. They could also choose to escape. In this kind of case, hacking their way through to escape is a valid option that isn't otherwise available. A crowd of weaker enemies, however, makes this a tactical option. Where this can get a bit tricky is when movement is included. How does it interact with their attempt to hack through? It's also worth noting that moving through like this triggers opportunity attacks as well. And with a large crowd, it would be quite a lot of them. This makes it a rather risky tactic, though in such a situation risky may be better than certain death. It's part of the reason why them being weaker is necessary. It tends to work best with creatures that fall from a single attack or at least have a good chance to. Player multi-attack, area of effect spells, or other means to attack more than one creature allow the players to go through more than one square at a time this way.

There is another issue when trying to do this. When they break an opening, initiative order and movement rules can result in a case where the crowd just catches up to them and tries to swallow them again. There isn't much of an easy solution in these cases beyond moving away from combat at that point and handling it as a chase. However, it can sometimes work out anyway. It partially depends on initiative order. If it happened just right, the enemies could end up blocking their own from moving and allow the party to get a good lead on most of their pursuers. This was a rather cool situation in a game I was a player in. However, it was probably largely due to luck on our part and also because zombies don't get as much movement. In our case the party outpaced the entire group of zombies except one or two. The other thing to keep in mind is that it would take the enemies more movement to move around the front of your players. Of course, it also takes the players some of their movement to escape too. The deciding factor then comes down to terrain features. A choke point after they break out can ensure they no longer get surrounded.

Too Many Layers

If we have too many layers of enemies, it's theoretically possible to create an encounter where everyone is stuck. It is sort of like the stalemate situation in the Carving a Path section above. The difference, however, is that in this case escaping may not be the goal of the players. However, this can still be a problem because it restricts movement and therefore tactical choices. You probably don't want to lock down all your players in a large crowd of enemies that they can't ever break out of. For this reason just keep in mind how many layers of enemies you'll be throwing at your players. There is such a thing as too many at once and I believe this is when it happens. To avoid this but still throw large groups at your players, you'll probably need to break them up somehow.

Break Em Up

Having many enemies allows you incredible freedom in deciding how many will arrive and when. They all don't have to arrive in a massive crowd. The encounter can be in multiple waves, or at least what seems like multiple waves due to initiative order. This allows a turn or two for players to strategize, get better positions, pick off a few at range, maybe have a couple rounds of skirmishing, and do whatever else they need to do.They might still be able to see all the enemies at once. It just might take some of them 3 turns to arrive as opposed to 1.

Identity

Of course, having more enemies means you have a chance to give each one their own identity and character. This may make some of them more obvious targets. It also gives things more personality and allows some of them to get killed in combat while others retreat. The impact of this won't be combat related or tactical but it's important all the same. Some could even turn on each other mid-combat if things aren't going well. 

Rolling A Lot

Many enemies tend to mean a lot of rolling on the Dungeon Master side. It also isn't as easy to handle as other situations. Rolling many dice at once is a common way to speed things up but we'd need to think of ways of assigning the dice to players. If you have 4 or less, having different colour dice ready to go works well. Each colour corresponds to a player so after you roll, you don't need to decide which dice corresponds to who. This way you aren't playing favourites. Of course, you'd need to plan and prepare the dice ahead of time to make sure you have enough. Otherwise, you'll be taking quite a bit of time rolling. Rolling a lot of dice in these cases is unavoidable, just like with enemies that have many attacks. However, how we actually roll them can help save time.

Sunday, 30 July 2017

Dungeon Master: Confined Spaces

There are many different locations in which combat can occur. However, due to the nature of dungeons, often times it's in a confined space. It could be inside a small building, inside the tunnels of a mine, or on a floating platform. Regardless, these kinds of situations restrict the movement of players and enemies alike and come with their own challenges. It is these elements that I hope to discuss. As always, I'd be happy to hear other opinions.

Getting Locked Down

One of my big enemies when designing combat encounters is the static encounter. I don't want my players to get locked into one position where they'll just spend their turns rolling dice and nothing else. The problem is that confined places make it easier for this to occur. There isn't much distance to cross so the enemy can quickly get up close. There is also often nowhere to go. In systems that have some form of penalty for leaving reach, moving away is often not worth the penalty and we end up with a static encounter. In a confined space this is compounded further. Even if we do try to move away, there's often not much room for us to move.

Quick Encounters

One of the best solutions I've found in these kinds of situations is for the encounter not to last long. This way, even if players do get locked into a position, combat will be over soon after. What this often means is enemies are easily dropped and tend to deal a large amount of damage. This can be a bit hard to balance, particularly at higher levels, since this kind of combat can be very swingy. At low levels most enemies do a fairly large amount of damage relative to the health of a player character anyway. However, doing things this way ensures that the position chosen matters (a good position will result in fewer resources lost) but avoids the long slog. They can do normal amounts of damage too, but in that case it'll be a series of encounters that tries to chip away at the party. It naturally doesn't work as well with set-piece encounters though. In those cases you'll want something else since the idea is to have something a bit longer and more epic.

Sub-Optimal Dungeon Master Actions

It takes two sides to get locked down. What this means is that in situations where you can't reasonably expect players to move since it's against their own interests, you can break the stalemate. This way things get to be more dynamic. So what if your NPC gets an opportunity attack against it? The player can now move now and make for an interesting encounter. Of course, there will be times when someone will get past the player. This is great because the players will now need to decide how to deal with the NPC that slipped past their defenses. In some cases, though, this won't make sense. It will also get stale quickly if we take the same sub-optimal actions every time. The enemy shouldn't be leaving reach only for the sake of making combat more interesting. There should be an in-game reason for doing so, such as wanting to take out the spellcaster or retrieve an item held by a different player.

Obstacles

In a confined area with no obstacles, often the only thing blocking line of sight and preventing movement are other people. In a small enough place this can be a real limiting factor. However, we can also put obstacles into the area to further block line of sight in certain situations and extend the movement needed to reach someone. Sometimes these kinds of constraints can be exactly what we need to change things up. The extra distance can also work wonders for creating different kinds of situations. We want to keep multiple paths so that meaningful decisions involving movement still need to be made. With small enough rooms, we can link multiple ones together to make a less uniform area.Not all obstacles will prevent both line of sight and movement. It could be one or the other.

Bends in the Road

The reason I thought of this topic was because of a situation I ran into during one of my sessions. The session involved some plane and time hopping. Naturally, the players had found themselves in trenches in a roughly WW1 situation where I had used a tile set to build a trench system. One particular combat encounter happened around the bend in the trench. Different characters were lying in wait for people to try to peek around while others party members were peeking around and trying to attract attention. One tried to use the flooring to build some impromptu cover. It's a different kind of encounter but it's one worth considering. It's also something that can be kept in mind when creating an encounter close to a bend in a dungeon. You may accidentally run into this situation. In this case, the confined space itself provides ways to break line of sight. Doorways can result in similar situations as can other choke points.

Temporary Area Denial

Confined areas can be full of many things. Some of these things are flammable and can prevent certain areas from being used. I say this because in my last session, a barrel caught in a fireball ended up exploding and blocked off access to part of the room. Traps are another common method to temporarily block access to part of a room. This is especially true for some traps that need to be reset since once they are set off, they may be no-longer a hazard. If there was a span of time since players were there, rain could have made rather large muddles or have made certain parts of the dungeon slippery. When possible though, don't forget to apply them to your own NPCs unless they have some kind of immunity. There is nothing wrong with a fire-immune demon walking through a wall of flames or a ghost walking straight through a trap. However, your regular bandit shouldn't be able to without consequences.

Random Events

Even in confined spaces, some interesting events can occur to break things up. A third group could join the fight, the statue in the centre of the room could be attacking the party and their enemy indiscriminately, shells could be exploding (in the case of the trench example above) or a host of other situations. From my experience the ones that work best will somehow chance the area. Either areas will be further restricted, new temporary ways of breaking line of sight appear, or obstacles previously there are taken away.

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Dungeon Master: Splitting the Party

A sage old piece of advice is to never split the party. It usually ends badly for the players, and some monster out there becoming extremely wealthy. “Why is that the case?” some innocent new player might ask. Is it always true? I've seen this occur a few times, mostly with horrible failure as a result but a hand full of times with amazing success. And so, I'll be recording the situations and issues I've seen in the hopes that it helps someone out there. That way it can be avoided or the issues can be minimized.

Encounter Balance

How an encounter is balanced and constructed plays a bit of a role when talking about splitting the party. If you had an adventure meant for solo play and ran your party through it, splitting up wouldn't be a problem. However, combat encounters are typically balanced around the size and level of the party. In the case that set-piece style encounters aren't used, the number and type of enemies are still roughly determined based on the strength of the players in some way. If you bring less than expected into a combat encounter, things can go very badly very quickly. It's kind of like taking some party member(s), throwing them into a room with the big bad and locking the door. The only difference is that in this case, the party members are going there willingly and locking the door behind themselves.

Of course, not everyone balances their encounters in this way. If your Dungeon Master likes to send weaker encounters that are meant to whittle down your resources, splitting the party can be a viable option. However, having everyone committed to one encounter instead usually results in a far easier time and fewer resources spent. It's just a result of typical action economy and being able to do more per turn. 

Risk vs Reward

Players will make risk vs reward calculations for the positions they are in. In many campaigns, there isn't much benefit from splitting up and the risk massively increases. Most of the times this happens, it involves stealth. However, players typically attack from stealth for an advantage, which is more effective if backup is close by and more people are involved, or when trying to sneak into somewhere. The deeper they sneak in, however, the more risk.

There can of course be exceptions. If the intention is that players will split up, the Dungeon Master might try to make it lucrative to do so. However, if the threat is too high they still won't do so and prefer to go after one objective. If they know that they can go after the second objective afterwards, this further shifts the risk vs reward calculation. They also might feel it's a trick because it was never the right choice before and staying together is safer. This is one of the challenges of making it lucrative to split the party. Even if you do, they could choose not to. If you modify the encounter depending on decision of the party, it changes the nature of the choice. This is especially true if they notice it's happening after trying enough times. The choice is no longer about which choice has the best chances of success, but which approach is more advantageous from a meta-game perspective. This could be mostly a non-issue if your players don't meta-game though. Of course, the encounters should still make sense in context. How death and retreat are handles also factors in.

Ease of Running a Session

It's typically easier to run a session for one group of adventurers. This also means that this is the more common option to go for. As a result, trying to split up in such a situation leads to fighting 2 encounters undermanned. The encounters just might not have been setup for such situation. The Dungeon Master might skew things a couple of times and put fewer things to fight, but most of the time they'll just run it as it was. This does mean, however, that the adventure was intended to be tackled as a group. This is good, since it gives everyone something to do and a challenge. However, it also has a way of making splitting up not worth it.

Why is it easier? If your party is split up, you have to give both smaller parties things to do. Giving them equal attention while keeping the party members that aren't playing from being bored can be difficult. If everyone is good at what they do, the other party might have fun just watching. However, if things go unexpectedly well or badly, the attention each party gets shifted. Keeping it somewhat equal and both groups engaged is tough. It's often just easier to have everyone together. Something else needs attention? Send the NPC party there while yours handles this. If players often like to split up, what you sometimes end up with two sessions that are going on at the same time. I've been witness to a campaign where the Dungeon Master just gave each group their own time and then a week or two later they rejoined into one bigger group. I've only seen that once though.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Dungeon Master: Players Killing Everything

At a certain point a Dungeon Master typically reaches that phase where they no longer want their players to be a death-mobile killing everything that stands in their path. However, the methods to do so and even the reasons that it previously happened are numerous. As such, I want to try to collect them here along with my thoughts.As usually, hopefully it helps someone out there. And as usual, I'd be happy to hear what other people think.

Player Side

Some players are more likely to want to go around killing everyone than others. Combat is one of the things they enjoy, or they want to play a character who embraces the dark side. Even a role-player tends to want some combat in their games. Though that's an often used excuse, it sometimes is a legitimate desire from a player. Naturally then, they'll want to go around picking fights they think they can win.

However, there can be other reasons your players often get into fights or at the very least end up killing most things they come across. Doing so in games tends to reward players. They get treasure and experience. What can be better? If this is combined with a lack of consequences for killing, you end up in a situation where even people who generally don't want to kill everything in their way will. It's just clearly the best choice and players can typically only hamstring themselves for so long when you are trying to kill them.

Dungeon Master

Experience

Out of the gate, experience points can have a big impact on these sorts of situations. If you reward experience on kills, players will go for it. The alternative is to reward experience on a victory. In this case, they'll still receive experience for making enemies flee. This removes the desire to hunt down everyone who flees for experience. This option is still open in order to prevent intel from reaching the enemy. However, there is the metagame implication that for long term experience, it may be best to always let fleeing enemies go. It's sort of like catch and release fishing. They'll come back with more loot and experience. Milestones get around this entirely (awarding levels based on progress in the story), but change the experience for players.

By Design

When I design an combat encounter, how to avoid it completely tends to be one of the last questions on my mind. However, it's still an important question to ask. If you put your players into a dungeon, with the door closed behind them, fighting room through room, it should not be too much of a surprise if they start thinking of combat as the first option. In these kinds of dungeon crawls, it may not be much of a problem either. It could be what your players are here for. However, you can accidentally create these kinds of situations as well. When someone is trying to kill their character, a player is rarely in a talking mood. This means often the default choice is to fight. It also relies on the precedence previously set. You can't throw one encounter that should be solved through non-violence into a dungeon crawl full of nothing else and be surprised when they fight through it. If they run into at least one non-violent situation though, next time there's a better chance that they'll investigate first.

My suggestions for these kinds of situations are quite simple. Establish quite earlier that there are other ways to solve the problem and put a consequence for killing. If it's someone innocent, they might be able to get away with it once or twice but eventually there will be issues. Maybe more guards will be present in the streets, creating problems for your band of ragtag thieves. The point is that it should make sense. Loud noises in a dungeon can draw more attention. A missing patrol sets a camp on edge though sometimes people do skip watch duty to sleep or do other things. The last is to try and have some kind of alternatives ready and if not, not to be afraid of rolling with them. This is where it gets tricky. You also don't want a min-maxed charisma character to just talk through your entire campaign. In these cases the best advice I can think of to give is to remember that what is said is also important, not just how it's said, and that not every fight can be talked out seconds before erupting. It tends to be quite specific and on a case-by-case basis though. Remember that actions have consequences.

Doesn't Work?

Worst case scenario might be needing an out of character talk about what the players want from their campaign and what you want. You need to be on the same page or nothing works. Things get stale quickly if your players decide to just hang out at the inn every session instead of doing things. Only so many bandit groups can keep attacking the inn for protection money. Just like we have expectations that our players will go after something, players have expectations about what they'll be doing in a session. Of course, such talks can be had far earlier, such as at the start of the campaign. For experienced players, this may be needed. Dungeon Masters each have their own style of game and players, coming from a different style, may be expecting something that isn't coming. Sometimes it's for the best, sometimes it's for the worst, but those expectations are important to consider. A good part of our a Dungeon Master's job is managing expectation.You could have a lot of fun with a death-mobile party. However, people need to be alright with it and expect it. Typically, however, people prefer a mix of combat, role-play and storytelling (add humour to taste).

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Player: Hitting A Slump

Players can hit a slump just like Dungeon Masters can. However, the ways to deal with them tend to be very different due to the nature of the role. In some ways, players have more tools to work with. In others, they aren't nearly as free. For this reason, I'll be talking about it in this separate post than the one I did focusing on the Dungeon Master side of the screen.

Being the Dungeon Master

Making the switch to Dungeon Master could help get over the slump. The role is vastly different so some people really do enjoy the large change. However, it's also a large commitment and usually needs more preparation time than being a player. You don't really want to start a campaign you don't think you can finish. I think it's also far more common to have Dungeon Masters who have previous experience as players than players who have previous experience as Dungeon Masters (though I have met the occasional Dungeon Master who started in that role and never left). This lack of experience can make things quite a bit tougher at first and more stressful. It's not that the switch can't be done or that it's necessarily a bad idea, but I can't blanket recommend it. It will depend heavily on the player in question.

Playing a New Character

As a player, your character has a large impact on your game. It's also quite common to fall into a pattern of making rather similar characters. These similarities are usually the personality of the character, or the class. Either way, trying something new in either of these categories can help make things seem new again. The switch between a martial class, a skill monkey class or a magic class tends to be the most pronounced in terms of changes. The way they handle themselves in combat and outside of it is different enough that it can make the game feel completely different. It often also leads to making different characters to suit the strengths of the new class, though this isn't always the class. Switching up the background of a character can also go a long way due to the large changes and challenge role-playing presents in those cases. It may also be worth thinking about your spell list from an in-world perspective. I also often see (I'm guilty of this too) spells being chosen for their usefulness in combat instead of if they make sense for a character to have. Choosing spells you wouldn't have normally can lead to interesting combat solutions and unorthodox utility use.

Working Through It

There are times in a campaign where things need to be done to lead to better and newer things. Sometimes it's worth just going along for a bit and hoping things change soon. This will of course depend on your previous experiences in the campaign and whether you can reasonably expect such a thing. However, it's worth considering and thinking about, particularly if you want to keep your character.

A New Twist

Sometimes, all it might take is a new dynamic or event to mix things up. To achieve this, you might decide to plan something with a fellow player. Stories between players can be just as important as the stories between the players and the Dungeon Master. I do need to say that you need to be a bit careful not to hijack things from the Dungeon Master in these cases. You can also try talking about possible twists or events that involve your character with your Dungeon Master. Having your character as a central part of an event has a way of opening up new role-play opportunities. It's important to note, however, that what I'm talking about here is if you are alone in your feelings. If everyone else around the table is feeling out of it, it could be that the campaign needs to be shaken up in general. Adding an event that has your player as a central focus might not be enough. It'll need to be more drastic in scope and involve the whole party.

Sunday, 2 July 2017

Dungeon Master: Hitting a Slump

Sometimes, we Dungeon Masters hit a slump. I know I do. It's one of those things where it just doesn't feel the same way. It's a hard thing to describe to someone who hasn't felt it. That spark of inspiration just isn't there the same way compared to earlier in the campaign. That feeling like you wish you could run a session right this moment isn't there either. Getting past it is hard but I hope that some of what has worked for me will help at least someone out there. I'll be focusing on home games as usual. Organized play is a different situation.

Responsibilities

There are certain responsibilities that come with being a Dungeon Master. Even if we aren't feeling completely up to it, we need to run sessions for our players. That said, there is a certain contract between players and their Dungeon Master. If your off feeling is something just happened and you can't quite tell why, it's not much of a problem. For me, it would often go away quite quickly as I got back into the game after a few other sessions. However, if it comes from dysfunctional players or something else that is a long term factor, it's a different situation. In that case, you know what the cause is and it should be dealt with. When it's your slump or just general feeling, the cause isn't as blatant.

Other Things

Dungeon Masters are people too. It could be that something else came up. Maybe you really got into a book series, TV series, movie, video game, whatever it is. Work and other aspects of life could also make you less enthusiastic about your campaign. For me, I find that getting some preparation done or even reading through a game book, particularly Monster Manual and Dungeon Master's Guide like books, greatly helps my enthusiasm. Finding an adventure and taking some parts you find really cool can also help, since it could replace that slump feeling with a desire to run that new cool thing. It's basically a search for inspiration at that point. Of course, getting into something else can also have the opposite effect since it can jump start inspiration. Sometimes it's worth reflecting on why you got into that other thing and seeing what you can try to bring back with you. It can lead to surprising results.

Taking a Break

Sometimes, you might just need to take a break. This is a hard thing to say, because I personally don't like taking a break in the middle of a campaign. It's how I've seen many campaigns fall apart before reaching the end. However, you can take some time between running campaigns to play in someone else's game instead. Switching sides of the screen can help with that feeling. It also depends on the kind of campaigns you typically run. If it's more episodic in nature, you might be able to get someone else to guest DM for a little while. There are some things, such as family or job related stuff, that you can't ignore either. If you do decide to take a break, finding the willpower to come back may be an issue. Be prepared for that.

Timing

The frequency of sessions plays a big part in all this. You can reasonably allow yourself a week or so break if your sessions are every 2 weeks. However, it's tougher to fit in for weekly sessions or if you run multiple campaigns weekly like a Dungeon Master super star (it takes serious dedication and is appreciated). It's not uncommon to have a bit of a break between campaigns too. The start of a campaign tends to involve a lot of Dungeon Master planning and thinking, even if it's just running a published adventure. At that time, you can reasonably allow yourself a bit of a break. It really shouldn't be a chore though. I find starting can sometimes be the hardest part if I'm into something else at the same time. Once I start, I enjoy it and might continue thinking about it for some time. I recommend coming up with a self imposed deadline just to keep on track.

When Does It Happen to Me?

For me, I can get my attention shifted to something else for a bit. Usually I lose myself in a book or a book series. Pulling yourself out of that can be difficult but I usually come back with something that can inspire me. The key, I think, is to try and not letting it affect your players. Even if you are feeling slightly off, you should still be enjoying yourself when you get there. Like all things, there are layers of severity. More serious situations might need more serious and drastic solutions.