Thursday, June 2, 2011

When You Drop

UPDATE:  This post has been updated and included in the recently released book, How to Play a Character & Other Essaysavailable for purchase from the Lulu marketplace.

I've been challenged for a topic to write about this week, and it has much to do with my habits of late.  The Conflict! cards have run into a snag, and I'm just getting on the other side of it.  No, I'm not going to describe the snag.  The less anyone knows, the better.  But I see the solution, I am applying the solution and I do not think there will be any troubles with it.

But the snag itself has trumped ever other bit of work I might have done on D&D for the last couple of weeks, and as such I have very little new material to post, here.  It is convenient to have some project hit a certain stage of fruition at least once a week, so that I present it here on a given day and have the post be about that.  But this week, nada.  I have nothing.  Oh, I'm digging at a few things, a table here or there that I'm moving forward, but nothing that has reached that glorious stage of being trotted out for viewing.

Last year at this time, I wouldn't have worried about it.  I would have not posted at all, and to hell with the gentle reader and all that, they can do without having something to read this week.  Only, I am doing my best now to hold to a schedule where I am publishing every weekday (in case people haven't noticed), producing as much interest as I possibly can.  So I feel ... guilty.

This got me to thinking about energy.  The energy that you work up before playing, and the energy you must have while playing.  Sometimes it isn't there, and aren't those the worst sessions ever?  I wrote about one of those sessions a few weeks ago, so I won't again here.  I have an idea of something else to say about energy, though, and it comes after the session.

Small digression, though - it occurred to me as I was setting up the link in the above paragraph that there's something I don't see in blogs.  Why is it that no one seems to write the equivalent of a television clip show?  I could waste probably six or seven hundred words doing nothing other that digging up old posts, commenting on how I feel now, and my posting problem would be solved.

Oh well.  We'll put that in the brain bank.

Let's instead put together that last fifteen minutes of a D&D session.  I can't speak for every DM, obviously, but perhaps there are enough of you out there who share my experience.

You have just handed out the last experience for the night, and it is late.  Probably later than you'd intended to play ... so if your players are people who might be working the next morning, or are used to nine-to-five hours, there's very little incentive for them to sit around chatting for an hour or two.  Most times, I announce its over, give out the last experience, and people begin packing up immediately.  The packing is a lengthy task, so there's a little time for feedback, but not much.  And you want feedback, don't you?  You've put on a performance, and in spite of your wish that everyone just had a good time, a little applause wouldn't hurt.

Chances are you're not going to get much of that.  People are tired, they're making sure they don't forget anything and they haven't really ingested the running themselves.  I insist people clean up the garbage they've created from things they've brought to chow on, and there is furniture to be moved around and tables to be folded and put away.  Since its easier to do this when the boys are still around - the girls take longer to gather their shit together - I don't let anyone leave until my living room has gone back to normal.

Inevitably, someone can't find their cellphone, i-pad, keys or what have you, and there's a period of general searching through sofa cushions, in the kitchen and around shelves and the computer desk.  People make jokes, laugh, and tromp down the hallway to the door where they put on their shoes.  Its a loud, raucous time, and now that you - the DM, remember - have concluded that you're not going to get anything more out of them until next session, you're ready for them to be gone and thus bring blessed silence.  This doesn't take long.  Someone might look at the huge wall-sized map on your wall by the front door and make a comment about where they'd like their players to go next, and that might make for five or ten minutes of discussion as you answer a few more questions, but mostly people are heading out for their cars now.  You hug the girls as they go, and shake hands with the guys, and then you are closing the door on them.

Silence.  You drink it in for a moment and return to the living room.

And for some reason, you feel absolutely awful.

You may think its because you didn't get any feedback, or you may connect it with being exhausted or tired ... except that you don't feel exhausted.  You feel ramped up.  You've been drinking coffee and energy drinks all night to stay as wired as possible for the game, and now you're wide awake with nothing whatsoever to do.  And there is still this nagging, sudden depression.  There's no reason for it, but there it is.

I can say from experience that the exact same feeling occurs after giving a performance of any kind - a long business presentation, a two-hour play, a day spent making a movie, working as a mascot ... anything.  It is your natural body response to no longer having seratonins and dopamine pumped steadily into your brain.  it is not really that you are feeling depressed.  It is that you are no longer feeling high, and the comparative difference feels like depression.

I have a number of suggested remedies for you.  The most common that people will try is to get on their computers and play video games, which will restore your dopamine levels moderately and reduce the sense of depression.  Problem is, that will only sustain the high and you'll find it's five, six in the morning and you're only now getting to bed.  This is fine if you don't need a Sunday in your life - it really doesn't work if you're getting older or you have things to do the next day.

I can tell you honestly, you don't know it but you are considerably dehydrated.  Your brain has been using energy at the same level you'd be experiencing if you had just finished playing football ... but since your muscles aren't tired, and your bloodstream is loaded with caffeine, you're unaware that in fact your body needs water.  Try and make yourself drink a glass or two before settling down.

Accept the depression.  The water will help mitigate your caffeine-rich system, starting to flush it out in the next half an hour or so.  In the meantime, try to pick an activity that does not depend upon concentration, but instead stimulates your senses.  Play lyric-free music, make yourself a protein-rich meal (remember, you're replacing energy loss), get a massage if your partner is awake and willing, take a shower and let the water stream over you for fifteen or twenty minutes, sit out on your deck and close your eyes, listening to the city or the crickets ... in short, unplug.  Just do it completely.

As you do, and as your body begins to clean itself, your brain will start shutting down systems and in an hour or so, you'll sleep.  Generally, you'll wake up feeling better the next day and you'll be more in a mood to work on your world.  I'm guessing that usually the last thing in the world you want to think about the next day is D&D ... but you'll find if you learn to unplug yourself more completely after a session, you'll be more creative and put together when you wake up.  Remember, for actors who feel what you do, they still end up performing the next day or the next night.

Of course, one way to deal with that depression is to drink or drug yourself into a stupor.  Which is what a lot of actors and other performers do.  There are repercussions.  Gets to be a habit.  But if you want to know why Charlie Sheen is strung out all the time, you only have to closely examine the ten minutes of emotion you experience after you close that door.  And multiply it by about a million.


Anonymous said...

It's been something of a blessing these past few years that my group games not at my house, but at the house of one of the players. The drive home is my time to unplug. Conversely, the drive there is my time to get into the right frame of mind to run the game.

Oddbit said...

I like these kinds of posts. General advice for GMing, or in this case, general advice period. I'll have to try and keep this in mind.

Zzarchov said...

Well, I guess drinking after a game is out. I'd hate to be replaced with Ashton Kutcher.