Table Reflection: GM Burnout

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. We’ve probably each heard that several thousand times, but it’s especially true in the case of the Game Master. Burnout is a serious obstacle for many campaigns, but it is also a problem that can be alleviated or prevented entirely with a few simple considerations.First, don’t overextend yourself with the responsibilities you take on. Your leisure time is still leisure time, and while GM’ing is not exactly dull or boring, it can still be straining and stressful, especially if there is a lot of prep work involved in either handling the system or coordinating players. There’s a distinction between leisure time spent doing something you enjoy, and leisure time working at something you enjoy, and it’s only human to need some rest time now and again. Don’t plan how you’re going to run all the games you can imagine, even if you do really enjoy running a game. See how well you do with a small game, then move up, and consider changes in your schedule. When I ran games in college my enjoyment of the campaign changed with my semester’s schedule, and it’s a real concern for new parents, people transitioning jobs, and the like to keep a campaign going with the same gusto as they had in a time with fewer demands on them.

Second, play some. I prefer to try to play in one game for every game I run at a minimum, but even if it’s just about getting in other meaningful leisure time, I suggest that GM’s have some free leisure time around their games. Not only does it help make one less stressed before having to deal with players (which has never gone poorly in the history of tabletop roleplaying game management), but it also gives a time to think about potential ideas outside of a brainstorming session or explicit campaign development; if you can’t play at the table play Skyrim or Deus Ex or another game that will provide elements of inspiration in order to get some idea of how to work elements from them into your narrative.

Finally, admit when you’ve had too much. I’ve burnt out in campaigns and walked away with a cliffhanger ending, and the problem is that the players kept pestering me to continue it, and I didn’t have the heart to tell them that I just didn’t feel the love for it anymore. There’s no shame in admitting that you bit off more than you could chew, or simply that you just aren’t into the game as much any more, and letting go of it allows you to pass the reins to someone who can continue it well.

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