Are You Burned Out?

Running a game can be hard and quite a responsibility. While players sometimes consider participation optional, without a GM there is no game. Given that, the GM has to do at least some prep work as well before each session, even if it’s just reading an adventure. So the GM doesn’t have the option to forget about the game until game night and just pick up their character and dice. All this can lead to stress and exhaustion, in other words, burn out, and it can affect people in a lot of ways. When times are stressful anyway, it’s important to recognise the signs and give yourself a break.

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Picture courtesy of Pixabay.

I should say before I start, I’m not a psychologist, so don’t take me for an expert. If your mental health is suffering, just a pause in gaming may not be the answer (and gaming might be what’s helping you through). But the following are signs I’ve recognised in myself from time to time. They are usually a warning I need to take a step back from GMing and get a break, if only because I’m tired and the game is suffering for it. While none of the following are indicators of a GM burning out on their own, if you find you have a few of these you may want to consider taking a break. Pushing yourself harder will not only damage the game, but might also damage you.

You find yourself saying “but I have to run the game”

It is easy to feel responsible for everyone else’s fun when you are the GM, but the truth is that everyone is responsible for everyone’s fun. If GMing is becoming a chore it is time to remind the group it may be someone else’s turn. The game may need a GM, but that doesn’t have to be you. If that means no game because no one else can or will step up, then so be it.

You are relieved when gaming is cancelled

You need not fall to the floor wailing and gnashing your teeth when you can’t game for some reason (it would be equally concerning if you did). But if you find yourself breathing a small sigh of relief that you don’t have to run tonight, how keen were you to game? Sure, we all have weeks you can do with an extra evening back, and you may well have enjoyed the game once you dived in and got down to it. But you might want to consider what made the idea of no gaming attractive.

Prep work takes longer

Creating a plan for the game, whether it is elaborately drawn maps or some random notes on the back of an envelope is part of the fun of GMing. Considering what you are going to run and how you will implement that should be enjoyable. It’s like plotting a novel you are going to get other people to write for you. So if it seems more of a chore, or you are taking much longer to get the same amount of work done, maybe your heart isn’t in it. Obviously, if you are taking longer to prep as you are enjoying it and feeling very creative, that’s different. But the more of a slog it all feels is a sign its feeling more like homework.

You are not doing any prep

I’m a big improviser (or a really lazy GM, your mileage may vary) but even I put some thinking time into a game. If you turn up to the session and realise you haven’t even thought of the game since the end of the last one, then maybe you aren’t very invested. This is something that comes up more for an experienced GM. I’ve been doing this long enough that I know I can get through a session starting from nothing and make it up as I go. I can basically get away with it, but I also know it won’t be as good a game as I could run. For some games this works, but even a player driven game needs the GM to have at least considered where to nudge the direction. So, if you aren’t bothering to prep at all, or you have legitimately not had time to prep, you might need get someone else to take over the GM chair.

You look for excuses to end early

It’s usually the GM who calls time on a game, mainly as they know when a good place to break is coming up. We all remember college games where even the sunrise the next day wasn’t enough to remind us to go to bed and stop gaming. But most of us have to call it sooner or later. But if you are always ending just a little ahead of when you expected to, or keep looking for excuses to end early (“Ok guys, this might be a long combat so let’s save it for next week”) it may well be because you are tired or not invested. Whether you are tired of the game or you had a long week, you might want to consider taking some of the load off.

Thankfully, stepping down as the GM doesn’t always mean the game ends though. There are a fair few GM-less games you can play together if there is no one to take over. Fiasco, Umlaut and a host of others are a good option. There are plenty of board games you can play as a group too. However, even GM-less games can often end up with someone needing to take the lead, so fight your GM instincts and let someone else take charge if so.

Depending on your group, actually ending the game might feel like a tough conversation. If someone else is eager to GM, then round off your game to a decent finishing place and let them take the chair. You can always come back to your game some other time, no matter how you left it. If you are the only GM in the group, it’s a lot harder to say ‘we’re not gaming next week, or for some time’. But it is not up to you to provide a game if doing so is causing you harm and stress. Your group are your friends, so they will understand this, and maybe one of them will step up when faced with no game!
 

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Andrew Peregrine

Andrew Peregrine

Marc_C

Solitary Role Playing
I've become better at detecting this. It also helps that other players want to GM in my current group. We alternate GM every 3-5 games. We get to play different rpgs. Currently I run a Fantasy AGE campaign and to other GM runs a Wrath & Glory one (40k).
 

R_J_K75

Legend
Yep. With the holidays since Thanksgiving as we only play once every other week we've only played twice since Halloween. I answered yes to every headline in the article. I even ask my players if they want to cancel in a way that they suggest we do so its not me cancelling the game, even though that was my intention. I dont prep much anymore because we dont play much so what little prep I do is usually day of and its begrudgingly. I've come to resent having to do it at times even, but I suppose its understandable after DMing exclusively for over 20 years. I love the actual playing but I know the game suffers from my lack of enthusiasm and prep but I've also come to conclusion why should I put anymore time into it when the only time the players do is the few hours we play. A player I hadnt played with in a long time recently joined our current group and theyre planning on DMing soon so I hoping this will shake things up a bit.
 

Retreater

Legend
I've found that I have near endless enthusiasm for games I enjoy. When players are excited to be there, interact with the world, seek adventure instead of bickering and constantly debating - that fuels me. When I experience burnout it's because the opposite is true: bored players, problem players.
 

Not even close. Our current weekly F2F campaign is hitting session 31 next week (New Years parties killed the possibility of laying this week), and I've got nine scenarios written up for our next campaign, and am jotting notes for the campaign after that.
 

Not at all burned out. There have been times this year that I've been exhausted, wondering how I was going to manage it, and run the game anyway. The moment we start playing, that fatigue drops away.

Now, I will say for my group that games every other Saturday, those no-gaming Saturdays can be nice. But I always find myself working on the game for next week on them.

In a year that's been so very hard on people, I take my responsibility to give people a chance to see friends online and something to look forward to when all the days can blend together very seriously. And that goes for me as well - I know that gaming has been so important to my mental wellbeing this year.
 

Teraptus

Explorer
I have been burnt out from having a trouble group before. Sometimes I would dread certain people and how they would act in real life based off what happens in the game. I had to make the decision to end a campaign early twice and take some time off and think about what to do next.

I always plan up to 1-2 days prior of game night to give myself enough time to prepare. Start at 7:30pm so I have some extra hours prior in case I need to adjust anything.

Mentally knowing where and when to end each night is critical.
 



HawaiiSteveO

Blistering Barnacles!
That whole list sounds very familiar!

I generally like to GM, and do it 90% of the time but don't always feel like it. I have learned that my players are pretty chill and just want to hang out, roll dice and have fun. I have higher expectations, and want the sessions to be GOOD and often think they sucked.
Players say otherwise, then we usually rinse and repeat :sneaky:!
I also have problem with shiny new book syndrome, and then 1/2 way through wish I had picked something shorter. No more WOTC full length books for me!
A few of my players like to run an odd session here and there, and I find even a few sessions off playing an irritating Halfling really brings back the mojo.
 

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