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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

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.
I'm hoping I can get those few people I mentioned above to DM for a few games here and there so we can rotate every few games. I can definitely use a break. Also a little friendly competition goes a long way to getting my head back in the game. Another thing Ive noticed because my group is made up of 6 people, of which only 1 person besides myself has ever DM'd before, is the one person who has seems to pay attention and interact more than the rest of the players. I think its because they can appreciate the work that goes into putting together a game and keeping it together.
 

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pogre

Legend
I wonder if session length has some place in the discussion. I play for only two and half hours on tuesday but 5 hours on sunday.
Certainly true for me. I burned out on our online weekly Sunday game that was scheduled for four hours every week. I put it on hiatus until we can return to face-to-face. I am running a weeknight WFRP campaign weekly for 2 - 2.5 hours and enjoying that much more.
 


Azhmodai

ye Liveliest Awfulness
I'm burned out on my current campaign (Horror on the Orient Express for CoC) for a lot of reasons, but mostly because my players prefer fantasy over horror. Also, as great as the 7E boxed set is, I really wish there was better support for VTT as far as maps, tokens, etc. I hope a future version of this campaign includes the digital support to make it as visually stunning as it should be.
 

SirFrog

Explorer
Hmm, while doing minimal prep may be a sign of burnout, I am stronger GM when I go minimal prep for a session. I’ve learned that over years of trying to prep ahead of time. The idea of prepping actually gave me burnout

I will read and collect ideas in my bag of tricks to pull out when necessary
 

TrippyHippy

Adventurer
Long campaigns can be really challenging - particularly if you have to hiccup between last minute cancelled sessions frequently. I do think that players ought to take responsibility, if they have committed to a game, to ensure that GMs are fully supported for the efforts they put in.
 


Zsong

Explorer
I'm burned out on my current campaign (Horror on the Orient Express for CoC) for a lot of reasons, but mostly because my players prefer fantasy over horror. Also, as great as the 7E boxed set is, I really wish there was better support for VTT as far as maps, tokens, etc. I hope a future version of this campaign includes the digital support to make it as visually stunning as it should be.
I can not comprehend virtual tabletop games. But a horror game seems impossible. But darn do wish I could play online.
 


Von Ether

Adventurer
Probably the biggest urge to switch game systems (beyond gamer ADHD) is to avoid burn out. D&D is not just the game system but now its own genre and tropes. Just switching to Esper Genesis (a 5e engine for SciFi ) was a breath of fresh air. We went from dungeon crawls to heists and even more crazy shenanigans.

My next campaign is going to be fantasy adjacent, but the system is not going to be D&D to keep things fresher longer. It also has things that I'm currently enjoying like player facing rolls.
 

Inchoroi

Adventurer
I've been burnt out before, but not with the game or DMing--but with the setting I was using. I just realized it was...well, in a word, Bad. Its flaws were too much and was driving me crazy. So, I switched settings and campaigns and started a new game; not much of an issue after that. I do find myself wishing I had a lot more time to plan, because there's really not much time with me working 60+ hours a week...
 


Erekose

Eternal Champion
I sorta burned out years ago. I found myself making mistakes that diminished the quality of my running a D&D homebrew. Shortly after wrapping up that campaign- and apologizing to my players for the mistakes I made- I realized my FRPG wellspring had run dry.

i still had ideas- many posted on this site- I just didn’t feel like doing the necessary work of bringing them to fruition.

Complicating matters, the tap for ideas in OTHER genres was going strong, but the group I was in wasn’t really on board. I tried one Mutants & Masterminds campaign, but it fizzled, partly because of my unfamiliarpity with the system, partly because the system modeled some things in ways nobody liked. (I had wanted to run it in HERO, but got no takers.)

So I haven’t run a game in 6+ years.
Sounds painfully familiar ... including a very brief trial run of 5E, and then reverting to a short homebrew 3.5E campaign, I haven’t run more than a dozen sessions in nearly 10 years!
 

Certainly true for me. I burned out on our online weekly Sunday game that was scheduled for four hours every week. I put it on hiatus until we can return to face-to-face. I am running a weeknight WFRP campaign weekly for 2 - 2.5 hours and enjoying that much more.
Indeed! 3 hours is my maximum.
3 hrs is about right for me. We play every other week on a Friday for about 3 hours. For me the more often I play the longer I can play for, as in I can run longer sessions because its easier to improv.
 






MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
I've been running a monthly 8-hour game since 5e came out and have never been burned out. I like long sessions. I think I would get more burned out if I had to prepare for shorter, but more frequent sessions. We've continued on-line and while there have been some frustrations related to technology, that has more to do we me tinkering with things more than I need to, but I eventually found a happy medium.

I recently started a new Mage the Ascension 20th Anniversary game and its been the first time I've experience burnout in years. Trying to master such a complex and poorly organized system while struggling with a heavy workload may not have been the smartest idea. But I love building the story and I really like the flavor of Mage and how magic works in that came, which has kept me on the long uphill climb to learn the system. Also, I'm pushing a lot of the responsibility to know the rules on the players.

We'll see how it goes. I'd hate to pull the rug from under the other players, who really want to play a Mage game, but when gaming starts stressing me out like work, then its time to do something else with my downtime.
 

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