log in or register to remove this ad

 

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.

burnout-2158500_960_720.jpg

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!
 

log in or register to remove this ad

Andrew Peregrine

Andrew Peregrine


log in or register to remove this ad

Bravesteel25

The Good-est Knight
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.
This is very similar to how I feel now. I used to be EXTREMELY into straight fantasy. If it didn't have Dwarves, Elves, and Orcs then I probably wasn't going to be interested. This affected the books I read, the RPGs I played (both computer and pen and paper), as well as board games.

I'm not that person anymore. I've given fantasy a break and I've come back to run a small game of D&D after our PF2 GM moved away suddenly, but even when we were playing in the PF2 campaign I was mostly going through the motions.

These days I can't get enough Star Wars. I want to play Star Wars board games, Star Wars RPGs, and consume Star Wars media. The only problem is the rest of my group, besides one moderate fan, just want to keep consuming the same old fantasy pie supplemented with their hot takes on anime.

I think I'll step back from playing after this campaign if they don't want me to run a Star Wars game. I was never stuck being a GM, but being one now has really clarified how I feel about fantasy. I'm not going to intentionally cut the game short. I know where I want it to end up, but I haven't put in any work into how to get there. I basically make it up as we go along, not even referencing any actual monster stats etc.

That was quite a ramble, but writing it out helped clarify how I'm feeling. Hehe. :)
 

Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
This is very similar to how I feel now. I used to be EXTREMELY into straight fantasy. If it didn't have Dwarves, Elves, and Orcs then I probably wasn't going to be interested. This affected the books I read, the RPGs I played (both computer and pen and paper), as well as board games.

I'm not that person anymore. I've given fantasy a break and I've come back to run a small game of D&D after our PF2 GM moved away suddenly, but even when we were playing in the PF2 campaign I was mostly going through the motions.

These days I can't get enough Star Wars. I want to play Star Wars board games, Star Wars RPGs, and consume Star Wars media. The only problem is the rest of my group, besides one moderate fan, just want to keep consuming the same old fantasy pie supplemented with their hot takes on anime.

I think I'll step back from playing after this campaign if they don't want me to run a Star Wars game. I was never stuck being a GM, but being one now has really clarified how I feel about fantasy. I'm not going to intentionally cut the game short. I know where I want it to end up, but I haven't put in any work into how to get there. I basically make it up as we go along, not even referencing any actual monster stats etc.

That was quite a ramble, but writing it out helped clarify how I'm feeling. Hehe. :)
To be clear, I played all kinds of genres as they arose. Got into D&D in 1977...and a couple years later, lost my first PC to Traveller’s legendary character background tables. A few more years later, picked up the first edition of Champions.

But most of the players I played with and especially GMed for were fantasy purists, particularly in the past 20 years. So that was what I ran most often, and at least in part before that, that was what got eroded in me.

I’ll play any genre, but it’s going to be hard for me to be a fantasy GM again for some time.
 

Bravesteel25

The Good-est Knight
To be clear, I played all kinds of genres as they arose. Got into D&D in 1977...and a couple years later, lost my first PC to Traveller’s legendary character background tables. A few more years later, picked up the first edition of Champions.

But most of the players I played with and especially GMed for were fantasy purists, particularly in the past 20 years. So that was what I ran most often, and at least in part before that, that was what got eroded in me.

I’ll play any genre, but it’s going to be hard for me to be a fantasy GM again for some time.
Completely understand. I used to play different genres, but the store I play at now is heavily into D&D and other RPGs may as well not exist as far as the community is concerned. The majority have come into RPGs through 5E, so they can be forgiven and I was much the same back during 3E when I started gaming heavily. It does get tiresome though!
 

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.
[...]

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

[...]

You are relieved when gaming is cancelled

[...]

Prep work takes longer

[...]

You are not doing any prep

[...]

You look for excuses to end early

[...]

I suffer from bipolar-depression... all but the first are, and have been, issues for every week since about the 30th of september, 1987.

For me, I do need to game. Absolutely a must-do — gaming is how I cope with stress. And, generally, I'd rather run than be a player. (I simply enjoy it more, even if it's in a low-GM input game like HotBlooded/B&H.) My psychologist got me started on wargaming in 1979, with AH's Outdoor Survival and 1776. (I own copies of both.) It's part of how I cope with the rage that modern society causes in me.

At least once a week, I have a feeling that I should cancel or short-session game. That usually lasts about 2-4 hours if I'm on my meds, 1-2 days if not.

My sunday game takes a good bit of prep, thanks to VTT.

My friday game, less so.

That said... my learning style makes it hard for me to learn without typing or writing.... and I have multiple RSIs: carpal tunnel syndrome, "tennis elbow" (from fencing), and 8 cases of trigger finger. (Last night, neither middle finger would close, nor the left index, nor right ring.)

... and I love trying new games. It helps keep my brain active. (Neuroplasticity is use-or-lose.)

So, ami I burned out? Overall? No. But outside stresses are kicking my arse this month. Specific settings and/or Rules? Yes. I'm out of ideas for Trek and Star Wars. I'm not happy with my attempts at Vassen adventure writing. So....
I'm hoping my daughter will run L5R, TOR, or similar. And I'm going to change from SG1 to Pendragon.... which said, I can easily handle improv in Pendragon. Plus, 2 of 6 are excited by the prospect, 2 more are happy with it, 1 is uninterested, and 1 hasn't spoken about it.
 


Von Ether

Adventurer
This is very similar to how I feel now. I used to be EXTREMELY into straight fantasy. If it didn't have Dwarves, Elves, and Orcs then I probably wasn't going to be interested. This affected the books I read, the RPGs I played (both computer and pen and paper), as well as board games.

I'm not that person anymore. I've given fantasy a break and I've come back to run a small game of D&D after our PF2 GM moved away suddenly, but even when we were playing in the PF2 campaign I was mostly going through the motions.

These days I can't get enough Star Wars. I want to play Star Wars board games, Star Wars RPGs, and consume Star Wars media. The only problem is the rest of my group, besides one moderate fan, just want to keep consuming the same old fantasy pie supplemented with their hot takes on anime.

I think I'll step back from playing after this campaign if they don't want me to run a Star Wars game. I was never stuck being a GM, but being one now has really clarified how I feel about fantasy. I'm not going to intentionally cut the game short. I know where I want it to end up, but I haven't put in any work into how to get there. I basically make it up as we go along, not even referencing any actual monster stats etc.

That was quite a ramble, but writing it out helped clarify how I'm feeling. Hehe. :)

Best then to sneak in the sci-fi stuff with a sci-fi 5e engine.
 

Bravesteel25

The Good-est Knight
Best then to sneak in the sci-fi stuff with a sci-fi 5e engine.
Yeah, I’ve thought about using that, or using the SW5E fan rules that have been made. That being said, I’m just as burnt out on the system itself, so I think I will have to do some major convincing to get them to learn the basics of FFG’s system.
 


qbalrog

Explorer
As a long time gamer and most often the referee, especially for the last decade, I agree with your analysis, including the "no prep at all and wing it": it works but it isn't usually memorable.

There can be external factors that get me close to burnout, generally it's when work is very intense, but the thing that has most often tipped me into burnout is when my players become hard to schedule and we keep falling short of critical mass. It's not fun to invest a lot of prep time, have the session cancelled, and then have to pick up the pieces of that session some time later. Whenever that happens too many times in a row, I tend to lose interest in the game, as do the players who forget what is going on.

At present though, full speed ahead. Even started a second PF2 game when I couldn't find one to play in although that 2nd campaign will be my first published adventure in almost 4 decades. I'm trying one of the AP on roll20. Still takes a lot of reading but cuts out having to pick monsters and find/make maps. First campaign is approaching session 20 and I've got some absent player rules in place which help when are just short 1-2.

And for game continuity, I keep an adventure log on Obsidian Portal. It isn't an attempt at a narrative but writing it helps me fix the game and it provides a useful reference. Plus it has proved quite useful for recruiting.
 


pemerton

Legend
I have been GMing more-or-less continuously since 1990. Frequency has gone down, though, with 2020 the lowest dip at about a session a month.

I don't think I've ever experienced burnout.
 

Related Articles

Visit Our Sponsor

Latest threads

An Advertisement

Advertisement4

Top