There comes a time for every game master that she feels her hunger and enthusiasm dwindle. Even that she feels wasted and all her ideas depleted. Game masters burning out is something that happens quite often and though some manage to push through there others that give up and even give up roleplaying for years. Here are a few tips to avoid burn out.

I’m hopelessly addicted to roleplaying. I’m a part of three groups and usually play twice a week. This might seem a lot, but as I said, I’m a roleplaying junkie and this is my fix. However, every now and then I’ve felt completely drained, especially after going through a massive and time consuming campaign, spending hours upon hours planning and writing for my players. There have even come days where I simply couldn’t bear thinking about putting up that screen and flipping back and forth through some sourcebook looking for an obscure rule some of the players referred to.

In fact, many game masters and players feel drained and tired from time to time. And, just as with any other hobby, job or anything we do, this is only natural. Why shouldn’t we feel fatigued or tired every now and then? Game mastering can be so much fun, but it can also be taxing and demanding, after all, you are the arbitrator for a social activity where players constantly call for you attention. Here are five tips to avoid game master burn-out.

  1. Share the responsibilities
    One of the thing that really helps me is to share the responsibilities of the game master. I often ask my players to interpret rolls, look up rules, draw maps and so forth. In one group we have a designated rules lawyer, another player a map maker, one loot keeper and finally a player responsible for writing the adventure log. Each of these roles help me move the game faster along, making sure that I can focus on what I like most about game mastering, setting the story up for my players and see how they react and move the story along.
    You could also have your group take turns as a game master. Whether you choose to share the same campaign or change seats after each campaign, be it long or short stories, as long as you get the chance to swap roles, it can help you avoid burning out, not to mention give you time to recuperate and plan your next story.
  2. Play more than one kind of roleplaying game
    I know a great deal of roleplayers that only play one type of roleplaying game, perhaps D&D or Call of Cthulhu is their main rpg of choice. If that’s what floats your boat, great. However, you can avoid burn-out by mixing up your games.
    Even if you don’t like to try out other roleplaying games than your favorite, you can simply go for a kind of a game you haven’t tried before or in a while. You could try out a new D&D setting or if your group prefers dungeon crawls you could go for a outdoor survival in a session or two. If you usually play 1920’s CoC, you could go and try 1890’s or Cthulhu Dark Ages.  
  3. Have breaks
    Never forget to have breaks. Even just skipping a session every couple of months or so and doing something completely different can be a real life save for the busy game master.
    Many groups I know go on a vacation and take a three or four week break. Just taking your mind of things can be enough, you don’t need to go on a many week vacation. Just going for a walk, watching a film or reading a good book can be just what you needed to rekindle your enthusiasm.
    My wife’s family lives in a small town in the northern part of Iceland. We pay them a visit a few times each year and just being there, changing the scenery and doing something completely different is very often all I need to get new ideas or a new perspective on the games I’m playing.
  4. Mix it up
    The other day one of my fellow game masters said to me, that the thing that he felt most tiresome in his group was the fact that his players always pretty much played the same kind of characters. This can be a hassle and difficult to deal with, since players tend to play the games and character types they like the most.
    As a game master you have tools to deal with this. Perhaps that dungeon has a room where everyone’s gender or races changes and to reverse it the players need to solve a puzzle, where the pieces are hidden all across the dungeon. Or that drug that takes the investigators to the Dreamlands only transports their consciousness, so that they are trapped in different bodies? Maybe in your next campaign the players will need to play evil characters, hellbent on taking over the world. Or they start out as kids, with all the complications that entails.
    Mix it up from time to time, not only is it more fun, but it can also help players to be open to different types of characters. Who knows, perhaps next time you have session 0 your players might surprise you with their different approach and choose a different archetype.
  5. Change the pace
    Often I’ve found that, after playing a campaign that has been taxing and taken a great deal of my time, a simple change of pace can drastically improve my hunger for playing. I think it might be related to, as someone pointed out to me one time, that being bored is the best medicine you can find for creativity. So, if you are playing biweekly, try having a session once a month.
    But this also applies to the sessions themselves. If you’ve been playing a combat heavy campaign, where your players have spent hours upon hours debating strategy, try throwing them into a political situations or have them go through a murder investigation. By changing the pace of the game itself, you might get a fresh perspective and even learn something new, about yourself, your players or even the games themselves.

In my experience, game master burn-outs are mostly due to fatigue. It takes a toll on you planning and designing stories, dungeons and traps, not to mention playing all the NPCs and dealing with the players. Be aware of the fact that things might get too overwhelming and take steps to prevent that happening, and you won’t need to worry about burn-out.

That goes also out to all you players out there, appreciate your game master and share her responsibilities, help make sure that showing up every week with new encounters and a great story doesn’t end up in game master burn-out.