GMing is a blast, except when it isn’t. The constant need to create and design can grind down even the most enthusiastic GM.
I recently had a request to talk a bit about how to keep the passion for design alive. Being a GM is a hard job. The campaign – and gaming session – rests on your shoulders. If you are not ready, the session will either suffer or be canceled. That’s a lot of responsibility. And like any responsibility, it can lead to stress and ultimately burnout.
Luckily, there are several ways you can combat design burnout. Some of the solutions below might not work for you. Alternatively, you might find a mix of solutions will save the day. Experiment and find the right mix for yourself.
- Work on Something in Tier Three: A change is as good as a rest. Hopefully, you already use Three-Tier Design For the Busy GM. Instead of focusing on what you have to design, take some time to design what you want to design. Several times in the last few years I’ve worked on stuff for my Borderland of Adventure campaign that had no immediate application. For example, I’ve already stated up the villain behind the troubles befalling the PCs’ nation. He’s CR 18 and they are level 6. They are very unlikely to meet him in the near future and I expect if they ever do meet him I’ll probably re-design him. Regardless, working on his stat block was fun and a welcome change – it was not time wasted.
- Play Something Else: If you really can’t face working on your main campaign, consider running a couple of one-shot adventures as a change of pace. Choose something for different level PCs and in a different adventure style. Make a complete break.
- Take a Break: Perhaps you need a break from GMing. Instead of just not playing anything, ask one of the players to run a couple of sessions for you. Its fun to be a player for a bit and likely you’ll gain insights you wouldn’t have got from the other side of the screen.
- Remember the Good Times: Your campaign has probably been running for some time if you are facing design burnout. Giving up could potentially throw away all those great times and shared experiences. Remember your burnout will be transitory and that the good times will return.
- Don’t Be Afraid to Do Something Else: Remember, gaming is a fun activity and for a GM design should be fun. There is nothing wrong with giving up and doing something else. Perhaps last year you were mad-keen on ninjas while now you really fancy doing something with pirates and dinosaurs. That’s fine. Trying to force yourself to design something you don’t really want to design is pointless, and will just cause you more stress. Don’t make this decision lightly, but if you do make it don’t look back.
Personally, I find a mix of #1 and #3 fire me up in no time. At the moment, we are on a break from my campaign and a friend is running some 5e. While I’m on the fence about the system itself, it’s tremendous fun to get down and dirty in the mud as a PC. After five sessions, I can feel my enthusiasm for GMing returning!
Help Fellow GMs
Have you suffered from GM Design Burnout? How did you get through it? Let us know in the comments below and help your fellows GMs hurl themselves back into the fray today!