How to Deal with GM Fatigue

No matter how much you enjoy running games for your friends, sometimes you need a break.

By William McAusland (Outland Arts)

By William McAusland (Outland Arts)

 

By and large, the GM is the most invested member of any gaming group. After all, he is likely the person spending the most time and money getting ready for the game. With modules to prep, figures to buy and paint and a campaign world to develop GMing can see like a full-time job.

Inevitably, at some point, the pressures of real life will crush a GM’s motivation. That’s why, every GM suffers from GM fatigue every now and then.

How you deal with GM fatigue is critical. The GM’s influence on the game is pivotal. If he is tired, unmotivated or off his game the entire session suffers. Obviously, this isn’t ideal.

Sometimes, the fatigue is a short-term issue. If this is the case, you’ve got a couple of options:

  • Cancel the session: After all, missing one session isn’t going to kill the group or derail a regular game.
  • Play Something Else: You could play a board game or a card game. (Exploding Kittens is awesome!) You all still get to game, but the GM doesn’t have to prepare.
  • Someone Else Runs a One-Shot: This only works normally if you give the other players a decent amount of warning. Normally, letting the group know the morning of the game you fancy a break doesn’t give someone else enough time to prepare something else.

If the fatigue is a more long-standing problem, the group needs to come to a more drastic solution:

  • End the Campaign: This is the “nuclear” option and should only be used as a last resort. Normally, by the time a GM suffers serious burnout the campaign has been running for some time. It’s a shame to throw all that progress away.
  • Pause the Campaign: Sometime, the GM still enjoys the game but needs to take a break. In this instance, getting someone else to run something for a while is a great solution. Most commercially purchased adventures will last for multiple sessions which provides the normal GM a decent amount of time off to recharge his batteries.
  • Use a Temporary GM: A couple of years ago in my Borderland of Adventure campaign, I took a short break from GMing. One of the other players volunteered to run a one-shot adventure and luckily that adventure fit perfectly into the campaign setting! He ran the adventure, and we set it in the overall campaign. This was cool as it kept everyone in touch with the campaign, it gave me a break and let me play and enabled everyone else to roll up new characters that could conceivably enter the main campaign in the future.

Got Anymore Tips?

Have you suffered from GM fatigue? How did you deal with it? Let us know in the comments below and help GMs everywhere enjoy their “job” more.

Creighton is the publisher at Raging Swan Press and the designer of the award winning adventure Madness at Gardmore Abbey. He has designed many critically acclaimed modules such as Retribution and Shadowed Keep on the Borderlands and worked with Wizards of the Coast, Paizo, Expeditious Retreat Press, Rite Publishing and Kobold Press.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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13 thoughts on “How to Deal with GM Fatigue

  1. My group has started switching weeks. There are two GMs who alternate putting on completely different games.

    • We do the same. I run my home-brew PF campaign one week and my son is running us through Rise of the Runelords adventure path on the other week.
      As for keeping the stories straight, we just do a quick recap of the campaign journal, and it probably helps that the 3 “full time players” are playing different class PCs in the 2 games.
      APs or other modules are a great way to entice one of your players to take on the GM mantle, even if just for a few weeks while you’re allowed to be a player. I personally think almost anyone could GM, especially with a seasoned GM there to help them with any sticky spots in the rule. With any long term group of friends there should also be a lot of support knowing you’re new behind the screen.

      • Yeah works out pretty well. Our group has two GMs as well. Both are running Pathfinder campaigns. Worlds and stories are wildly different so switching between the campaigns isn’t too tough, but we tend to go a month or two in between switches to let each story develop a little more.

  2. I have never burned out on GMing in 33 years of running, sometimes as much as 6 games a week, though more usually 2-3. Sure, some nights I don’t feel like running that specific campaign, and sometimes I’ve been sick or had a headache… but I once ran a game night with a screaming migraine from under a quilt in the middle of the floor of the game room.

  3. Our DM went through some fatigue a couple years back and it was a TPK that night. 6 years of gaming down the drain. We learn from that.

  4. This blog is fantastic! I was just reading through your list of words for gamers, love it! There is some great advice here for GM-ing. I’ve been running various RPG’s with the kids at my work for about 10 years. The longest running is a home brew campaign and I’m beginning to feel the GM fatigue. I can’t really nuke the game and I can’t have a break from it either. We have several children that leave the group every year to go to high school and this year, there is a particular young lady who has been playing for about 3 years and her character is very close to reaching her goal of lvl 30. I don’t want to disappoint her before she leaves. We have our winter break soon and I’m hoping two weeks off will be enough time to recuperate. Thanks for all the excellent advice on
    gm-ing.

  5. My group has two active campaigns at once. We switch off every couple of months to combat GM fatigue. It can get pretty bad, and this also allows the GM to have time to prepare a lot more material for when they start back up again. Our group enjoys the arrangement. As one of the GMs I am really happy we have it. After a couple months of sessions, I am ready for a little break and want to play again for a bit.

  6. Some of my long-time gaming friends and I have been playing a round-robin-DM game for some time, gradually building out the co-owned homebrew setting a piece at a time. We run with a character tree concept, so can have sessions happen in a variety of places & character levels depending on who can make the session. There’s a little stress on occasion, but for the most part, we’re having a ton of fun taking turns with low stress.

    I recommend it highly, if you have a group that can support it.

  7. Talking things over with other GM’s helps if the plot seems to be getting away from you. Sometimes you’ve introduced so many plot arcs that, even if you know how you want it all to end, you’re not sure how to get there from here.