Dealing with Dungeon Master Burnout
I’d wager that Dungeon Master burnout is one of the top 3 reasons for a D&D campaign dying off. It can be a lot of work to prep for your sessions, doubly so if you’re creating a homebrew campaign.
Depending on how experienced a DM you are you may even deal with some stage-fright before you start the game each session. This can weigh heavily on a DM and make prep work a chore even if they enjoy actually running the game once they’ve gotten past the stage fright.
Let’s face it, players have some responsibilities outside of the game such as making sure their character sheets are up-to-date, but it’s nowhere near the amount of work that a DM puts in. It’s nice when your players give you a helping hand or encourage you when you’re doing a good job, but that only goes so far.
Compound this risk of burning out even more if you’re running multiple games or are creating homebrew content. The more you engross yourself in any hobby the more likely you are to experience burnout.
The good news is is that burnout is only temporary. Usually, it only lasts for a short while until you find something in the hobby that draws you back in. So for this Monday let’s talk about burnout and how to deal with it in the meantime!
Build a Backlog
When I have a chance to and have a good idea to build out the world, write some plot hooks, or create some dungeons and adventures I’ll sit down and create some extra content for my games. Obviously, I don’t do this when I feel burnt out, but it’s extremely helpful for those times that I am.
Having some sort of backlog can give you the leeway to either skimp-out on prep work for the next game or take time off from preparing while not having to cancel your next session. Trust me, you’ll thank yourself later for giving yourself some breathing room.
The issue with building up a backlog though is that you’ll be assuming you know what your players are getting themselves into. There’s always that chance that your backlog is full of great content that your party will never end up touching.
Be sure you don’t railroad your party into using your backlog if you choose to build one up. If it ends up not being used just stow it away for another campaign or a group to use!
Lower Your Prep Time
Run an Adventure Module
Running a complete adventure module that requires a minimal amount of prep work can be a great compromise. This could come in the form of a one-shot adventure or you could find something that fits in with the theme of your regular campaign.
One-shots don’t have to be a single session either. Depending on the size of the module that you choose a one-shot could last between 1-4 sessions in my experience. It depends on how fast your players are and how dense that the module is. A module that has a lot of role-playing can make for a longer game.
Adventure modules are also a great way to expose yourself to new ways of writing your own adventures and settings. Seeing how other DMs write adventures, balance encounters, make traps, and draw maps can teach you some new tips and tricks.
If you’re looking for recommendations for your next adventure module or one-shot look no further!
Prep Smarter, Not Longer
Taking more time to prep your game doesn’t mean that it’s going to be a better game. You may spend time developing areas that your players never touch, or you’ll find that in the spur of the moment it’s better to improvise rather than write out the rigid dialogue you spent so long on.
Great, memorable encounters aren’t built by spending an hour on each one. They’re made by thinking out of the box or homebrewing something truly unexpected. None of which requires hours upon hours of toiling over your notes.
Figure out what’s important in your games. Write notecards for your NPCs that give you some basic information. Be ready to throw out your notes and improvise instead. It’s better to create an outline than to write out every possible scenario because I guarantee you won’t think of every single option.
I’ve written a whole post about how much time you should spend prepping a session. In general, I like to stick to a maximum of 1/2 the time of the next session spent as prep time. Limiting yourself to a certain amount of time can help you avoid DM burnout altogether.
Take Time Off
Don’t be afraid to call a game off regardless of how frequently your group meets up. Even if your group meets up once a month you shouldn’t force yourself to run a game you’re not having fun in. This doesn’t mean your group can’t hang out, you just don’t want to run your D&D game.
I’ve mentioned before that it’s better to call a game off than run one that’s sub-par. It sucks running a game that you’re not having fun in, and your players can definitely notice if your heart isn’t into it.
Sure, there are sometimes where you have to push through it because you’ll end up having a fun time, but you’ll be able to tell the difference between dreading running your next game and simply feeling a little uninspired.
When you call a game off don’t be afraid to just chill out and relax. You don’t need to work on a backlog and immerse yourself in D&D or RPG prep. The reason you got burnt out in the first place was that you were probably doing too much of that.
Take part in a different hobby you enjoy. Just do anything outside of prepping D&D. It’s supposed to be a fun hobby for you. Don’t feel guilty for calling off a session only for you to loaf around and watch a movie.
On the other hand, you may just feel like not running your game, but you still want to hang-out with your friends. Suggest a board game night or any other fun activity. You shouldn’t have to choose between D&D and nothing. Plus it can help with attendance if you make a habit to always play something on game night.
Give Someone Else a Chance to DM
Taking time off from DMing a game doesn’t have to mean that your group doesn’t play. Ask your group to run a one-shot or two in your absence to give you time to recoup or build up a backlog of stuff.
Your players may ask for some help with planning a one-shot, but advising them is still less work than prepping for your own game. Plus, everyone loves to get the chance to get out from behind the DM screen.
This is also a great way to give your players a chance to see how they actually like DMing. They’ll be more likely to give it a go if they know it’s only a temporary position. Who knows, they may end up liking it and you’ll get to take more regular breaks!
Even Matt Mercer suggested a few of these same options so you know it’s pretty solid advice. I definitely agree with him about trying to wrap up the story of the game nicely before taking an extended break if it’s possible to do so!
Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good thing to have passions in life and immerse yourself in hobbies and activities you find enjoyable. It’s just that I find that DMs and GMs of D&D and other RPGs have a very high chance of burnout because of how much extra they have to accomplish.
Having great players who get just as invested in your game helps a ton, but even then there are sometimes when you just need a break. Don’t be afraid to take one!
It’s a hobby, it should be fun to prep, run, and plan out your game. The moment that it isn’t is when you need to take a step back and see what you can do to fix it. I can assure you, your group will thank you for canceling a game instead of forcing yourself to prep, run, and be miserable.
That last post is 75% what I attribute my three-year group’s longevity to. I ran for a couple of months before I started to feel tired and burned out. Instead of waiting for those first symptoms to get worse I talked to my group, telling them I wanted to take some time off and would appreciate if someone else wanted to GM a game of their own. One of my players agreed on condition that I offer my advice and act as a sounding board, which I was fine with.
Knowing that the break was coming made it a lot easier for me to pull through for a couple more sessions while I set up a satisfactory stopping place, and then my friend took over with me serving as a co-GM. His game was a little rough at the beginning, but less so than mine because he had my help, and it gave me a great chance to recharge my batteries, clear my head, and figure out where I wanted to go with my campaign.
That one handoff grew into a tradition in our group of running in 3-6 month “seasons” before handing off to another player to run a season of their own game. This has been wonderful as it has ensured that anyone interested can try their hand at GMing and that everybody has a way out when they start feeling burned out. Our group is about three years old now, and still going strong. I’m actually just about to finish the final season of the first campaign that I started all those years ago.