Hello Game Masters, Facilitators, and Storytellers!
Running games for friends and strangers is a creatively and socially rewarding experience. There are few experiences I enjoy more than setting up a truly magical moment for my players. That said, running a table can take a lot more work than playing at one. Many GMs give up campaigns midway or stop GMing altogether due to burnout. Here’s a few ways to tackle burnout before it begins and help you recuperate once it sets in.
Tip 1: Set a schedule that works with your life
Far too many GMs burn out because they have a ton of great ideas in their heads for campaigns and rush to implement them all at once. A month or two down the line, they find themself running multiple campaigns in different settings or systems and their brain gets pulled in too many directions. Or maybe they’re great at keeping five campaigns separate, but real life gets in the way and after a few cancellations, the thought of restarting makes them tired.
Know your limits. Try not to GM every day. Maybe not even every week. Take a good look at your schedule and see what works with you and your table.
Tip 2: Mix up who the GM is
A lot of GMs burn out because they’re the “perma-GM.” That is a lot of pressure to put on one person, especially if you’re running a more traditional game where the GM does the bulk of the world-building. If you’ve played PbtA games at your table (and if you’re reading this blog, I’m assuming you are at least familiar with them), you have probably already experienced your players chipping in on the world-building front. At least one of them is or has the capability of being a fantastic GM, even if they don’t know it yet. Give them a chance to shine.
Having a rotating GM between campaigns can breathe life into stale tables and refresh player dynamics as well as ease your burden. Give it a shot!
Tip 3: Change up the game
A wise woman told me “the hardest ttrpg to learn is your second one.” Learning a new game can be daunting, but rewarding. A new game or new game system opens up the table to new types of player interactions. No longer are you giving them monsters to fight every week, but people (or let’s be real, monsters) to fall in love with or corporations to overthrow!
If you’re feeling tired of the same rules or the same types of stories, mix up the game and see what wacky shenanigans you and your table come up with together.
Tip 4: Take breaks
The easiest way to recover from burnout is to rest. This means taking actual time off between campaigns and scheduling time off if you’re a professional GM. Be a player in someone else’s campaign instead of planning your own. Do something completely unrelated to ttrpgs and find inspiration for the next campaign or one-shot there. Watch tv, draw in your sketchbook, read a book, take a walk, listen to music, go swimming, play in a pile of puppies, whatever suits you! The point is to take actual time off to clear your head and refresh your soul.
Tip 5: Know when to stop
If a campaign or play group is draining you, know it’s ok to step away even permanently if you have to. You do not owe an unhealthy table your time or your energy. This is not to say that all burnout is related to unhealthy table environments, but unhealthy tables can certainly expedite it. If you have gone through all of the steps of having a healthy table and you are still drained every time you sit down with them, perhaps it’s time to let that table go. Even if this is a table of friends, perhaps they are friends that you simply cannot run this game —or perhaps any game— for. Just because someone is a great friend does not mean they are a great friend to roleplay with.
Your life has more value than facilitating one game.
The best way to cope with burnout is to not be burned out at all. Hopefully, by scheduling your games in a way that suits your life, rotating the GM at your table, and mixing up the games you play, you can ease the burden felt by one person (you). Between GMing, be sure to rest, recover, and feel confident to leave an unhealthy environment. The only real cure for burnout is rest and recuperation, so if you are currently burned out, please rest and don’t feel guilty about taking care of yourself. If you aren’t burned out, please take care of yourself so you stay healthy and happy!
Jessica Marcrum (she/her)