GM Burnout

I run a lot of games.  When I say a lot of games I really should write it a LOT OF GAMES.  I like being a gamer and I especially like being a GM.  I like being a GM because it gives me a lot of control and I get to know everything that occurs in the game as opposed to the bit by bit view that occupies the players mind.  One of the dangers of running A LOT of games is that the GM is facing that old chestnut of the burn out.

Listen to some music!

Burnout has claimed me in the past month and my approach in games has been a little lackluster at times.  I am sure my players will come out and say that they have not noticed but it is the truth.  I have been tired and also uttered profanities when I realized that I had organised a game for a particular night.  I have not been prepared for some games and thrown others to the wolves with no preparation hoping my improvisation would carry me through.

What are the symptoms of burnout?  How can you identify it?  These are the main points that I notice when I am approaching or fully arrived in the burn out zone.  Your list may differ but from what I hear a lot of mine are very common.

  1. Lethargy or downright tiredness especially if you are doing something game related (reading rules, preparation or even when you are behind the screen).
  2. Irritability when you think of the games you are running.
  3. Dissatisfaction in the path your games are taking.  Nothing seems to be fun anymore in game.
  4. You begin to take the players comments as personal attacks and you wonder why you bother running the game.
Ride a bike!
So what do I do to break out of it.  I have games that people rely on me running as it is as much their hobby and release as it is usually mine.  I do take time out every now and again while it is unavoidable BUT I always balance that based on the responsibility I chose when I started a game.  It is not easy for me to just say “I am taking a break” because of that reason.  So what do I personally do?

Firstly I attempt to limit my exposure to games.  When I am fully in the swing of things I am reading 5 new games, designing several adventures, querying rules that irk me, working on game related software enhancements and reading all game related posts that tickle my fancy in my G+ stream.  The first thing I do then is cut back in this material.  I really skip through my G+ notifications and only stop on stuff that really screams to me.  I put my RPG’s that I am reading at the bottom of my to read list.  I start a new programming project that has nothing to do with games and I spend a lot more time with my wife and family.

Second thing I do is change my role where I can.  If I can be a player in a game for a while (like my in person group allows) I will shift to that mode for a while and just focus on the one thing.  If I can’t do that I experiment with new focuses in the games where I can.  Things tend to get shaken up so if a game has been stuck in a rut because of my attitude or the player focus I throw in something completely new to invigorate the game.
Play a board game
I shift my focus too.  I like board games that are RPG themed so I go and buy one of them and give it a play for something different.  My kids love these games too so it is a way that we can spend some quality time playing a board game where the rules are clear, laid out and need no interpretation.

Most people advise you to just take a break and that is a good idea if you can.  If you take your GMing responsibilities seriously though that may not be the optimal decision for you.  I would suggest that if you are running a home brew campaign that you invest in a module and run that.  It cuts back on a lot of the work if you can run the game by the book so to speak.

Go out and get excited too.  Go to a park or take a hike.  Hit the ski slopes or swimming at the beach.  Experience real life.  Sit in a cafe and talk to a stranger that is also alone.  Do something that puts you out of your comfort zone.  You will be amazed at how that can recharge the batteries and allow you to change your opinion on things.

Finally, realise that it is a game and if you are happy or annoyed at it, the game exists in your head. It is your choice as to how you view it and you can force yourself to smile, do the work and run the game.  And if you put that act on enough, and the players love your game, that feedback will soon enough turn you around full circle to the point where you are loving the game again!

Hopefully these ideas are useful to you when you too suffer from the dreaded burnout.  Let me know how you go in the comments.  Keep rolling!
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