I apologize for the late post! My life has been hectic of late. I recently got laid off for budget cuts at my old job and was frantically trying to get a new one. I work a late shift now and my sleep schedule has been off-kilter lately. Anyways, here’s the newest article.
After the end of my last campaign that spanned almost 2 years, I decided to take a break for 3 months and recharge my brain. It was a long adventure in Eberron for my players. In game time, they played through 6 years of incredible journeys, epic battles, and unresolved mysteries, but the one who suffered the most strain after that adventure was myself. I admit, after that last session I was almost relieved to be done with D&D.
There were several things that played into those emotions:
1. Life had finally started to catch up with me. This campaign lasted through my junior and senior years of college. Through those two years I was the captain of a national championship winning soccer team, maintaining my GPA to graduate with high honors, going through my first years as a husband, being a dad, working 3 jobs, and volunteering on weekends as a teacher and mentor. My plate was full, and my eyes were certainly bigger than my stomach.
2. I had quit playing D&D with a group of guys at school recently because I felt as though they played the game completely wrong. I’m all for spending time with friends, but I believe the world my characters live in is bigger than my characters. There comes a point when cookie-cutter characters and metagaming ruin the experience, and suspend my disbelief. This was hard for me to break away from, but it was necessary. My time is too precious to waste it playing a game I love in an agonizingly stupid way. There’s nothing between these guys and me as people, just disagreements on how the game should be run.
3. Myself. I’m a perfectionist at heart. My greatest competition is always myself. Because of my drive to always craft a perfect game with a story designed to blow you all away, I found myself simultaneously energized and worn out from story crafting. I put a lot of work into story plot, meaningful battles (not just time-fillers), meaningful discoveries, plot seeds (plot points that are planted early on, then grow into beautiful plot twists), NPC dialogue, and NPC accents. I hate when all NPCs sound the same and act the same. I enjoy making each character speak uniquely, and act individually. Again, my world is never cookie-cutter. It’s worth saving. I remember spending hours splitting my concentration between school, campaign plotting. It got to the point that I couldn’t keep my mind off of the story. As a storyteller, and novel writer, I had been sucked in too far. I needed to separate.
So what does all this have to do with the head mirror of the doctor? Simply put, it means this: Know when to take a break. Don’t let yourself suffer from DM burnout. Anyone who has DMed for a significant length of time knows that DMing is a labor of love, that requires a lot of patience and care to see your children (players) advance the story the way you always knew it could be advanced in your mind. They may not take it down the same road you had in mind, but the product is what we’re after, and doesn’t it look gorgeous when it’s all said and done?
That’s why DMs care so much about the game they run. No DM wants their game to be run-of-the-mill crap that seems like a video game, or that is clearly ripped off of some movie. D&D is great because it isn’t a video game. It’s free flowing, and bound by your imaginations. If I wanted to play a video game, I’d play FIFA, or Rune Factory. I hate most RPGs, because the characters almost always suck.
What are the signs of DM burnout?
1. You start pointless arguments about the game based on stylistic differences. It’s fine to argue about style when it comes to DMing, but don’t argue about something unless it’s actually worthy changing. This is one that I was guilty of a lot. Instead of arguing, help people see why their games suck, and why their DMing style sucks. Tell them why it’ll help their game improve. This may be tough for some people to hear, but their are universal ways that D&D should be played. Anyone who tells you otherwise is either naive, or full of copious amounts of crap.
2. You find yourself wanting to end sessions of D&D quickly to finish the story. This one hit me hard during the end of my last campaign. I had set an end date with my wife on when my game would end. She needed me, and I needed to let it go for a while. I had come to the point where I was playing the game out of obligation to complete my story with my friends, and not because I loved the game. That’s when I knew that I needed to take a break.
3. The amount of DM mistakes you make in a game on average goes up. As stated before, I’m a perfectionist. I noticed that as the game was nearing its end, my mistakes were going up as well. Boneheaded mistakes that any DM should catch. Sometimes my players didn’t notice, but sometimes they did. What killed me the most was that I wasn’t noticing them as much. Only after the game and I recapped my wife on everything that happened did I catch how many awful mistakes I made. I knew it was time for a break.
Why write all this down? Simple. If you are a DM and you are reading this, please learn when you need to take a break from your game. If you are a player in someone else’s game, learn to recognize when your DM is struggling and suggest a break. Perhaps scheduling an off-week every 2 months or so for people to recharge their batteries would do everyone some good. No one should get burned out on anything, let alone something they love to do.
As we brought my last campaign to an end, the time came to decide what we should do next.
We decided on the multi-award winning system from Monte Cook, and Monte Cook Games called Numenera. If you haven’t heard about this system (I don’t know how that’s possible) then go look it up. It’s thoroughly well made, and has been a blast to play.
I was blessed and honored to be asked by the players to DM another campaign for them. Knowing that I was burned out, I took 3 months off from any and all RPGs to rest my mind and begin with fresh ideas. My mind had to rest, and heal from D&D. I didn’t just stop DMing, but I didn’t read any articles, any books, or listen to any podcasts during that break period. That extended rest brought my mind back to full health, and I was ready to attack another world, and another group of PCs with deadly monsters, frustrating traps, a world that needed help, and people who were looking for saviors.
Ultimately, the job of the DM is to provide a group of friends a gaming experience that they will never experience anywhere else. And you can’t do that when you burn both ends of the candle all the time.
Take a break, learn from other successful DMs, and if you stop loving it, stop running a game. DMing is a labor of love, and only love for your friends, and love for telling a dynamite story can keep you going.
Your learning DM,