GM burnout is a very serious issue that can destroy a game and even have negative effects on your off-the-table friendships. After all, GMs have a lot of responsibility and pressure, so it’s very important to know what burnout is so you can prevent it and fix it before it’s too late! So this time, we interviewed Dead Aussie Gamer, a professional Game Master who runs over a dozen games per week to tell us all about burnout.

Listen to the interview on Spotify or YouTube!

What is GM burnout and what are its symptoms?

GM burnout happens when you get to a point where the mental fatigue from running or preparing your games has taken over. When this happens, you’ll feel your motivation and the joy of playing the game begin to disappear. It’s really important to remember that burnout is a process, it’s not like one day you’re completely fine and then the next day you’ll be burnt out. This is good news, because it means you can detect it and fix it before it’s too late!

These are the four stages of GM burnout according to DeadAussieGamer:

  1. First stage: you begin mentioning or thinking (even if it’s just in jokes) that you don’t want to be in a game, or that you wish someone else was running it. If you find yourself making these comments regularly, there’s probably a sliver of truth there.
  2. Second stage: exhausting. You start missing preparation, or half-heartedly preparing at the last minute. You’ll begin experiencing physical exhaustion while running the game too, such as yawning.
  3. Third stage: if you reach this state, you’ll begin to lash out and project your frustration to the table. Some examples are making every fight a near-death encounter, or having all NPCs be there only to push the players along.
  4. Final stage: this is the extreme case of burnout, where you start to abuse your party, such as calling them out and being verbally aggressive towards your players.

As you can see, what starts with mild annoyance or frustration can end with real damage to your off-the-table friendships. It’s really important to understand what causes it and how to prevent it so you don’t get to even the first stage!

What causes GM burnout?

We people are very complex beings, so there are many different things that could cause burnout, and as with other things in life, it’s usually multiple causes that come into the play. Here are some of the causes we identified in the podcast:

  • External issues: for better or worse, we have lives beyond the table. Problems in our family, friendships, and work can have a serious impact on our ability to stay motivated.
  • Lack of appreciation: the GM is the member of an RPG group that puts more work into the game. So if the players aren’t engaging as much as you’d like them to, it’s easy to get worn down.
  • Being the jack-of-all-trades: the GM is not just a storyteller, they’re also a performer, a referee, a moderator, and usually the one hosting physical games. These are a lot of roles and pressure for a single person to have week after week.
  • Different goals: sometimes there can be a mismatch between the kind of fun players and the GM want to have. When this happens, everyone will have less fun—but it will especially affect the GM, as the one putting in the most work.

At the end of the day, it all comes down to the fact that the GM has more work, responsibility and, therefore, pressure than the rest of the group. So, knowing this, you can use this information to prevent burnout!

Looking for a community of fellow GMs to share your experiences with and get advice or feedback? Sign up for World Anvil and join our Discord community!

How to prevent GM burnout?

Even if you aren’t feeling burnt out yet, it’s better to take some steps to avoid it! And who knows, maybe while you try these tips you’ll realize you’re on the early stages of burnout. Here are some tips:

  • Self-care: if you don’t take care of yourself, you’ll eventually get burnout. Sleep well, eat and drink well, and spend time with your pets or loved ones.
  • The couch test: the players at your table should be people that you would be ok sitting next to in a couch while watching a movie or doing something else. If there’s someone you wouldn’t want at your side, they might not be a good fit for your group.
  • Stars and wishes: this is a short activity you can do at the end of each session together. Start by celebrating something that you enjoyed and want to highlight. Then, make a wish about something that you would have liked but didn’t happen. If the players do that, you’ll get the appreciation you deserve, and you’ll also be able to see how the players are feeling about the campaign!
  • Keep a creative input going: in order to have creative output, you need to have input too. So make sure you have enough time to read books, watch movies or series, play games, research a topic you are passionate about, or whatever it is that fuels your creativity. It’s really important to make time for this in your day-to-day!

If you’re a player wondering how to help your GM prevent burnout, take some responsibility in the group too! Offer snacks (or pizza!), keep detailed notes and send them to your GM so they have fewer tasks during the game, and even create NPCs or other content related to your backstory and offer them to the GM. GMs love it when players take the story and add to it!

How to fix GM burnout?

But what if you’re already feeling burnt out? You need more than just prevention then! Well, DeadAussieGamer also had great tips to fix it:

  • Take a long break: it might sound obvious, but it’s really important! I know it can feel like you’ll disappoint your players if you do, but I promise you they won’t be disappointed! And if they are, they aren’t the kind of players you want to have at your table anyway. In any case, taking a break from the campaign for a few weeks will let you recharge your creative batteries and come back with renewed energy!
  • Take short breaks: take breaks while you’re running the game too! If you’re feeling anxious about something or need a moment to check some rules or worldbuilding details, don’t be afraid to have a 10-minute break. Your players will understand and you’ll be less stressed for the rest of the session!
  • Encourage your players to GM: some players don’t want to GM simply because they’re afraid they won’t be as good as you are because they have less experience. But if you ask them, you might be surprised and find more than one who wants to GM! This will let you take a break from the campaign all while keeping the group together on schedule and getting to see the game from a different perspective.
  • Prevention is still important: as we talked about in the first section, burning out is a process. This means that if you’re just in the early stages, you can use the prevention tips to avoid getting to later stages too!

Listen to the full interview to learn more about GM burnout!

Want to learn more about GM burnout and how to prevent it? Check out the full interview on YouTube and Spotify!

Who is DeadAussieGamer?

DeadAussieGamer, or Michael as he’s known in real life, is a professional performer and entertainer from Perth, Western Australia specializing in Tabletop RPGs such as Pathfinder, Dungeons and Dragons and many more. Check out his Twitter to find out more about him!

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