Random Encounter – Confessions of a Game Master

November 7, 2016 Kurt 2 comments

Game Master Burn out.

I began my career gaming at the age of 13 My my early 40s I had been behind the GM screen for decades. I was now living in the golden age of table top. The Satanic Panic of the 80s was long over and now forgotten.
Dungeons and Dragons was now in its 5th edition. GenCon Indy had become so big it now occupied a convention center, several hotels and a sports stadium. New games were everywhere and old ones were undergoing a renaissance. My personal favorite, Traveller finally released its definitive 5th edition. Polyhedral dice were available by the pound on Amazon.com and RPG books are everywhere.


We had become a legitimate hobby.


I have even had a steady game group for the last seven years. A table of good people who share my interests and despite a gap in ages are in a similar stage of life. We went to GenCon together, stayed in a hotel room for days and we are all still friends.


I play in an excellent venue consisting of a well appointed and finished basement. Yes a basement. There we have a library of the best gaming books, fridge, sink and stove for making frozen pizzas. We roll dice on a table that is a credible copy of those fancy gaming tables you see at GenCon. It’s nearly perfect.


Then it happened.


At first it seemed that my pacing was off. Then I noticed my plots were getting bit thin. Then I stopped bringing plot every week to the game. Then it was every other week. At work I run a club where table top is one of our activities. It trailed off. Before long I had stopped seeing many of my regulars and when yearbook photo time came around in the spring not many kids showed up.


It felt for a time as if I was failing. I would sit down at the table with pages of notes, plans, a directory of NPCs, plot twists, and all the fixings. I felt that the experience I was providing was flat, uninspired. The spark was gone and I couldn’t get excited about my own plot. It was as if I had simply run out of ideas.


For over two decades I ran far more than I played. I was proud of that. I would have a game ready to go. I had the plot planned weeks in advance. I was ready to turn on a dime when they made decisions that broke the world. But now it was just a wasteland of tired tropes and stock NPCs. I felt I could not inspire others or myself. I spent months vaguely cranky as a hobby I have loved for decades now did nothing for me. I went to game night. Played and had a good time. But in my mind I knew that I had no ideas and no game to offer. I even skipped GenCon this year. It was distressing in the extreme. I’m not a master of the craft nor do I possess any special talent but I can run a game well enough to entertain myself and my friends. At least I had.


I was suffering from GM Burnout.


There is no easy cure for GM Burnout but it can be treated.
First tell your group. They are there for you. Don’t make excuses or say you are going to run and then wimp out.


Put the plot down. Step away. Don’t feel pressured to run anything. Just play. If you don’t want to do tabletop try something else for a time. Don’t get bitter.


You may also want to reassess you group? Have times changed? Do you still meet each other’s needs? Perhaps you started playing together in high school and now times have changed. Perhaps a new baby or spouse has changed the dynamic and thing just don’t click how they did at one time. Is it you? Have you experienced a life altering event that has left you changed? If you live in a major metropolitan area and you have the chance to try another group. Communicate your concerns with your group but be tactful. Remember this is a game, a hobby and it is about having a good time.
I think the Fear the Boot crew articulated well what we all already knew. “Don’t be a jerk.”


When the time is right you will know. Could be weeks, or months. You might even walk away from it for years.


On your road to recovery you may need some support.
Go to your local library. Get books you have never read before. Watch movies outside your comfort zone. When the time is right go to your FLGS or Amazon. Get just one book from Indy Press Revolution. Read something new.


Podcasts. If you are here give us a listen. Hit the major services and mine them for inspiration and steal ideas. Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff and Fear the Boot are excellent places to start. Since you are here give us a lister as the price is right.


Go to a gaming convention. If you can’t make it to GenCon Indy or don’t want the hassle of a big convention go to a smaller convention like Fear The Con in St. Louis. Meet new gamers and get some fresh ideas and inspiration. Most of all, take your time. Don’t force it. In time you can return to a normal life.

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