Every long term has suffered from DM burnout. “I just don’t have the same feeling as I did before.” Or “it’s just not that exciting anymore.” And “I just don’t have that spark that I used to have.” Are a few common statements by people suffering from DM burnout.
But what is DM burnout? DM burnout is when a dungeon master has turned from ecstatic or happy to host a Dungeons and D
It is a terrible sickness that usually is only short term, but has made many dungeon masters and campaigns suffer.
Find out why you have DM burnout, find your spark, identify the problem, solve the problem, talk to your players and possibly take time off.
In order to deal with DM burnout, we must figure out why this is happening. The general root causes can be summarized as thus: I don’t have time anymore. My players are not getting it. I am frustrated. I am tired. Or, I am not finding any fun in being a dungeon master.
Why do you think these things happen? If you have an answer you want to give, put it in the comments below and then come back to read my response.
I think that dungeon masters not having enough time is a fixable problem. The real issue is how dungeon masters trained themselves. As you know, everyone DMs differently and there are very few dungeon mastering styles that are wrong, but we get comfortable. We find a way that works for us and we follow it. If we do this, then we will not adapt and change our technique. This is where our self-taught training went wrong.
Look at your life. What is going on? Are you not able to make the time for Dungeons and Dragons? If so do a home game. This means that you can handwave some rules or not spend the time required to read a module. You can also try to perfect mastering the art of making 1 paragraph for an entire town/quest hook, have some monsters ready, and bam you have an adventure with maybe ten minutes of work.
Will it be perfect? No. That is why you will need to think about the game when you are doing trivial tasks. Do you cook? If so think of how to enhance the game while cooking. Are you picking kids up from school? This is a great time. Use those few minutes a day to think of how to improve your game, and your idea will become refined gold with minimal time spent.
Being a dungeon master isn’t fun anymore.
Why is dungeon mastering now all of a sudden not fun? If you look back on your experiences, I guarantee that you didn’t just one day feel like you had DM burnout. Instead, it was a slow burn. What started the burn? What kept killing your flame of passion?
You know why you became a dungeon master. Perhaps you wanted to share your creative ideas with all of your friends. Perhaps you wanted to make an amazing world that became a piece of you. Maybe you tried being a dungeon master and enjoyed the absolute bliss that you were able to impart upon your friends.
Regardless of the reason, you must find your spark.
Find your spark.
What made you want to be a dungeon master in the first place? Has that changed? Most likely it has not. Most likely, you feel like you cannot or are not accomplishing what you want to. If this is the case, you can talk to your players and have them help/change the game, but let’s work on you first.
Something started to destroy that fire in you. There is always a catalyst to this slow-burn process, and you need to reflect. Was it perhaps that your encounters didn’t seem fun? Then find a way to make your encounters interesting!
Are the players just not understanding your world that you poured your heart and soul into? If that is the case, make the players have to interact with the world. Make that special fungus part of an antidote for a disease that is infecting the town.
The vast majority of the time, you can do something to make the game more interesting for yourself and then your players.
You must find those issues that snuffed out your flame, and fix them to re-ignite your passion.
This is why many dungeon masters have an issue. Bad players can be a huge indicator of DM burnout. This does not mean that the players themselves are bad, just that you don’t get along well with them.
Ok… sometimes players are just bad and you don’t know how to reach them. I had a personal problem like this recently.
What did my players do?
Well… I tried to set them on the straight and narrow path of linear gameplay. That sort of worked, but then they died, a lot. I was confused how this many deaths had already happened, so I gave them an open world sandbox game with ‘cursed fruit’ that nearly negated magic and gave the user one special ability. I may have taken inspiration from somewhere….
This worked so I let the players do their own things. They at first started to challenge me to adapt to their antics, which was wonderful, but no shortly after everyone started dying.
I mean everyone.
In this game alone, there must have been over 15 deaths. 15 DEATHS!??!?! I have been a dungeon master for a while, but this was absurd. I tried to help people build characters up, but they all kept dying so no one got attached to anything in the world.
How were there so many deaths?
It took me a while, but eventually, I through pinboard theory-crafting found that one player character always lived. The other four were on their third character at least, but this player had his character alive for the majority of the campaign. The main question was, why?
Why did this player not have a dead character but everyone else did? Upon reflection, he is the one who left people to die. He through so many instances could have saved players but instead saved himself and the loot first.
Upon realizing this, I talked to him about my findings. The deaths kept happening for the same reason, and my enthusiasm for the game dwindled significantly. The worst part was that alcohol was involved and caused him to never be truly accountable for his actions. Everyone wanted to drink and play, but I at this point was done so I decided to call the game.
Was this the right move?
If your problem truly is your players (which is rarely the case) then you may have to cut ties with the group in a graceful fashion. I did so and I advise that no Dungeons and Dragons is much better than bad Dungeons and Dragons.
DM burnout sucks, and you never want it to happen because of the players in your group. This is why you need to have a session 0 and state what type of game you are going to run. If your players want a Diablo hack and slash game while you want RP, this will also make you burnout.
That is why I implore you to no make yourself dungeon master a game that you don’t want to play. If you do, you will only hurt the group in the long run when you inevitably burn out.
But I still have burnout….
Even after doing all of these things we can still have burnout as dungeon masters. Fret not my friend, there are still many things that you can do.
The universal cure is to play the game as a player, but do not tell the dungeon master how to run their game.
Have you ever tried this?
It is like acid slowly sizzling and burning your skin, or as if someone reached deep into your chest started yanking on your heart little by little until you feel too much pain.
You’re a dungeon master for a reason.
Once someone starts dungeon mastering and you are a player, you have time. Time to contemplate what could be, what should be, and what you would do. Generally, you are used to having your mind race faster and think of different possibilities. You are used to knowing the scope of everything and anticipate how your players act. Being a player is instead a very focused and easy role.
After you relax for a session or two, you start to get bored. You will crave that spot, that place, and you will want to be in charge of the world. Being a player will get too boring, and you will want to be a dungeon master again.
I would recommend out of respect for others that you keep your play sessions to only a few times. Join a few one-shots, or do a short campaign. This way you are not stuck in something that you do not want, but is just enough to spur you onward as a dungeon master.
Taking time off
One other thing that people recommend is that you take time off. This sometimes works, and sometimes does not.
I myself took about two years off of Dungeons and Dragons, but this did not help me. Still, for two years had the same feelings and thoughts as the day I stopped playing Dungeons and Dragons.
I am not an isolated incident. Many have stopped and have not started dungeon mastering again because it is inconvenient to start all over again. Generally, we take the path of least resistance. Why make more work for yourself when you don’t have to?
We just move on with our lives and forget. That is why I recommend you do not completely stop playing Dungeons and Dragons. It is hard to start up again, even if the experiences you had were amazing.
You might be bored of your own games if you have dungeon mastered a while. I had this happen in high school. I was the very best at being a dungeon master and thus got extremely bored of Dungeons and Dragons. There was a formula that I followed, it worked, and my players loved it.
After high school, Dungeons and Dragons games started showing up on the internet. My mind was blown. I was merely a big fish in a small pond and could learn from other big fish. I still have my own style, but I can now adapt things I like from others. You can do this as well.
You don’t only get techniques from watching others, but you also can inspire yourself. How fun is watching a Dungeons and Dragons game? The number of viewers says that watching these games is infectious.
The energy, the excitement, the new ideas oh!!!! These things are sure to make you want to be a dungeon master once again and craft your own world.
Here we covered why you would ever have DM burnout. We then went over how to fight this burnout and revitalize yourself to become that amazingly passionate dungeon master you always are. Lastly, we covered even more tips on how to reinvigorate that spark inside you.
If you need some more help, we have a dungeon master screw up guide for you when you are in trouble.
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