Being a Game Master (GM) can be a rewarding experience—but it can also be incredibly exhausting.
You spend hours prepping for every session, developing creative ideas to keep your players interested, and managing the little details that make a game run smoothly. If you’re the “Forever DM” in your life, there’s consistent pressure on you to deliver. It’s easy to become overwhelmed, and if you’re not careful, you could burn out or lose your passion for the game.
It happens to everyone at some point…Unless you’re somehow remarkably good at self-care, in which case, you don’t even need to read this. 😅
There are some simple steps you can take to avoid game master burnout.
One of the biggest causes of DM burnout is over-preparing for each session. Sure, you want your games to be as exciting as possible—but if you spend too much time preparing all the little details, it can take away from enjoying the game. (Remember, you’re supposed to have fun too!)
To avoid the over-preparation trap, note an outline or a few broad ideas before each session instead of trying to script out every detail in advance. Simplification will give you more freedom to improvise during playtime and allow fun and flexibility during game sessions. Instead of spending hours prepping each session, try using shortcuts like random encounters tables or pre-made modules to save yourself some time.
Related: 10-Minute Speed Session Prep
Take a Break
Distance makes the heart grow fonder. Even if you manage your time well, it’s natural for GMs to get tired of prepping and running games week after week. If you’re starting to lose interest in the game, don’t be afraid to take some time off—even if it’s just for one session or campaign arc. Your players will understand and may likely volunteer to take over game mastering while you enjoy some time in the player’s seat.
Find Inspiration Elsewhere
Sometimes we get stuck in our heads and need help to develop something new or exciting for our players. If this sounds familiar, try finding inspiration elsewhere – books, movies, other roleplaying games – whatever sparks your creativity!
When burnout sets in, recharging your creative juices is essential; take advantage of online resources such as podcasts or message boards explicitly dedicated to Dungeons & Dragons or other tabletop RPGs. Discussing ideas with other gamers is one of the best ways to stay inspired and motivated when running campaigns!
You don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time; borrow ideas from other sources when necessary and customize them for your own game. Borrowing will help keep things fresh and exciting without putting in the extra effort each time.
Run Shorter Campaigns
It’s no secret that running longer campaigns can be mentally exhausting for GMs constantly juggling multiple sessions. (This is especially true for professional dungeon masters.)
If you’re feeling uninspired by your long-term game, why not take a break to run a one-shot or two? Just to switch things up a little bit. I did this recently for three of my Wild Beyond the Witchlight groups. We all took a break to play my one-shot, The Case of the Missing Marsh. We all enjoyed the break to recuperate while still playing.
Remember that you, as the game master, should also have fun at the table. So remember to take care of yourself. Keep these suggestions in mind next time you feel that creeping sense of impending burnout – they’ll help ensure that you and your players enjoy your epic adventure together!