With the holidays approaching and schedules becoming more and more hectic many Game Masters are likely to suffer from cases of GM burnout. GMs aren’t the only ones susceptible to burning out on gaming though. Players can burnout on gaming and not bring their usual gusto to the table or even decide not to show up at all. Here are some reasons for gamer burnout and some tips to help avoid it.
A lot of times GM and player burnout is a result of a schedule that is too full to handle involved interactive entertainment. I know when I start pulling 13 and 14 hour days at work I have no desire to even sit down and play a video game, read a book or even watch a movie that makes me think too deeply. My mind just doesn’t want to put any more effort into it.
The key to preventing burnout from schedule hecticness is to mix up the action a little. Change things around and engage different parts of the mind. If you usually play D&D for 4 hours a night, play for 3 and do the first hour as a game of munchkin. Play a boardgame like Kill Dr. Lucky, Descent or even Battleship to change the pace. You could even integrate it into the regular game being played. Maybe the players meet a crazy Malkavian who will only provide information if they beat him in his favorite card game . . . Lunch Money. Have them do it in character. It’ll be awesome and distracting enough to shake them loose from the feeling that game is just one more thing they have to work at.
Another solution to hectic schedules and tired minds is to change the mood of the RPG being played. If you normally do dungeon crawls, then have a session that focuses on political intrigue. If you normally do deep social interaction, then move into a hack and slash. The key thing to making this work is to change some tangible element of the game. Have the players write down the two stats that will be most useful, and then take away their character sheets. Give them tokens to redeem as “favors” from their negotiations. Use minis if you haven’t previously. The tangible change will jump their mind to a different path in a way that just changing the mood only partly achieves.
Slow Character Progression
Sometimes player burnout comes from annoyance that their character has progressed too slowly. The rigidness of a system might cause annoyance while a player waits to get that one cool power that they choose this character for. While this isn’t necessarily a problem, if the game truly isn’t fun for the majority of players then something should be done. This is true if players are burning out by grinding their wheels trying to get someplace but seem to be stuck in neutral.
My favorite solution to problems like this is to take a week break from the game and then announce a big jump in level/xp and story time. Let the players think through their character progression without having to pay attention to actually playing the game. This helps players get close to the levels they wanted and lets them think about long term character goals instead of need it today goals. You might even throw in that the party split for the down time and let the first session back be a shared narrative experiment where the characters get to recount stories of their time off.
Bored with the System
Sometimes player, and Game Master, burnout comes from being bored by the system. Every roleplaying system is great in at least one thing. Many are good at multiple things, but they are all great at some thing. Eventually, no matter how good the system is, people are going to get bored doing that one thing. Playing Shadowrun I get bored of “going on missions”. Playing D&D I get bored of combat. Playing White-Wolf I get bored of the intense world setting. Playing B.E.S.M. I get bored of overt anime craziness, etc, etc, etc, etc. It just happens.
Luckily, the solution to this kind of burnout is simple. Play something else. Whether you run a campaign in a new world or just run a pallete cleansing one-shot, doing something else can make you realize the differences in systems and appreciate them all the more. You might switch from D20 to Iron heroes. Something that is just 15 degrees away from the original can make you long for how well it does whatever it does well. Doing something completely different can have many different benefits. It lets you get a taste of the other side. You get to explore new powers and styles of gaming. You may find you don’t like it but you may find it hits different taste buds on your gamer tongue.
So now comes the time when I ask you, the reader, to contribute and help prevent my writer burnout. What reasons for burnout have I missed? What solutions have you come up with in the past for burnout? What other ways can you think of?