Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Save Your Game Session: DM Burnout

It has happened to us all. You scheduled the game weeks ago. It is finally here. You just worked a gazillion hours or were up to a million o’clock the night before. You are tired, not in the mood, but don't want to cancel the game. After all, it is super hard to get the gang together!

Everyone arrives. You catch up, since you have not interacted which each other beyond social media. Some time passes and everyone is finally ready to start. You feel a little better now, a tad more relaxed. An hour into the game you have the 1000-mile stare. You start hand waving things you should not. Monster stats become meaningless. Hell, you just want them to die and the game to end.

Someone is building dice towers. Maybe someone else is on his or her phone. There is almost definitely someone doodling. Yikes, can you salvage this? Yes, you can! Remember Dungeons & Dragons is a storytelling game. If you are tired and the game is dragging, it is time to get back to basics. Referencing character sheets and rules minutia is enough to cast a Sleep Spell on anyone.

I have been though the scenario outlined above many times. To escape the mire I developed some tools to get me back on track. The first one is a character card. On it, I have bullet points, which detail the motivations, goals, quirks, and weaknesses of each character. When things start to drag, or the scenario I prepared is not turning out great, I turn to those cards. After all this is their story, and you are just helping to direct it.

Players will immediately perk up when suddenly passed the story ball. I have to tell you, that energy at the game table is very contagious. As Dungeon Master, you should be on the lookout for when the players pass you the story ball also. That cool idea they just came up with? Go with it! Especially if you are feeling session burnout and things are bland.

Nothing is more exciting than when the players take the story in some unexpected direction. It is fun to be surprised as the Dungeon Master occasionally. That is the essence of collaborative story telling. It makes you not have to do all the heavy lifting, especially if you are having an off night.

Another technique I use when tired is intravenous coffee. OK, jokes aside I have yet another set of cards on hand. On them, I have detailed in one paragraph or less, various colorful NPCs and points of interest. These immediately create a “shiny” for the players to latch onto. Some are outlandish, like a kobold selling dyed scarfs in the middle of the dungeon, whoa…what is her story? Others are just fascinating, like the countenance of a man upon the door of a rotted cottage, his eyes almost lifelike.

When dreaming these up I have no idea where they may go. This is by design. I have even run entire game sessions this way, setting aside my original plans. They have created some of the most memorable encounters. However, most importantly they helped to get this tired Dungeon Master back on track. I hope this post inspires you with some of these ideas. In the instances where life has you failing your tired save, the game sessions are salvageable. You just need to jump-start your engine!

If these solutions don’t work for you, it may be best to end your game early and regroup at a later date. It is definitely not worth forging on if everyone is not having a good time. If you are experiencing dungeon master burnout constantly, it may be time for a break. Maybe schedule a board game night. Alternatively, switch things up and run a low crunch one shot to rekindle that game master fire.  For some it may be simple as handing over the reins to another game master for a while.

If you have any tips or tricks to bounce back from a dragging game session, please feel free to share! Just remember the challenge not unique to you. We all have been there!

Sleep Spell - Larry Elmore (1983)



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