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How do I deal with GM burnout?

Currently I am the single DM of a smallish group of irregular players. Although I enjoy DM'ing, I'm beginning to burn out and really wish I could just be a player again for a while. None of the other players are willing (or able) to be DMs.

What strategies (mental or otherwise) have other DMs used to get past this kind of situation?

  • \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG.SE and great first question. Will be interested to read the answers. \$\endgroup\$
    – malexmave
    Commented Mar 25, 2012 at 16:51
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Not a full answer, but you can probably also play a game that doesn't need a GM. I only know one game like that, though. Microscpe. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 25, 2012 at 21:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ I tried searching for "burnout" but missed the prior question somehow. I thank everyone for their thoughtful responses. \$\endgroup\$
    – SteveED
    Commented Mar 26, 2012 at 1:52

4 Answers 4


First, have you talked to the players? Perhaps none of them seems willing because they don't know how close to burnout you are. Maybe they were unwilling at first, but would be willing under these circumstances. That said, on to an answer.

This is a pretty common occurrence- Being a GM is a lot of work, and can be very taxing at times, and doing that over months or years can become wearing. The best way to avoid this is to reduce the amount of work you do.

  1. Get the players involved in the plotting. What do they want to do for their characters? Maybe there's something that you threw out going along that one of them was really interested in.
  2. Make one of them an assistant to your more creative GM duties. You don't have to give them the keys to the kingdom... but maybe make them responsible for a plotline and some of the NPCs and their actions. This can also help in transitioning one of them to full GM.
  3. Make one of them an assistant to your more systematic GM duties. Combat can be wearing, with you having responsibility for the actions of several combatants. You can either outright give them a script of what some of the lesser monsters will do and let them handle them, or give them duties like tracking initiative or some sort of record keeping.
  4. Make your own character to go along with the party. This seems rather like saddling them with an NPC or counter-intuitive to the fact that you know where the bodies are hidden, but it can be done with limitations on your character (i.e. you don't weigh in during certain situations that would be a conflict of interests) and serves a couple of purposes- it gives you satisfaction in your character's advancement, and it gives you a more man-on-the-ground perspective.
  5. Like (4) above, but using an established NPC. This can actually be very rewarding to you, and surprising to your players. Perhaps they defeat a minor wizard in a town, but he gets away in one way or another. They move on, and so does he, and the next time they meet him, he's progressed. I usually do this with some side fiction, but it gives me a chance to be involved in the world that I created, which can sometimes be the most frustrating part of being GM.

In the end, discussion with your players about your frustrations and the path to take is the most effective way to handling these feelings. These bullet points above are just tools to help in this conversation, and will vary per person as to their effectiveness.

One last point - remember that its not your responsibility to shoulder this burden alone. If you need a break, and no one else is willing to step up, its better to realize this and take the needed time than continue in something that you don't like.


Here's a few things I've done to keep from burning out:

  • Pursue an independent game- Join a game you want to play outside of your group. I've found that this works well to keep the stress down (and also to observe other peoples' methods), plus it's a way to get away from the same group over and over. If you were lucky enough to have a player also want to run a game, joining theirs is a next-best alternative.
  • Take a break- This is really easy for me as a college student (since we have relatively regulated breaks), but we just take fall holidays and spring break as a gap in gaming, allowing me to recharge (which is really useful since it provides me a time to read supplements/new rulebooks). This is more helpful if you're running games often (i.e. weekly).
  • Focus on the night- I've often had a grand overarching campaign, but rather than worrying about how that's going to come into play, I just play it by ear at the table. This often means that rather than drawing out stuff ahead of time I improvise, meaning I have what would have been prep time to focus on my schoolwork or just on relaxing.
  • Offshoot sessions- When I'm really busy, I have my players engage in a "offshoot" session, which is just an entirely campaign-independent mission; for instance my Shadowrunners take on (dis)organized crime in a one-off side mission, but it still has minor game consequences later on. These take a ton less effort than keeping track of campaign-consistent things.
  • Narrative session- When I have a game in which I know roughly what's going to happen, I go diceless; the players still give me feedback on their actions, but instead of rolling everything I just estimate whether or not they should be able to do it. This doesn't mean roll-free, but it does mean fewer rolls, no combat grid, simple maps (if any), and a focus on free-form play.

I know that you have already tried stepping down for someone else, so excuse me if I am a bit redundant here, but I think there is more than one way to search for a new DM from the existing group:

  • Saying "I'm currently loosing interest, anyone else interested in DMing for a while" is what you probably did, and it will work great if there are several interested parties (We always had one or two people interested in trying out DMing). This will, however, not work all too well if people like me are in the group. I was made DM this way:
  • Asking specific players if they would like to try out DMing. I was never interested in DMing until I was asked if I would mind doing it for one or two evenings, or longer, if I liked it. I had read only a fraction of the rulebooks and had no idea how to be a good DM, except for the things I "stole" from the previous DMs, so I figured I would be just about as bad a DM as possible, but the adventure I built surprised everyone (me most of all) with it's quality and I was asked to keep going, since everyone really enjoyed it. So, even the players who would never step up on their own might DM if you ask them specifically, and they might do a really good job.

Just remind your players that you don't need to be an expert in the rules (For most RPGs at least) to DM, since a) basic rules are easy to learn and b) advanced rules are usually very interesting. Also, c) as a DM you can bend and break the rules, or make new ones, if absolutely necessary. Rule of thumb in our Group is: The word of the DM is law. You can point out that there may be rules that work a bit differently than what the DM just said, but in the end, the word of the DM counts. I have no idea how that would work in RPGs that rely more heavily on rules than "the dark eye" though.

If you still can't find a new DM after that, either follow answers from other people here, or try to bring in a new person as a DM (With the consent of your group, of course). We found some great new friends that way. As long as the person knows a bit about the rules and is interested, it's worth a shot, and if it does not work out, you can still "kick" him from the group (In a friendly manner, of course) and search for someone else. The best way to go about it is to call the first adventure a trial period for the new DM, so he/she is not upset if you tell him that he probably won't be happy with your group.


I am in and have encountered this situation multiple times. I've joked "Always teh DM, never the player" (a spin on the adage "always the bridesmaid, never the bride") for a cheap laugh, but typically I run the campaigns (I have one friend who also DM/GM/ST/etc. but out schedules don't sync up for a good reciprocation). If a game tends to feel more tedious than fun for me behind the screen, I try to keep a simple game on the backburner as filler that I know the players will enjoy and not take too seriously as my solution to burning out.


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