I'm DMing a party of five, a rogue, cleric, wizard, fighter, and a ranger that comes every other week. Everything goes well for the first hour and a half, but then after that I can tell my narrations and stuff gets really bad. It's the difference between 'you shoot your bow, but your arrow had warped after that last river and you barely miss the knight' and 'you miss'. Since we play for about three hours a session and don't come back together until the next week, the campaign always seems to end in a very bland spot, and sometimes the players have severely misinterpreted the surroundings(honestly, I don't blame them when my descriptions turn into 'you exit the building'). Another thing I can tell is that after while DMing, I get tired and my responses to the players get slower and slower and I have to consult the books more often. If it's been a long day, sometimes I take fifteen minutes getting back to where we were and starting up again, and fall into the bland descriptions pretty quickly.

The players say they don't mind much, but I feel bad for them since there is another group a table away whenever we're playing, and the DM there is better than I am. I do give them a decent amount of loot and the occasional magic item and everything is balanced in the campaign. Still, I want to try and change my bad DMing so the campaign is less...wavy(if that makes any sense) in terms of detail. I've played with some rather bad DMs before, and know that it's not fun when there's little or no color to the adventure. I keep the action going though, plenty of mysteries and combat encounters, but again, it gets bland quickly.

Summary- Campaign is fine(mechanically), but I as DM get boring by the middle of the session and then everything slows down.

So I guess what I'm looking for a way to try and keep myself from getting boring by the end of the session and a way to keep the campaign going smoothly. Any suggestions?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Are YOU enjoying the later part of the games? \$\endgroup\$
    – Mary
    Sep 10, 2020 at 1:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ Do you do anything else you have concentration issues with? \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Sep 10, 2020 at 8:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ Hey y'all. Just a general remind not to answer, even partially, in comments. We try not to do that here. \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Sep 10, 2020 at 12:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ @NotThatGuy If you'd like to make the argument a question is off topic, do that clearly. Though you should probably double check our topicality guidance first. Otherwise please leave guidance and solutions to the problem in answers along with the support to back it up. \$\endgroup\$
    – Someone_Evil
    Sep 10, 2020 at 15:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ @NomadMaker Please don't answer in comments. If you think that's a good solution to the problem please put it up as an answer along with the support to back it up. \$\endgroup\$
    – Someone_Evil
    Sep 11, 2020 at 10:43

6 Answers 6


Concentration for extended periods is hard

People are most productive when they take breaks. The linked article suggests 17 minutes of break for every 52 minutes of work but, like all figures in the social sciences they are averages which means they don’t actually fit any actual person.


  1. Play shorter sessions

    My regular online game (which I DM) is 2 hours.

  2. Take a break in the middle

    10 or 15 minutes to talk about sport, or opera, or whatever else you’re into or even to play a casual card/board game. When I do do face to face sessions (6-8 hours or even an entire weekend), we never play D&D continuously - there’s always time to shoot the breeze or a quick game of Terraforming Mars etc.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This. My regular group takes 20 minutes to get started, plays for about 90, takes a 20 minute break, then plays for another 90 (on average). The DM is very interactive, always asking us to describe critical hits and killing blows. \$\endgroup\$
    – Davo
    Sep 10, 2020 at 12:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ A common thing is to break for food/drink (pizza is traditional) and then resume after. \$\endgroup\$
    – Tim B
    Sep 10, 2020 at 13:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ And DMing is significantly MORE mentally demanding than telling a pre-written story. \$\endgroup\$
    – Nelson
    Sep 10, 2020 at 15:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ @TimB Pizza remains canonical across all editions, as far as I can tell. .👍🍺 \$\endgroup\$ Sep 10, 2020 at 19:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ Was going to upvote until the last three words; answers should have some kind of grounding in actual reality, and there is no such universe where the modifier "quick" can be honestly appended to the phrase "game of Terraforming Mars". \$\endgroup\$ Sep 22, 2020 at 6:18

"You miss" is fine.

Save your detail for where you need, start with just describing monsters and areas, but you don't need to describe everything. You don't need to describe every room in a dungeon in detail. If they are all similar gray stone, this looks like a kitchen may be fine. Let the players ask for more if they need it. Conserve your descriptions until you reach a point you can comfortably add more. If you feel the need to describe combat, describe just the criticals, or get your player to describe their end of combat, I just tell my players the monsters AC most of the time, so they can describe their hits and misses. It gets them involved more and tends to encourage more story collaboration over all. Your players can describe their own actions for the most part. It also gives you a break and as a bonus speeds up combat.

Props. Find pictures, a picture of a reed canoe saves a long description. Don't be afraid to write out descriptions beforehand, I do that all the time so I am not racking my brain to think ones up on the spot.

To use a workout phrase, "don't worry about what I'm doing -- worry about what you're doing." Comparing yourself to another DM directly is always iffy, different players, different styles, different lives. For all you know the other dm's players may be bored. To put it another way:

Wanting to be better is healthy it leads to growth and improvement.

Worrying you are not good enough, just leads to a downward spiral, because a good DM is never as good as they want to be.

Fatigue is a thing, I know my descriptions are far worse if I have worked all day before a session than if I had the day off, and I have talked about it with my players and the schedule wins, and that is OK, we are all still having fun.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Props are amazing. Let your players investigate and study them. Visual ques will excite their curiosity and help get them more into character. Subtle details will inspire them to think and perform skill checks. \$\endgroup\$
    – Aaron
    Sep 11, 2020 at 15:22

Make notes of key descriptions

I do this anyway - if there are key bits of information you need the players to know about their surroundings then write short descriptions in your notes that you can just read off. Improvisation is bound to suffer as you get tired so a few notes to jog your memory can be really useful.

Don't compare yourself to other DMs

You're running your campaign with your characters at your level of progression as a DM - each situation is different. You're running your own campaign and learning the process of DMing as you go.

Take a drink in

It sounds like a small thing but a few moments where you take a sip of water can make a difference. Your mouth isn't so dry, a moment or two more to think. It can help. You don't need to rush.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Nice and concise and on point. golf clap and a +1 These are all tricks I have used over the years, and I still need that drink of cough water? cough beer cough to lube up the pipes. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 10, 2020 at 19:30

Based on your description, I see a couple of areas you can improve relatively quickly without having to think too hard about it.

Keep your communication efficient.

Start by reading up on the basic writing concept known as 'Chekhov's Gun'. The general idea is that when engaging in dramatic narrative, you should only include details that are actually relevant.

This obviously can get very boring very quick, but it's important to remember as a counterbalance to the tendency of a lot of newer GMs to engage in long prose-like descriptions of everything. In a well written drama, you only include irrelevant details when they actually contribute to the mood of the story in some way (for example, in a Western nobody cares what the bandit who just rode into town had for breakfast, but the time of day and the weather help set the mood for the ensuing gunfight with the town sheriff).

The same principle can and should be applied when running a game. If a given event isn't seemingly significant to the players and further detail won't be relevant to the game in some way, just keep your descriptions terse and to the point. 'You miss' is perfectly fine if the party are just in a low-stakes fight with a bunch of mooks, but if that shot hitting would have clearly changed the course of the battle, then you might want to get into detail about how and why they missed.

Note, however, that this only applies for fine-detail. If you're looking at actual large scale plot, absolutely apply Chekhov's Gun to the greatest extent possible without violating the Three Clue Rule (which sounds like the opposite of Chekhov's Gun at first, but actually advocates the same principle in a slightly different way and should honestly be required reading for any new GM).

Keeping your communication as the GM efficient like this is honestly one of the single most important skills as a GM. It helps your players keep track of what's actually important, it helps you save creative energy for when you truly need it, and it helps keep the game moving because you'll end up talking less.

Consider taking breaks during your sessions.

Get up and walk around, get a snack or a cup of your beverage of choice (well, maybe not a beer or a glass of wine, having an intoxicated GM can be entertaining at times but is usually just a pain in the arse). Anything to just stop for a bit so everyone has a chance to be refreshed. Most likely, your players will be more than happy to take a short break halfway through a session (or if it's a three hour session possibly two breaks). Bonus points if you can time things so that the breaks happen when there would be a commercial break if the campaign were a TV show, it's a great way to help manage the flow of the narrative (especially in drama or horror heavy campaigns).

Alternatively, I've found that starting out with everybody having a meal as they start playing can help in a similar way, as it tends to slow things down a bit at the beginning of the session so people don't get burned out as fast over the course of the whole session (also, the slight increase in blood sugar from having just had a meal helps keep people energized).

Don't forget about your own planning time.

You mention you're doing 3 hour sessions once a week normally. Think for a moment about how much time you as the GM actually have to spend over the course of a week. Chances are if you're like most GMs it's at least as long outside of the session itself, which effectively means you personally are effectively doing six hour sessions once a week, not three hour sessions.

This is one area which a lot of newer GMs don't think about much, but it's one of the biggest contributing factors to burnout for a GM. There are two approaches you can take to dealing with it, either shorten your sessions (and thus reduce your prep time because you don't have to fill as much time with content), or learn to reduce your prep-work and ad-lib more (this gets easier as you gain more experience as a GM). The key here is to reduce the amount of work you as the GM have to do without reducing the quality of the campaign from the perspective of the players.

Always remember that you are your own worst critic.

This is just an important life skill, but applies here especially based on your description of your issue. A relatively basic part of human psychology is that most people, when they have some standard to compare against, will almost always compare themselves unfavorably against that standard unless morality is directly involved (in which case most people will tend to compare themselves favorably against the standard even if they fall far short of it).

You've got a group you're GM for. They have said they are fine with how things are right now, ergo, you are an acceptable GM for that group independent of how good you are compared to other GMs.

Wanting to improve is a good thing, but you shouldn't beat yourself up over it, that energy is much better spent actually trying to improve.


Instead of comparing yourself to the best DMs you've seen, or the DM you want to be, ask yourself only this "did we have fun?"

There is absolutely no doubt that your players could have more fun with a different DM. This is true for every almost every single DM in the world. However good you are, someone is better. That's just the way of the universe.

But this isn't a competition, it's a game we play with friends. A hobby. A pass time. You're not competing with me, or Matt Mercer, or Vincent Baker, or anyone else to be the best DM; you're trying to have a good time with your friends. So if you and your players are having fun, then you are doing it right.

That's the bottom line: if it's fun, keep doing it. If you're not, stop. That's it.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Jack, I can't bounty yet, but when I can I think you'll get some of that ... \$\endgroup\$ Sep 11, 2020 at 18:44

First of all as has been mentioned tiredness can be a typical issue with DMing so take at least one break. Maybe try at that hour and a half point you say things start to break down.

Another thing to consider is that point where you start running out of preprepared material? I was having a similar issue in my early days as a DM, what I thought was a sessions worth of pre prepared stuff was actually far less. Preparation will also help with the book referencing. Make notes about anything you think you might need to refer to, or page number references for any NPC skills or spells.

Another tip, don’t feel the need to resolve at the end of a session. Leaving a cliff hanger is a typical story mechanic to build tension I have used on many an occasion when running out of material.

“As you turn the corner suddenly you are face to face with 3 goblins, they snatch up there swords and hiss at you preparing to charge” and that’s where we will leave this weeks session.

That achieves several things. you set up an encounter therefore knowing exactly where the next session will start. It allows you to plan an encounter rather then making it up on the fly. You are not scrabble around the monster manual for goblin stats, you can prepare and think. Maybe the 3 goblins are part of an ambush, maybe there is a magic user hidden away, what spells has he got, why are they there, is there any loot worth finding.

It means you know that the first hour maybe if game time is now planned, so you can build on that for the rest of the session.

It also gives the players somthing to think about and look forward to between sessions.

If this means ending the session 15 mins early that’s fine, just explain to your players we will leave it there as this combat may over run and I am feeling a little tired, have work tomorrow etc or just be honest, leaving it there so I can prepare for this goblin fight.

I will also end this with a well known acting statement. The audience only know you made a mistake if you tell them. Your players probably pick up on less then you realise. But if your are struggling tell them ask them to take 5 to let you prepare quickly, ask them to have more agency in looking up rules and stats. One campaign I ran I allowed my players full access to the monster manual for most general encounters I came up with so they could help with looking up enemy stats etc.


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