A few months ago, I reached the point of "GM burnout." Having been (almost) the exclusive GM for our group for several years, and seeing the number of players and their commitment dwindle combined with more stress from work and personal life, I came to the point where I realised I wasn't having fun anymore and the effort I put in wasn't worth it.

So let my players know I would take a break, finished off the current story line in my campaign and put it on indefinite hiatus. I'm now a player in a campaign run by one of the other players, who stepped up to fill the GM chair but is still pretty much a novice at running the game.

The problem is, I still feel the "itch." I have lots of game ideas I want to run, and I feel I miss running a game. I'm trying not to be a "backseat driver" for the new GM, but it can be difficult when the flow of the game is stalling because he's unsure how to handle a situation or a rules question.

Anyone have any good advice?

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ also see this closely related question, though it focuses on handling burnout while staying behind the gm screen. \$\endgroup\$
    – yhw42
    Commented May 12, 2011 at 12:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ I feel I should also add that the new gm is running prewritten adventures, and haven't read the entire ruleset yet. He's also still leaning on me for handling a lot of the rules questions. Generally, he's not yet doing a lot of preparation and don't quite have the experience to "wing-it" properly. \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 12, 2011 at 19:10

4 Answers 4


The new GM is absolutely in charge of the new game. If you want to talk with them privately outside of the game or if they come to you for advice, great, but at gametime you need to play your character and live within the confines of the game as it is. If you've got any tips for getting the new GM over the learning curve, offer to share them.

For coping mechanisms, try these ideas:

Mechanics Assistant GM If you want to offer your services as a game-time rules resource, that might work. You could speed up the game for everyone by providing rulings when called on to do so if it's in your favorite system. Or you could man the rule books and be the designated lookup guy. It taps your strengths and helps the game as a whole. I wouldn't do that without checking with your GM first, though.

Enjoy the Opportunity Here's your chance to be a model player and show the other players how you would like players to act at your table. What did your players do that annoyed you? Don't do that. Pay attention. Ask clarifying questions without sinking into game-stalling details. Remember how you didn't like your players checking their cell phones every 5 minutes? Don't be that player.

Quick Notes Are Your Friends If you get ideas during the game, scribble them down and deal with them later. If you have ideas for a series of How To GM a Game articles, note them and get back to the game. After the game, feel free to draft a setting book for the next game you want to run, but it shouldn't come up during play of your current game.

Know When to Walk Away If your ideas start getting in the way of the current game, like if you can't pay attention to the game because you're scribbling future game ideas, maybe playing isn't where you should be spending your time. Some people have a hard time "only" playing after GMing. They're different skillsets, and the focus on different things. If you think that the current game is a waste of time, you've got 3 choices: 1. Try to improve it by talking to your GM. 2. Find a different game. Sounds like this one isn't a viable option for you. 3. Stop playing and let yourself create your next game in peace.

For your next game, maybe one-shot adventures will work better for you. Less prep work, and a decent dungeon crawl can last a few game sessions.

An aside: I've managed to avoid GM burnout by giving my players a bigger piece of the plot pie. Let them take control of what happens next a little more. But that's another topic entirely.


There are a lot of good answers already. A few more.

  • If you really have trouble dealing with the 'Backseat' aspect, it is probably better to write down any advice to the new GM and give it to him later as a positive critique. Let him know you would have loved someone giving you constructive and positive-based feedback when you were GMing. This way the flow is not broken, authority is not challenged, and everyone wins. I personally think that this feedback is critical to becoming a better GM, but it is a game, and feelings may get hurt.
  • Run some games online. I run 2 live groups, but I also run a weekly IRC game, and I can't tell you how rewarding the online game is. It's a little different, but the focus and roleplaying is almost better because of the lack of shared distraction. I highly recomend doing this to work out some ideas, etc. I use it to playtest an alternate rulest I have, as well as one campaign based group.
  • Play the way you always wished players would play for you, also. This reflection will help you down the road.
  • And keep writing adventures and setting-based stuff. As GMs, when we are running a game, we often
    complain about having enough time to prep between games. This is your
    chance to get ahead.
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ Like all the advice except the first (so no -1): Never, ever give unsolicited feedback to a GM, even as a "later as a positive critique." Only if s/he asks you for it - even then, make sure they ask twice "No, really - what did you think?" \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 12, 2011 at 14:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ @F. Randall Farmer: +1. A campaign story arc is a lot more personal and sensitive than a term paper or a block of computer code. It's the GM's baby. If he's not asking for advice, tread carefully! \$\endgroup\$
    – RMorrisey
    Commented May 12, 2011 at 14:29
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ I respectfully disagree. Especially in a situation with a player taking over (as a novice GM) for an established GM in a group that has played together. I understand the sensitivity part on all sorts of levels (I do coaching and training as part of paying the bills), but don't perform if you don't want to be seen. IN my view (and this is just my view) Any GM who doesn't want feedback shouldn't GM. \$\endgroup\$
    – LordVreeg
    Commented May 12, 2011 at 15:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ Advice isn't always looked at or accepted as positive, even if it's meant that way. If they come to you for help, that's great, but if they don't, it may be difficult to give it to them in a way that ensures they'll make the most of (or even consider) your advice. \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 12, 2011 at 16:12
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ No, no argument that all of you have a valid viewpoint. And Dave makes a good point that it can be misconstrued. but a) this is an established group who play together who have a new player as the GM. b) This advice is in abeyance of mentioning it during the game, responding to the 'back seat GM' part of the OP. I probably should have made that a little more clear. And I will change that. c) I still stick by the assertation that if you don't want the review, don't perform in public. But that is my personal opinion. \$\endgroup\$
    – LordVreeg
    Commented May 12, 2011 at 16:22

I game in a group of GMs. The first (somewhat informal rule) is that we don't DM each other's games. I ran 3.5 and will soon do Pathfinder. Other group members run Vampire, Werewolf, Shadowrun, 2e, Star Wars, Paranoia. If your new GM is going to pick up the same game in the same setting and your group is happy with the ending of the last game you ran, I'd suggest you either pick up another system or another setting. Write your next game/campaign to stand apart from what the newbie-GM is currently doing.

You will get the urge to keep writing. By all means, do so. Write. Take the ideas you get and refine them. Take the time to punch up the quality of your next game. When the current DM decides he's getting overwhelmed, and makes a comment that he wants to step down, don't volunteer to pick up the game right away. Give the other players a chance to step up. If they don't, then you can come forward with what you've been writing.

Even if it's only you and the current GM, play a level or 3 of one campaign/game, then have another/the other one ready to go. Finally, encourage the other players to step up and run something. If you have a player who says something like "I'd like to try running something but just don't know what..." feed him an idea that doesn't fit in with the campaign you are currently developing. Maybe he uses it as a main-plot. Maybe he feels it would make a great side-plot, but having your idea as a secondary plot line makes an idea jump out at him.

Finally, take some of your energy and write truly great characters. Do something different and cool.


Stifle the urge to pipe up in the session. Feel free to talk to the GM after the session privately and share ideas and suggestions. However, don't try to take over the game.

This is your new GM's game. Let him have it.

If this is intolerable you may be better suited to playing a collaborative story telling game rather then a more traditional GM and players RP (I have seen several mentioned here, but I am not familiar enough with them to mention any by name).

However, while you are playing this more traditional game, you must let the GM be the story teller. I don't think that you have to bite your tongue every time, but it will probably be best if you let the new GM be the GM. I would definitely advise you to come alongside him outside of the session and offer suggestions, things that you have learned etc. Hopefully this will fulfill your urges and also keep you from being a "back-seat driver." But if your new GM rebuffs you its probably wise to just keep quiet.

  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ Never, ever give unsolicited feedback to a GM, even "after the session privately." Only if s/he asks you for it - even then, make sure they ask twice "No, really - what did you think?" There is no "correct way" to GM, and even if there is, your way isn't it. \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 12, 2011 at 14:21

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