Taking another break

The roleplaying games hobby can be pretty frustrating at times, especially if you’re a game master. One issue I’ve had all my life is that I quickly burn out on the games I run. I lose interest or I inadvertently steer the campaign into a bad position which makes it extremely hard to fix it. The number of campaigns I’ve run into the ground is pretty staggering. Sometimes I wonder why my players keep coming back…

I’ve struggled with self-doubt a lot and it has currently reached a point where I am hesistant to offer anything to my players. I don’t want to disappoint them any more. A part of my problem is probably related to what I call GM attention deficit disorder. As soon as I start running game A I start thinking about how cool it would be to play game B. You can guess how things end.

Another part of the problem is that I often have phases when I am just too tired, too stressed to run a game properly. But in order not to skip a session I more often than not run the game anyway and make mistakes which quickly derail the campaign. Or at least that’s how it feels to me.

At the moment I think the best thing I can do is take another break. Not from roleplaying games in general but from being in the GM’s chair. This allows me to just play for a while without having a GM’s responsibility on my shoulders and it also gives other people in my group the opportunity to take over the GM’s mantle.

During this time I will probably continue to read many different games, think about the campaigns I could run, but I won’t make concrete plans or something like that. At this moment being a GM doesn’t make me happy and that’s actually the only way how you can play roleplaying games wrongly. If you’re not having fun, something’s amiss!

Michael Wolf is a German games designer and enthusiast best known for his English language role-playing games blog, Stargazer's World, and for creating the free rules-light medieval fantasy adventure game Warrior, Rogue & Mage. He has also worked as an English translator on the German-language Dungeonslayers role-playing game and was part of its editorial team. In addition to his work on Warrior, Rogue & Mage and Dungeonslayers, he has created several self-published games and also performed layout services and published other independent role-playing games such as A Wanderer's Romance, Badass, and the Wyrm System derivative Resolute, Adventurer & Genius, all released through his imprint Stargazer Games. Professionally, he works as a video technician and information technologies specialist. Stargazer's World was started by Michael in August 2008.

10 thoughts on “Taking another break”

  1. I sympathize. Being a Game Master can be pretty demanding, especially for those of us with work, family, or health concerns requiring our attention.

    I agree that periodic breaks are good for recharging our creative and organizational batteries. I’m fortunate to be part of a pool of about a dozen role-players, including other G.M.s.

    Even if I generally prefer to be behind the screen and can’t resist the urge to run my own thing for long, it’s good to be in others’ games. For many years, my campaigns ran one after another, but now, I’m content to alternate weeks or even months with other scenarios.

    I wish you happy gaming, and I look forward to your continued observations and eventual refreshment!

  2. BTW, I also understand the frustration with not always being to end campaigns properly. Lately, my groups seem to prefer shorter campaigns of about six months, and my face-to-face group already alternates between two games every other week.

    Like the trend for shorter TV seasons, if G.M.s learn to run or create shorter scenarios, that means fewer “filler” sessions, more variety, and the chance to find something that everyone really is able to and wants to play for a longer time.

    The potential downsides are a lack of consensus, having to learn new rules systems more often, and less payoff for those who like immersion and long-term character and story development. We’re a pretty distractible lot. One solution to that would be to have a couple of familiar campaigns as part of the rotation.

    In any case, enjoy others’ games, and learn from them for your own!

  3. I do not believe in campaign games anymore. It’s hard to keep things moving, key people abandon the game, and scheduling is just impossible. I was down, thinking that that’s it, I’m too old to play RPGs. Then I found out about the indie scene, particularly about games that are designed to one-shots. They are not small games, by any way; they just focus on delivering the most enjoyment on the smallest time possible. Then I found hope. I don’t need a regular group, I just need a bunch of people together to one single sitting. I do not even have to prep, I just sit and play and enjoy.

    For me, the best of these game is Ben Kobbin’s Kingdom (http://lamemage.com/kingdom/). It’s really amazing how a game without even a GM can deliver so much with so little. The stories are really dense, profound, and there’s conflict anywhere. And no one have even the slightest idea about how it will end. Things just happen!

    Ben Robbins also created Microscope (which I never played) and is about the release the final version of his newest game, Follow (and I can’t wait to play it). And there are other one-shot RPGs out there like the amazing Ten Candles (http://cavalrygames.com/shop/ten-candles-pdf), and Fiasco (never played, so I can’t say much about them).

    Give them a try! They are really cheap (usually around $10), but are packed with awesomeness.

      1. Hey Stargazer – Long time reader (ever since I had my own blog briefly… nearly a decade ago). If you’re interested in checking out Ten Candles hit me up at stephen at cavalrygames dot com and I’ll hit you up with a free PDF. I’m happy to contribute to getting you out of a tough spot here. I know all about GM burnout!

  4. I usually need to be a player in between to to keep gamemastering. But sometime I just need a break from gamemastering, or even playing. I just took a short month break for play by the way.

  5. I am the same way, with regard to “GM attention deficit disorder”. I am currently on hiatus, not wanting to start anything because I fear I won’t want to stick to it, but also frustrated that existing campaigns have fizzled due to player scheduling issues. The problem is on both sides of the screen.

    Lately I’ve been thinking the solution is to run 3-5 of my favorite games simultaneously, in a sort of round robin rotation. Each session would be treated as if it were a self contained one-off, so there are no dangling ends, and if we never get back to it that’s okay… but would also fit loosely together into an overall campaign, sort like how the Conan short stories all fit into a loose story. It might require a new approach to character “advancement” especially if the episodes are out of sequence.

  6. It’s easy to burn out on gaming, especially big campaign settings. I’m currently refereeing a Traveller campaign with an epic scope. Scheduling is difficult, and the players can be challenging at times. Being a game master is a form of unrequited giving. GMing is far more demanding than playing and you’re likely to receive little in return other than the satisfaction derived from delivering a good story.

    I feel your pain and hope you find a venue and game that suits your current needs.

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