How Do You Cope with Burnout?

This is a topic that has been on my mind lately. I am in the middle of burnout on D&D 5E, but really, I have been playing tabletop games for 36 years and burn out happens. It confounds me though to know I have been through this before and I still struggle with how to deal with it. This is a topic I have noticed a few of us dealing with at the moment and I thought it might be therapeutic to toss the topic around for a bit.
How do you cope with gaming burnout (specific games, or gaming in general)? The easy answer is to play something else but is it really that easy? How do you identify exactly what is causing the burnout? I thought I was mixing complexity in D&D 5E but when I tried more complex fantasy RPGs, I found that wasn’t the issue at all.

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For what it’s worth, my own recent burnout apparently was tied to group and its expectations regarding the game. In other words, I quit D&D, now all is well! :grin:

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Heck, that might be part of the problem too. I thought the problem was a lack of complexity in D&D 5E and when I switched to a crunchier system (Pathfinder 2E), I still wasn’t satisfied. We thought maybe we just needed a change of scenery so the group tried out 13th Age, still no good. I can’t keep dragging the group around. That’s not fair to them. So I dropped from the ongoing game while I tried to figure out where the burnout was really coming from.

For me, I stop GMing. I’ll take a break from running the games I run and I either focus my time on other escapes (video games, minis games) or I browbeat one of my other players who can GM to run a game. A lot of times that refreshes me. I’ve also found that fresh blood to the group or a pivot in the current campaign is also a nice palate cleanser. I’m running two games on alternating Saturday nights and one had a player shuffle and the other is pivoting to a different setting and my feelings on both of those games has greatly improved.

Most of the time, the important thing is to identify the source of the burnout and determining how to fix it. And that usually takes more time than initially thought it would take.

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Full confession, I have been playing at least monthly since 1979, so I may not be able to fully grok gaming burnout. I do get system burnout. For me, playing a variety of systems helps.

I find the cost/benefit breakdown (prep/play) of crunchy systems like Pathfinder, way too steep. For decades I preferred very cruchy games. I would be super-invested then abandon them. I have found that while the crunch and the mastery thereof can be fun, a lot of that either never makes it to the table, or a significant number of the other folks around the table are frustrated by it (uninvested). That burns me out.

I would suggest try something different than what you are currently consuming. We are in a golden age of gaming. The buffet is laden with choices.

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I did this too and it led to quite a separation with a group. “Yeah, I’m not interested in running this, how about we play that!” Rinse repeat a few times, I had to step back. It was discouraging to members of the group to the point that I expressed coming back to play months later and they were not giving me the thumbs up. Now, I don’t talk to any of them. No hard feelings, but they’ve moved on and so have I.

It’s ok to take a break. Seriously. Sometimes its just gaming - setting up time, players/gm’s not being appreciative, learning the rules, getting into the groove…all can be exhausting. Also, you mention fantasy rpgs. Maybe get away from anything that allows you to cast a spell or carry a sword.

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I think crunchy games work GLORIOUSLY when all gamers present understand them and have full investment. That’s my favorite kind of gaming.

Exactly that recipe can be hard to mix, though. I find that it’s also nice when all players are patient with crunchy games; they can take some time.

Nap, read, watch movies/tv shows, draw, travel … all of the sudden I’m inspired and want to game again.

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I minimize burnout by rotating GMs. More than half of my groups can, and will, run games. This gives me a chance to recharge, read some books, watch some movies, and slowly build up my excitement for the next adventure when it’s my turn to run again.

Edit: As a player, I’ve never been burnt out.

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I have dealt with burnout a couple of times. What allowed me to recover, was finding my joy again. That thing that brought me to RPGs in the first place…was the wonder of story and my ego thinking I can do that or do it better…

As a youngster LEGOs fueled my mind and imagination, as an older kid (pre-rpgs), I devoured science fiction and fantasy novels. Find some new material to read or watch.

Depending on where you are in your life, going on a bender could help, too. Just make sure you find the right bartender and have a best friend to wipe your chin.

HOOS

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I am in the midst of some pretty heavy burnout myself. I used to DM/GM for my group all the time and I loved it but after 7ish years of that I needed a break so I told the group I would be taking a hiatus from GMing for awhile. I didn’t specify a timeframe (this started about a year ago, or so) and whenever we’ve finished a campaign they have asked if I want to run something. I’ve said no and been okay with that. I think that I have often felt pressured into running a game because I was worried about everyone having fun and felt like I best “managed” the personalities at the table towards that fun but I was (am still) done with that. I have loved being a player during this time but I’m still not quite ready to jump back into that saddle full time.
I have run one-shots now and again but I make sure to state upfront that this is a one or two session ordeal (I did run a 6 session FFG Star Wars game just after Mando first season came out but that was a rare occurrence and I was exhausted by the end of it).

tl;dr: Burnout is okay and there are many ways to cope. Mine has been to be a player only for awhile. (and there is not set “timeline” for getting over it).

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There’s some pretty sound advice here. Maybe in trying to find that “thing” that is bugging me, I am missing the big picture and I need to make a large change? Definitely, something to think about.

Loads and loads of good advice up there. Recharging the batteries is a must – reading, cooking, hiking, biking (okay, snowshoeing), exercise, movies, comics, 3D printing, video games, board games, writing, crafting, drawing – you know the hobbies that refresh you. Might be me-time solo activities, might be spending more time with the family, might be actually diving deeper into the RPG scene, to small press and indie stuff, to the new frontiers of the hobby, deeper into its history, into actual plays and new podcasts, etc.

For me, it’s about balance. In the 80s and 90s, I was the forever GM, like many BSers. When I shifted to play-by-post play in the mid-90s, it was generally again always as the GM. That gradually changed over the years, and I now play in as many PbP games as I run. (An embarrassing number. I really like that medium.) In 2019, I started playing live again, and that went from playing at several small cons where I was able to try new games to connecting with a local RPG network who had similar (small press and indie) interests, to finally rounding up a group of like-minded GM-players who would all both run and play in games on a rotating basis – games we voted on, discussed, dissected, etc. The best gaming of my life has been in 2019 and 2020, without question.

@Akodoken, if I had to boil it down, I’d offer this advice or guidance if you’re feeling burned out:

  • Mix up the games you run and play – the systems, the settings, the durations of campaigns, the tone, etc.
  • Take a break from GMing. Either focus on other things, or just be a player. Even when you’re not feeling burned out, look for a balance that feels good. Being a player about 1/2 the time works wonders for me, and I get to learn from other GMs and players.
  • Find games that require less prep. Learning to run them might mean unlearning some habits, or forming some new ones. Digging into new modes of play and prep can be fun.
  • Don’t play with the same people all the time. Mix it up. Whether it’s at virtual cons, pick-up games from random or system-focused Discord servers, or the shiny new G&BS games on offer, it has truly never been so easy to find people to play with, even for niche games. Sometimes busting out of the rut can be as simple as playing with some new faces around the table. I’m doing this right now – throttling my participation in my usual weekly group to biweekly, specifically so I can play games with BSers and other folks I’ve met in the last couple of years.

Maybe a large change is just what you need, but simply changing some of the variables in your current equation might do the trick.

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I don’t believe in “burn out.” There is a negative connotation to that expression I find is not helpful. As a former high school are teacher I’d point out that there are endless ideas all around you. Yes, I am aware that is not helpful.

So, lets take bad ideas. List the three crappiest idea’s you can quickly think of and remember they are bad idea’s, so you can’’t fail. Now, take the worst of the three. That’s your idea. My students would give shit whenever I pulled some hippy art teacher trick on them. Which would only encourage me. Wow, teaching was fun. But, back to the point, often upon of trying to make a bad idea work, they would find it really was not a bad idea, or that by focusing on it another idea would present itself. That, or like every art teacher, I was are a little weird.

Upon writing this I realize i am equating burnout with idea/s which is not entirely accurate, but not entirely wrong either. Art teachers… go figure.

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I like your approach here, Spook, so I’m curious: what process would you use for Akodoken?

I think I can understand my own recent burnout, which occasioned my fairly glib but accurate initial response to Akodoken: I quit playing D&D.

I: I thought we were playing old school.

Players: I guess we didn’t have the same definition of old school.

I: Well, here are all these buffs for you, if you’re worried about dying.

Players: We’re still kind of worried about dying.

I: Okay, you don’t have to go into any dungeons, then. I’ll just wing it every time, and I’ll use random tables as much as possible.

All of us: You know what? Let’s just get together in person after the pandemic.

And now I’m running Conan and sampling other systems exclusively online with other players who care about and understand those systems and life is great!

So, to bring it back around, I’m curious about how to apply “bad ideas” to either Akodoken’s burnout or my own. I’m trying to fit these pieces together.

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As we learned from the Wizard of Earthsea, names have power. So, name what is bothering you. Once you know what that is you a chance of dealing with it. Make a list of 3-10 concerns. Too little is as bad as too much I’ve found in idea generation. You are “burned out” for a reason, so figure out what’s bugging you. Then take the item that bugs you the most and play with it. Discovery through play is a mantra of mine. So, lets say you are board with 5th edition. Ask why you are board? A list could look like; I‘ve done everything, it does feel like it use to and I hate the mobility feat.

Let’s take my first item, I’ve done everything. Objectively, there are endless possiblities in RPG’’s so why do feel like you have done everything? Break down/list how you have done everything. Then take something on the list. If it is, I’ve played every class, which I doubt with as many splat books that are out there. Maybe you mean in just the Player’s Handbook. Does that mean with every race? How about every multi class combo? What every one was the same race or race and class? Or with purposely bad stats? However for this to work you need to ask, “how can I make this interesting? Hopefully, naming the the problem and then playing with it will open. Then if you still feel the same way, drop D&D and play Dungeon World and forget the rantings of an old hippy.

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Hey, I just wanted to take a moment to thank all of you. This thread has been very helpful to me. I’ve got a game plan to see my way through and I am already feeling better about things.

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Just wanted to jump in and share my success at getting out of burnout and back into a passion that completely drop out of the bottom for me. Lots of good advice here and I basically followed two points, doubling down in an area of interest in the passion, and moving on to something else. Doing both allowed me to return a couple years later, although with a slightly different mindset.

For me games are my (until plague) secondary although oldest hobby. My main non-academic/non-work activity is dancing, specifically partner (ballroom) dancing. I dived head first into it in 3rd year uni and didn’t really emerge for several years. This continued for almost 10 years until about 3 years ago after finishing a thesis on dance (and language, I like to combine things that shouldn’t work together) when I just could not make my brain engage with it at all. It was highly distressing and discouraging.

Before this I had started learning ballet in a search for a more technically intensive dance. While I was pretty burned out from my usual partner dances at this time I found I could throw my self into the technical aspects of ballet and find everything I needed from dance at the time there. The gaming analogy in this case would be to move from a more social game to perhaps straight D&D 3.5 and really focus on character builds. So I found an aspect of the hobby and dived into it.

The second thing was to try to get back into gaming after about 5 years out. I started buying and reading rule books, following podcasts and actual plays then trying to get into or start a game group. So I took a break and moved into something else I find really engaging.

Then about the middle to end of 2019 I found myself starting to miss partner dance and my brain re-engaging with the music and moves again. I started very slowly to go back and re-connecting with the dances. However I found that rather than being interested in organizing, teaching, bringing new people in and that kind of work, I focused on technique (a through line) and trying to be a good lead. Which might not make any sense out of context so perhaps the best RPG analogy is switching from being primarily a GM to more time being a player.

So at this point I feel that I am out of the burnout and back into my hobbies (as much as the plague allows). But it is definitely changed and different now from when I burned out. Hope this helps. Burnout can be dealt with, go away, recovered from, or any other manner of change. Definitely can’t set a time line on it. I despaired pretty hard when I encountered burnout initially, but came to terms with it and eventually in my case I am now confidently not burned out.

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I recently had a burnout of D&D. I was thinking about putting it on this post, however I didn’t want to offend anyone. I know a lot of people only play D&D. Nice that no one is giving anyone any sh!t.
I am currently running a CoC game and playing in a Savage Worlds game (horror). Stepping back from the fantasy helps quite a bit for me. Hope you find what is missing or hurting your experience.

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Aside from my true by fairly flippant response above … burnout for me usually shows up, symptomatically, as not thinking about a campaign from the moment it is over until a few hours before the next session. And I think it stems from things feeling out of control. I get overwhelmed when there is too much to keep in memory, and then I make things worse by not tackling the problem head on and letting it sit idle for a week. Keeping a really solid campaign document - making the notes immediately after the session without fail! (hard to do) - is a good predictor of success for me. I tend not to get burned out if I get all that stuff lodged in my memory. Otherwise I have this nagging feeling that there is stuff I have forgotten or am missing.

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