When most people talk about Game Master burnout, though, they often talk about the gaming equivalent of Writers’ Block. We’re going to look at the nastier form of burnout defined in psychology where a person experience long-term exhaustion and diminished interest in a particular sphere of our life.
The Maslach Burnout Inventory uses a three dimensional description of exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficacy, which opposes the psychological construct of Engagement which is defined by having energy, involvement, and efficacy. Basically, if you burn out your Storyteller, they’ll grow frustrated, cynical, feel down about their skills, and basically get sick and tired of running games.
It’s a pretty serious issue and one that can be self-inflicted as often as it can be caused by other people, with some Game Masters working too hard for too long to achieve something too difficult to accomplish. Of course, since it’s more amusing to tackle a serious subject by writing a joke guide, I’m going to do just that. So read below to find the best advice on how to actively burn out your Game Master.
- Keep the work load heavy. A game that requires a lot of effort compared to the Game Masters’ inner reserves of energy is going to burn them out faster. This may be partly the Game Master’s fault as they throw themselves headlong into props, histories, NPC charts, and a whole bunch of other wonderful details. So make sure that you demand the Game Master meets the same high standard with every session and show your displeasure when they don’t.
- Make the work load boringly light. Discourage them from trying anything more taxing than a random map and a monster generator when they’re really itching to do something more. Also, you should ignore NPCs and plot in favour of sitting around talking In-Character about golf for hours at a time. Never involve any NPCs in these conversations about golf so that the Game Master has to just sit there. If the Game Master has to start leafing through a book just to find something to do, you’re doing it right.
- Be unappreciative and unimpressed. Many retail outlets have known this for years. If you want a high staff turnover, ensure that you disregard any effort they put in as simply being the new average.
- High demands. Sickness, tiredness, and a hard luck week should be no excuse for your Game Master giving a sub-par performance. Make sure to point out all of their mistakes in order to keep them de-motivated from trying harder.
- Lack of control. Some people like to refer to games as collaborative storytelling and that’s true. However, it should be a collaboration between the players only. The Game Master is just the world map and their preferences and interests should have no bearing on the game. If they want a Cyberpunk Thriller, you should be sure to turn it into a Cozy Mystery at any cost. Or better yet, turn it into a comedic Cozy Mystery. Compromise doesn’t get anyone anywhere.
- Punishment through loss of control. If a Game Master doesn’t do what the player hoped they’d do, the player should punish them by acting out both in-character and out of it. Players can either sit there and tell them off for making that ruling or decision OR they can make their character really go off the deep end and start doing increasingly ridiculous acts in retaliation. Other players should support this misbehaviour in public, and then complain to the Game Master to fix it in private to ensure urgency is maintained.
- Unfairness. Players are allowed to gossip, chit-chat, forget rules, egg on other players, and try to break the genre conventions. Game Masters, on the other hand, must be completely on the ball, maintain focus, control the actions of other players’, and reduce rules confusion to an absolute minimum. Players need not assist in any way. Always declare that a good Game Master can produce sterling results in spite of the Players actions and desires.
- Anti-Community. Game Masters like to juggle so ensure that the party splits as often as possible, clashes willy-nilly and does everything short of self-destruct so that the Game Master must constantly use the world as a Diplomat for the in-game issues. Party cohesion is their responsibility, after all. Bonus points if the players end up clashing with each other out of character so that the Game Master must be responsible for tactfully maintaining real world relationships at the same time.
- Role Confusion. Don’t let the Game Master know what you want, ever. In fact, don’t ever ask yourself what you want in a game in case you give something away. Make them guess at it, and then complain when they get it wrong.
- Values Clash. The Game Master wants comedy, so you want seriousness. They want drama but you hate improvised theatre and just want to smack face. Sure, values clash all the time and this is just one aspect of gameplay … but you can completely ignore that there’s a problem so that there’s no chance of a compromise. Offering to pay more attention to clues so long as there are no consequences to beating down the bad guys is a big No-No.
- Inadequate Resources. The Game Master must find some way to purchase all of the books, print all of the sheets, fund the snacks, supply dice for everyone, and otherwise ensure the game goes ahead. This isn’t simply a nice thing they may do but a necessity. Never offer to bring food, extra dice, character sheets, books, or anything else. Be offended if they ask you to fetch them a drink when you’re getting one from the fridge.
- Boring, repetitive tasks. Even if your Game Master hates it, they should be the one to keep tallies of your arrows, mark down your damage, and do all of the statistical grunt-work. If you can find some way to make them do a job you don’t want to do, then go nuts! Heck, if you need to keep notes, why not ask your Game Master to do that for you? (This doesn’t count if it’s an occasional thing or a necessity due to illness, tiredness or disability — you should be demanding it as your birthright.)
- Don’t Consider the GM’s needs. Tell them repeatedly that the sole purpose of the game is to entertain the players and that any desire beyond seeing players enjoying themselves is a sign of a selfish and entitled attitude.
- If you don’t know, don’t ask. If you’re confused and frustration is mounting, don’t ask to make some kind of roll to figure out where to go next. Just sit there and bang your head against the wall in the expectation that the Game Master will notice … while they run NPCs, locations, and other miscellaneous details. Get increasingly angry that they haven’t figured it out based off various passive aggressive cues.
- An impossible environment. Remember all those Work Health and Safety research on how the environment can cause issues for workers? Well, the same holds true for Game Masters. Put them in a noisy, uncomfortable room full of distractions and you’ll burn them out faster. Why not make them keep the television on so they have increased competition? Especially if there’s a show you wanted to half-watch. Or invite around people who hate roleplaying games to sit and scowl at the game. Kill the immersion and keep the players preoccupied with everything but game. While it’s true that sometimes there’s just no other option, the trick is to ensure this happens even when it doesn’t have to!
Disclaimer: I haven’t actually personally encountered each one of these methods but I have heard, read, or thought about them. This is basically a list of the worst options and is meant to be tongue in cheek. One day I’ll do an equivalent list for players burning out other players or game masters burning out their players.