8 Tips For Recovering From GM Burn-Out: GM Burn-Out Tip – Part II

From Andrew McLaren

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0131

A Brief Word From Johnn

GM Burn-Out Tips: Supplemental Issue #9 Free For The Taking

This week Andrew gives us 8 excellent tips on GM burn-out. I received many reader tips and suggestions as well, and I’ve learned that there are two different kinds of burn-out.

The first is writer’s block. Andrew’s article deals well with this problem. The second type is being sick or tired of the game. You just ate an entire box of Oreo double-stuff cookies and don’t want to hear the words “creamy filling” ever again.

I’ve put everyone’s tips, which happen to deal with both kinds of burn-out, in a freebie supplemental issue in case Andrew’s great tips don’t do the trick for you.

You can get the supplemental issue (32Kb) by sending a blank email to my autoresponder:

[email protected]

Contest Winners Not Yet Determined

Sorry, but I haven’t heard back from the publisher who the winners are from Issue #129’s contest yet. I suspect that the Origins Convention gobbled up their week. As soon as I hear back from them I’ll email the winners and put an announcement in the zine.

Do It Yourself Flying in D&D

I’ve posted a cool article by Simon Moore about flying and levitation in D&D. Get your calculators out! RPT – Levitate And Fly: Going Over The Head Of A Medieval Campaign

Johnn Four

8 Tips For Recovering From GM Burn-Out: GM Burn-Out Tip – Part II

See: RPT#130 – 9 Symptoms Of GM Burn-Out: Avoiding GM Burn-Out Part I for Part I.

Keep Introducing New Ideas

This may sound like a contradiction. You’ve realised that you’re burned-out and now you’re told to introduce new ideas! What new ideas?!Many GMs envisage a few core scenes or story arcs when they are planning the campaign. This planning probably takes place before the players even create their characters, but when those ideas are used a GM should have new ones ready to go.I suggest that throughout the life of your campaign you continue to make little notes of ideas.

As you are driving your car or taking out the trash, keep one eye open for ideas for adventures or story hooks, even if they won’t be immediately usable. Keep a few scrap pieces of paper handy in your campaign notes and make a list of them. Gradually you will be able to build a reasonable list of ideas, and many of them will last more than one game session.

When stuck for an idea, turn to your sheet of paper and glance over the ones listed. Even if you don’t want to use one of those ideas right away, a long term campaign can benefit from introducing clues or NPCs that will be used in later story arcs.

Change Something Radical In The Game

An excellent idea which has already been listed in Issue 97 – “6 Tips for Starting and Planning a Campaign”. I’ll paraphrase it here using a slant directed towards campaigns that are already running.Change something significant in the world. Something that is noticeable by the players, but not enough for it to feel like a whole new campaign. Here are some suggestions:

  • Type, goals and plans of villain or enemy
  • Campaign setting terrain
  • The victims, employer, or story catalyst
  • PC equipment
  • Rewards, treasure, magic items
  • NPCs, relationships
  • Nature of missions, jobs, quests, or adventures
  • Technology

For example:

  • The cliche: The PCs find their way to a machine / magical trap that teleports them to a previously unexplored area. They must find their way home, or struggle against new enemies in this new region.
  • The cliche with twist: The master villain finds a machine or magical trap that sucks him to another plane, but replaces him with something even worse!
  • A change in the economy: An act of the gods causes all non-holy worked metal to crumble to dust.
  • A new enemy: The kingdom is invaded by a powerful new enemy. Old adversaries (the PCs and the villain?) must now fight together.

Campaign Downtime

Another way to renew interest is to force downtime in the campaign. If the PCs have to spend a period (be it a winter, a year or even ten years) settling down, interest can be wonderfully renewed. Downtime is particularly useful in high-level campaigns because the PCs often have the wealth necessary to build homes, castles, craft magic equipment, etc.Downtime such as this is a great opportunity for GMs to work whole new story arcs into the campaign.

Perhaps a local noble wants a PC to marry his daughter? Or perhaps scientists (or wizards) have discovered a revolutionary way of doing things? Of course, just because the PCs are having downtime, does not mean the villains are doing the same!Downtime allows you a great deal of freedom for introducing new plots and villains. A lot of ideas for future adventures can come from just sitting down and asking yourself, “What would happen if a year passed?”

Maximize Re-Use And Familiarity

By the time the PCs reach high level, they have probably travelled far and wide. The places they visited were probably created when you first were inspired at the beginning of the campaign, and might therefore be particularly imaginative! Set up the circumstances to get the players back there!This allows you to revisit old, favourite NPCs and locations and gives the campaign a sense of history. You can also ask yourself “What has happened since the last time the PCs were here?”, and jot down some new story arc ideas!

Take A Break

If you usually play every week, then skip it for a week. Take a break! Be very definite about getting back together again to continue the campaign though, and don’t let the break be too long. Use the time during the break to do something different and unrelated to the campaign. Maybe plan a video evening with your players instead.

Get Adventures & Ideas From Other Sources

There are a number of websites that offer downloadable resources. They range from encounter ideas, to whole adventures and even whole campaigns. Have a look at some of them and find one that you could introduce. You may find that the ideas presented will add new spice to your game!D & D Adventure and RPG-Archive have adventures and story hooks for a number of settings including science fiction and traditional fantasy.

If you are playing in a fantasy setting, make use of Adventure Hook Random Generator to randomly generate entire adventure ideas!http://www.io.com/~sjohn/plots.htm contains a list of a variety of basic plot ideas.

Don’t think of these resources as a way for other people to do your work for you! Treat such resources and pools of ideas which can be used to get your own creative juices flowing again!

Reintroduce Spark By Using Lists

You may find that your NPCs are repetitive and boring, or that you have been caught off your guard with the need to create a quick personality for the next innkeeper. Prepare some tables beforehand which can be used quickly to add special characteristics to NPCs. List features such as “walks with limp”, “eyepatch”, “hates men”, “fidgets”, “German accent” on a piece of paper that you can refer to during play. Players respond to such characteristics with renewed interest in the NPC.


Remember that you’re the GM. If you dislike a rule or the way the system handles something, discuss it with your PCs and change it. If you have a cool idea that this system just doesn’t allow you to do (like magical items that grow in power as the PC does), implement your own mechanic.

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Tips From Roleplaying Tips Game Masters

Have a roleplaying tip you’d like to share? E-mail it to [email protected] – thanks!

Idea Source: Story Starters Book Series

From Larry S.

In the Getty Museum here in Los Angeles at the museum’s gift store I found a book called “Story Starters on the Middle Ages” by Steve and Jean Henrich. It is a great source of information & ideas for adventures & NPCs!It is a book for children on how to write a story set in the Middle Ages. All you need is in this book: Facts on the Middle Ages, “Glue Words”, Vocabulary (i.e. Colors: a full page of different colors, and Sound and Movement: a full page of different words to describe sounds and movement) and more!

There are three hundred ways to say “said” (Cooed, Cussed, Insisted, Panted, Quipped, Teased), “Additional details for Characterization” (a chapter that gives character types, appearance, eyes, hair & all other features), a “Character Recipe” for making a Wizard, Knight, Dragon, Queen/Princess, or Serf character.Also included are “Setting Recipes” for Ruins, Forests, Market Places, and Castles.

It even has plot devices and a set of “Plot Cards” for ideas on what could happen next in the plot (“while hiding behind a curtain in the castle a character overhears the secret name of an enemy”).

The Story Starter series is from Henrich Enterprises and they have a full series of these books: the Middle Ages, Civil War/Old West, Present Day, The Future, Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, The Renaissance, Ancient Japan, Ancient China, Ancient Africa and Aztecs, Mayas, and Inca’s!The ISBN # for Middle Ages is 0-926473-00-X and could be found at stores that sell educational and instructional material for teachers.

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Another Name Inspiration Tip

From Amy Brown

Just a quick suggestion for generating character (both PC and NPC) names in a pinch. Head for the kitchen!A friend of ours during the character creation phase of the game acknowledged that she hated trying to come up with creative names for her PCs and didn’t want to take the time to research name lists. So she would go to her kitchen cupboard, pull out a food or cleaning product at random (something with an ingredients list) and choose a name based on the ingredients in its list.

This technique is how our party came to be travelling with characters named Malto Dextrin the Ranger, and Plebsin the Barbarian. Obviously, some names may come off more comedic than others depending on the ingredients, and you don’t have to use the exact name as-is. But using this trick can at the very least help with an off-the-cuff campaign, or spur on the creative thought processes toward a more descriptive and appropriate name.

Hope this helps!

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The Golden Buddha

From Some Stupid Spammer

[Comment from Johnn: believe it or not, I received this cool story as a spam. I’ve deleted the get-rich-quick-link and left the story intact. Perhaps it’ll inspire a few burnt-out GMs. :]

In 1957, a monastery in Thailand was being relocated and a group of monks was put in charge of moving a giant clay Buddha. In the midst of the move one of the monks noticed a crack in the Buddha. Concerned about damaging the idol, the monks decided to wait for a day before continuing with their task. When night came, one of the monks came to check on the giant statue.

He shined his flashlight over the entire Buddha. When he reached the crack he saw something reflected back at him. The monk, his curiosity aroused, got a hammer and a chisel and began chipping away at the clay Buddha. As he knocked off piece after piece of clay, the Buddha got brighter and brighter. After hours of work, the monk looked up in amazement to see standing before him a huge solid-gold Buddha.Many historians believe the Buddha had been covered with clay by Thai monks several hundred years earlier before an attack by the Burmese army.

They covered the Buddha to keep it from being stolen. In the attack all the monks were killed, so it wasn’t until 1957, when the monks were moving the giant statue, that the great treasure was discovered.Like the Buddha, our outer shell protects us from the world: our real treasure is hidden within. We human beings unconsciously hide our inner gold under a layer of clay. All we need to do to uncover our gold is to have the courage to chip away at our outer shell, piece by piece.

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Figure Case Ideas

From Sakura

I read your article about being a mobile DM [ RPT#19: Never Forget Your Dice Again ]. I was a travelling DM for years, and here are some solutions I have seen/used for carrying miniatures:

  1. If the figs have metal bases, use magnetic sheeting (from a craft store, much of it is peel and stick), in bottom of a box and the minis will stick to it. Or, attach the sheeting to the miniatures and use a metal bottomed/lined box.If magnet on the minis method is used, miniatures can be stored standing on a metal baking sheet under a bed, on a shelf, etc, and they do not slide around, bang together, or fall around, and can have a piece of material laid over to prevent dust gathering. (I found that rough handling still dislodged them from the box, so long travel or rough travel is bad).
  2. Soft foam cushioning from a fabric store, sold in various depths. Get enough to fill a box (of whatever size), just tall enough for the tallest miniature, plus a little. Cut holes so that miniatures can stand on the bottom of the box, but have foam all the way around (pointy bits that stick out are no problem, just slice the foam a bit). If the miniature will fall against the lid, simply make a plug of the extra form parts that were cut-out, and place above the miniature. (Works great, but is space ineffective sometimes, and if you man-handle them into the foam, they will bend.)
  3. Get bubble wrap (office supply/packaging stores). Cut rectangles a little wider than the miniature, and 2x the height. Fold it over, tape the edges closed, leaving the top open. Slide mini in, place in carrying box. (Little envelopes sometimes are hard to pack and the wrong sized envelope is a pain, I always carried a little extra bubble wrap).

All of these methods work well. Depending on the situation and the distance I used to carry the minis around in a smallish coffee can with the bubble wrap for a long time, and they pack for long trips/moving this way as well. But it was harder to “instantly” unpack them.

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General Notes For Call Of Cthulhu GMing

From Logan H.

[Comment from Johnn: Woohoo! Tips for another game system besides the fantasy/D&D genre which I heap on my gaming plate. Tips like the ones below for any game systems are always welcome!]

WAY too many frigging modules start out “Your has and you need to go to to find out what is going on and .That’s sad and yes, that’s the way Lovecraft wrote. Pretty bad for a game of COC. IMO, stuff is a LOT less scary if you don’t give a crap about your character and have to make a new one every time. No continuity, no lasting friendships with people you care about, etc.Here is an example of how to make a lasting relationship with an NPC.

Let’s say you are a private detective and have a secretary.Scenario 1: Your secretary goes insane, dies, whatever. You have to go find out what happened. Bit of a bummer but after the module, you have to get a new secretary. Result in the characters mind “Secretaries are expendable”.Scenario 2: Your secretary’s BROTHER goes insane, dies, whatever. Better. You still have to live with the secretary. If you go kill the monster and it doesn’t help the brother, the secretary isn’t going to be really happy and may think you are making up all of the monster stuff.

You now have her harboring ill feelings towards the player and that can create some entertaining scenes. Or, the players can get slick and deal with the monster, then cure the guy, then convince the secretary that he was made insane by a woman leaving him, or whatever.

The important thing is the secretary doesn’t die. Then you can have other adventures with them as a helpful backdrop. Let’s say for example that the player is in a gunfight. You want the secretary to help.

Wrong way: The secretary yanks a pistol out from under the desk, stands up and begins shooting the hell out of the bad guys! Yes, you have hired Rambo. This is usually done by GMs who have insecurity problems or want to play NPCs as though they were their personal characters. Bad, bad, bad.

Right way: Click goes the PC’s gun – out of bullets! “TJ!” hisses the secretary. You look over, see her yank a pistol out from under the desk she is taking cover behind and she slides it to you! Bang, bang, bang, goes the happy PC.

The PCs would have to be dense not to keep this secretary employed. If the gunfight was really fierce and if that scene went on BEFORE the secretary needed help for her brother, how much more motivated will the players be?

DANGER – do not make the NPC good at everything. Limit the scope. There is a danger in having them good at too many things – always there with whatever is needed. It is OK to maybe have her lend a bobby pin if the PCs need to try to pick a lock but she shouldn’t carry extra clips of ammo, disguises, etc. A little goes a long way with NPCs.

Players will also be much easier to keep on the right side of things with NPCs who don’t really do anything but are just scenery. Like the guy at the newsstand that says “Hey – hows it going TJ? Heard we are going to have some rain soon, eh? Need a paper?” If you as a GM remember to use these guys regularly they can be used (very infrequently!) for a couple of different things:

  • Positive reinforcement: “Hey TJ! Heard that you captured that evil guy who was robbing people! Way to go! Our city sure could use a few more like you!”
  • Negative reinforcement: “Oh – yeah – hey TJ. Um. Yeah. Need a paper? Yeah. Heard…um…someone who looked a bit like you was wanted for questioning by the cops – but that’s not you! You’re just a regular Joe right?”
  • Creepy stuff: (don’t use this one often!) When the PC is insane have a bit of a build up and then the PC’s notice blood is dripping off of the papers – (this can also make the statement that the press causes more than prevents murderers, etc). Have the character snap out of it after enough of a weird scene (couple paragraphs worth of talking about it) and have everything back to normal, except that the newspaper guy looks a bit worried “Hey Mr. TJ – you don’t look so good – you wanna glass of water or sumthin’? This tells the PC “I’ve lost too many sanity points! Oh no!”

Hell of a lot better than saying “You go insane for awhile” or “You go into catatonic shock”.

Have the PC make a sanity roll the first time he shoots a human. Give him d6 SAN loss. People who can murder other people (even in self defense) without agonizing over it at all are considered ‘insane’.