How To Make Campaigns Interesting While Avoiding GM Burnout

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0888

Roleplaying Tips GM Patrick R. has fantastic advice for us today about making one small change to open up a world of campaign opportunities.


I just read your response to RPT GM Sam and thought about how I keep campaigns interesting.

First I have a ton of What If statements written down:

  • What if a dragon decided to become a lich?
  • What if it needed something from a town to do it?
  • What if a group in the town was opposed?
  • What if a group was in favor of it?
  • What if that group wanted to help the dragon become a dracolich?

Usually, these feed into other what if questions. Many of them will get tossed or reused somewhere else.

When I start planning I avoid statements like, “This is what the dragon is going to do.”

That leads to what you refer to as story. As soon as you start making definite statements about what is going to happen, you are much more inclined to predetermine the outcome, which is stressful for GMs.

“The dragon is going to destroy the town when it digs beneath the town to get the MacGuffin.”

That has predetermined a few things:

  • The dragon lands in the town and destroys it
  • The dragon digs beneath the town
  • It finds the MacGuffin

If you learn to rephrase these (mostly internal) statements to “wants to” it leaves open actions that can change goals.

So the statement now becomes: “The dragon wants to destroy the town because it wants to dig beneath the town because it wants to retrieve the MacGuffin.”

Now, rather than telling the story, the GM becomes an active participant and is playing the game along with the PCs.

This small change makes the difference in the GM burning out or losing interest.

A GM that creates what their NPCs do in advance regardless of player actions is passive. Such GMs can become frustrated by PC actions and lose interest in having to always correct the track to fall in line with the story.

A GM that creates what their NPCs want to do is active.

The NPCs need to react to what’s going on to achieve their goal. That GM is then playing the game rather than just arbitrating over rules. That GM is going to be much more involved in what goes on in the world, and for that reason runs far less risk of burning out.

The GM that sets up what NPCs want to do keeps players engaged because they can see what the NPC is after and what the NPC wants to do. Rather than reacting on something that has happened, the PCs can act to stop the NPC, assist the NPC, etc.

NPCs become agents through which story gets created.