Friday, October 14, 2011

15 Ways to Burn Out Your ST / DM

When most people talk about ST or DM burnout, though, they often talk about the gaming equivalent of Writers’ Block. That isn’t what this article about. This article is about fifteen different methods to cause someone to become so down on running games that they may quit in the short or the long-term.

Firstly, definition time. Burnout is a psychological term for when we 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.

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 a bit jokey. Now onwards to the list...
  1. Keep the work load heavy. A game that requires a lot of effort compared to the Storytellers’ inner reserves of energy is going to burn them out faster. This may be partly the Storyteller’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 Storyteller meets the same high standard with every session and show your displeasure when they don’t.

  2. 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. If the Storyteller has to start leafing through a book just to find something to do, you’re doing it right.

  3. 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 basic standard.

  4. High demands. Sickness, tiredness, and a hard luck week should be no excuse for your Storyteller giving a sub-par performance. Make sure to point out all of their mistakes in order to keep them de-motivated from trying harder.

  5. 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. The Storyteller is just the world map. 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 Comedy both ICly and OOCly. Compromise doesn’t get anyone anywhere.

  6. Punishment through loss of control. If a Storyteller 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.

  7. Unfairness. Players are allowed to gossip, chit-chat, forget rules, egg on other players, and try to break the genre conventions. Storytellers, on the other hand, must be completely on the ball, maintain focus, control the actions of other player’s, and reduce rules confusion to an absolute minimum. Players need not assist with any of this. A good Storyteller can produce results in spite of the Players’ actions and desires.

  8. Anti-Community. Storytellers like to juggle so ensure that the party splits as often as possible, goes in separate directions, clashes willy-nilly and does everything short of self-destruct so that the Storyteller 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 OOCly and bear a lot of ill will so that the Storyteller must also be the Diplomat there as well on top of everything else.

  9. Role Confusion. Don’t let the Storyteller know what you want, ever. In fact, don’t ever ask yourself what you want in a game in case you might give something away. Make them guess at it, and then complain when they get it wrong.

  10. Values Clash. The Storyteller 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 way no compromises are necessary. Offering to pay more attention to clues so long as they ensure there’s at least one hi-octane moment per session is a big No-No.

  11. Inadequate Resources. The Storyteller 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 too.

  12. Boring, repetitive tasks. Even if your Storyteller 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 Storyteller to do that for you? (This doesn’t count if you’re sick / tired or have a genuine reason to ask them to do it.)

  13. Don’t Consider the ST’s wants. The Storyteller just wants to run a game, any game. Poking the Storyteller is a fun form of entertainment so don’t bother to sit down and ask yourself such questions as: What is this game really about? If they draw up a Gamer Contract so everyone is on the same page, ensure that you pay no attention to that contract. And never, ever, ever ask the Storyteller about what kind of game they would like to run. That’s the sort of thing Storytellers should ask their players.

  14. 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 Storyteller will notice … while they run NPCs, locations, and other miscellaneous details.

  15. An impossible environment. Remember all those Occupational Health and Safety research on how the environment can cause issues for workers? Well, the same holds true for STs. Put them in a noisy, uncomfortable room full of distractions and you'll burn them out faster. Why not have 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 players. Or make sure the area is in an area filled with non-players who can distract, counteract, and converse with the players. Kids and pets give bonus points to this one. Kill the immersion and keep the players pre-occupied 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!

By the way, this isn’t me dissing players as a Storyteller. In truth, I’ve done many of these things and seen the frustration mount on my own Storyteller and Dungeon Master’s face. I didn’t do it on purpose, but I did do it. So I guess the trick is for us to actually acknowledge our own faults as a player and start giving more care to those who run our games. I’ll do up a Caring for your ST article later on.


  1. *bookmarks*

    Looking forward to the follow-up, because seriously, I want to circulate this to about two thirds of the roleplayers I know...

  2. wooa, I almost believed you were planning to ditch the Story Telling, Larauqa.


  3. Oh, don't worry about me! My players are actually pretty good. Sure, some of them have done a few things on the list but then, so have I. It's human nature to have a few problems in the game. I've added a Disclaimer to help show that this isn't a personal rant and is instead a list of negatives. Later I'll do a list of positives!