Dungeon masters, are you taking care of yourselves out there? If not… it’s time to start! DMing is a fun but challenging occupation that can lead to burnout if you’re not careful. Luckily, self care is a great ward against burnout. The focus of this article is less about general self care and more about dealing with the mental and social strain associated with running a TTRPG game. Here’s how I keep myself sane behind the screen…
Develop A Preparation Ritual
Repetition can be very cathartic. Before you sit down at the table, consider starting a preparation tradition. Each session, your prep ritual will make you feel ready to take on whatever challenges the game poses. Maybe you draft up an outline or bulleted list for the next session. You could set up your table so it’s ready to go right when your players arrive. Or perhaps you do something totally different to clear your head before a game like exercise, reading, etc. There’s a lot of comfort in clearing your mind and being prepared.
Get Organized Behind The DM Screen
A huge stressor to a dungeon master is a lack of organization. Take some time to organize your DM materials as a part of your preparation ritual. Though this might not be terribly exciting, it is beneficial. Starting off your game with everything you need accessible to you when you need it eradicates so many headaches. This will eliminate stressful issues like, “where did I put that note”, “what happened at the end of the last session”, or “I forgot to look up that monster’s stats” from arising.
Don’t Be Hesitant To Indulge
The game table isn’t always the most relaxing place. So why not make it as relaxing as possible? Indulge in your favorite junk foods and sweets. If you’re an alcohol-friendly group, open a bottle of wine or two to share. Are you a music lover? Curate an awesome playlist to set the vibe of your game. As long as whatever you indulge in doesn’t disrupt the table or bother anyone, I say go for it. Whatever your guilty pleasure, give yourself a break and enjoy some little comforts.
Don’t Forget Your Human Needs
It’s so easy to forget you’re an actual human when acting as a cast of NPCs, narrating a story, and running a world around your player’s actions. As cliche as it sounds, please remember to stay hydrated. Take a moment to assess if you’re hungry. If you are, then eat something! Put the game on pause for bathroom breaks. And if you’re feeling tired, don’t be afraid to wrap up a session and continue on next time. Not everyone’s able to always DM an 8 hour marathon session.
Don’t Focus On In Game Mistakes
Some of you are just too hard on yourselves. It’s impossible to be perfect when DMing a campaign. You won’t remember every rule for every instance. It’s so easy to forget a monster’s legendary resistance or features in the chaos of combat. You could skip over an entire plot point you were excited about. Maybe your story doesn’t hit as you intended or your players aren’t feeling it. Try to remember that these missteps don’t make you a “bad” dungeon master. Every mistake is a learning opportunity.
Utilize Your Tabletop Safety Tools
Oftentimes, tabletop safety tools are described as a resource for players that help to make sure everyone is having a good time and feels comfortable. As the DM, you are also a player and are free to utilize them just as a player would. You should never feel like you have to go along with anything you’re not comfortable with or not feeling just because you’re not in the driver’s seat. Your mental health is more important than any game or story you are trying to tell.
Post Session Decompression
Just as you have a preparation ritual, you should also have something you do to unwind after a session. Tabletop RPGs can take you to some incredible and exciting places, but it’s important to decompress those feelings so you can relax. You could keep a journal cataloging the session’s events. I’d also recommend some mindless television, music, or chores. Something that doesn’t require too much thought or interaction. It’s really helpful after taxing your mental and social energies.
Consider A D&Detox
If you do happen to find yourself burnt out, don’t despair! Be honest with your group and let them know that you need a break from the game. This could be any amount of time you need. Maybe you could still meet up with them for a non-tabletop activity. During your game’s hiatus, reflect on all your accomplishments, both in and out of the TTRPG space. Rest, revitalize, and experience new things. Your inspiration will return and you’ll be ready to take on anything!
Stay well, dungeon masters! Until next time, stay creepy and happy gaming.