View Full Version : DM Help How do you keep yourself motivated when you are getting sick of your campaign?

2016-03-11, 06:38 AM
For the last one and a half year, I have been leading my loveable bunch of minmaxing powerbastards through Rise of the Runelords, doing my very best to keep them entertained. We are getting close to the end of the Campaign, and to be honest, I'm getting sick and tired of it.

My efforts to keep them challenged are pretty much just resulting in hour-long fights with mountains of dice being thrown around, or, even worse, that a carefully thought out encounter is over in a round because I've overlooked one of the many openings available for a party of high level casters. I have to rewrite every encounter in the book extensively, because nothing in it is even close to a challenge for these guys.
All my attempts to create reccuring villains fail, as they all get mercilessly murdered the second the party realize they might be evil, which is pretty much right away, because half of them have sense motive through the roof, while the rest of them simply don't care.

They pick apart any puzzle i put before them in a matter of seconds, they figure out the motivations of any character I put in just llike that, they have a bard who aces every knowledge check just by looking at it, meaning that nothiing is a mystery to them.

I have completely failed to instill in them any sense of urgency or danger, and while they do seem to enjoy the campaign, I fail to see why, because I can objectively say that it's not a very good campaign, and I'm doing a pretty lousy job leading them through it. I pretty much have to railroad them for anything to happen, which is a failing on my part, for not being able to make the plot clear to them, but when I don't, they just want to teleport back to home base, spend a week to craft new magical items, before delighting in pointing it at whatever creature is in their path and making it go boom, then take its stuff and make new cool stuff while the world burns around them.

Worst part is that I started out as the secondary DM for our last one, who was actually passionate about it, to give her a chance to actually play once in a while. Then she moved away, and all of a sudden, I was the only one.

The only other player interrested in DM-ing is also the most absent player, because of a host of health issues.
She started a campaign, but has only been able to lead one meeting this whole year, and I can't even let myself get annoyed about it, Because of her limitations. So it would be monstrously selfish of me to complain.

Right now I just want to finish this campaign and try something else, but they are all so infatuated with their characters, and want to keep going to even higher levels. And I can understand that feeling, but I'm just out of my depth and bored to tears.

I just don't know how to keep myself motivated anymore, and I'm getting the sneaking suspicion that I'm just not very good at this dungeon mastering thing, but on the other hand, I don't want to let my friends down, and I don't see any way to bring this up without making it unpleasant for everybody.

Has anyone else been in a similar situation? How do you usually keep yourself motivated through these kinds of things?

2016-03-11, 06:52 AM
If they are not dissatisfied with the challanges, you don't have to up challanges. Yes, maybe it is too easy, maybe they are too strong for their level, but as long as they are not bored, that is ok.

If you dont have fun anymore, tell them. Maybe you all can do something else inbetween and later return to that group of PCs. Or you ask, what each PC wants to achieve in his life and make a final adventure out of it. But there is no reason running a game for a long time, if you don't have fun. Even if they are freiends. It won't work, your adventures will become simply bad because you stop liking to plan them, your NPCs will become boring because you become less interested in them and your friendship will suffer.

2016-03-11, 07:03 AM
I would honestly recommend taking a break and playing a different system for just one or two weeks.

Specifically one that is nearly 0 prep, and maybe something silly and fun.

A FATE accelerated adventure designed to be weird and stupid.
A session of Fall of Magic where everyone is the GM and the rules are extremely light. (It's like 6 pages of mostly art, but FoM is still very fun)
A session or two of Apocalypse World, Dungeon World, or what I think will be my next big favorite, World Wide Wrestling. (It's a thing, look it up. It's awesome.)

And if you talk it out and explain that you're feeling burned out and just want to play something super simple and relaxed for one or two sessions, max, most groups will be willing to try it out with you. (That's what I did with my players, and now we regularly try new systems because we learned that trying new things is actually really fun.)

Might not be the advice you want, but eh. It worked for me.

2016-03-11, 07:32 AM
Well first of all don't stress about it. From the players perspective you are a great DM. They keep wanting more. If your worry about encounters being too easy is diminishing your enjoyment then you can stop worrying which may help a little. It sounds like you put a lot of thought into it and I think it is being rewarded by the players having a good time

More specifically it isn't selfish to wrap up a campaign you are not enjoying. Put a final challenge in front of the players, a really great send-off. Give them a truly heroic fight to defeat or to die in. Reward their character builds by a series of events/encounters that are so tough that characters of their level can only survive by being total munchkins.

Also ask yourself which bits of DMing you enjoyed? Did you like the lower levels? The combat? The diplomacy? It is a shame to lose a good DM at any time, but especially tragic if it is because they themselves are not having fun. If you work out what you liked/didn't then you may feel more comfortable offering to do it again but with a different system or a different level or with some homebrew rules. This needn't mean discontinuing characters, but the PCs could become the hero NPCs of a new campaign. If you don't like any of it and don't think the bits you don't like can be solved then don't be afraid to say so. I don't think you will lose any friends from being candid about not enjoying it anymore.

2016-03-11, 08:10 AM
I mostly enjoy making a session of "unhinged" adventures. I might lead the party in the middle of the Mortal Kombat tournament, Minecraft monsters, or fighting Antonio Banderas over cookies. The tricky part is balancing it for them: they don't really plan ahead and act in a mostly "Go in, everyone kill something until we run out of enemies" method, so once they get in a "smart" situation (say, fighting against a basic tank, mage, healer formation) they often panic and lose a character or two.

2016-03-11, 08:17 AM
I know it's an unpopular choice, but play Risus for a couple weeks. Character creation takes 40 seconds, an adventure can easily be made up on the fly, and you don't need to worry about balance. The system is so unbelievably simplistic that you can't manipulate it. It leaves you with just some ridiculous, farcical roleplaying.

2016-03-11, 08:45 AM
It sounds like you're more tired of the system and finding it difficult to work with than you are tired of where your story's going.

I know it's an unpopular choice, but play Risus for a couple weeks. Character creation takes 40 seconds, an adventure can easily be made up on the fly, and you don't need to worry about balance. The system is so unbelievably simplistic that you can't manipulate it. It leaves you with just some ridiculous, farcical roleplaying.

I agree with switching systems, if only for awhile. Maybe bring up the possibility of something new system related to your players before your next session. You may be surprised at their reaction.

Joe the Rat
2016-03-11, 11:32 AM
Do you have that one guy that keeps bringing up other games or systems or ideas or how much he loved playing this one semi-obscure game that captures the "feel" of Little Wars (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Little_Wars) only with more modern sensibilities (More charts and polyhedrals)?

Promote him to GM for a few sessions. You may be more bored with the campaign than with running games, but stepping back from both will make a nice refresh.

2016-03-11, 04:37 PM
Yeah. Sounds like a textbook case of "Need to play a different system, preferably one that depends less on the things that are driving you crazy in your current one"; That said, if you do this, you may just decide that your current system is terrible and never want to go back and finish your campaign, so it might be best to rush things a little bit or trim some of the 'fat' and get to the conclusion so you can move on.

2016-03-11, 06:03 PM
If fights are taking an hour, something's wrong. What's causing the drag?

I'll hazard a couple guesses;

Rules lookups; this is just an efficiency problem. I solved it in my own games by insisting my players note the book and page number of their abilities on their sheets.

Rules Lawyering; this is a little trickier. You need a firm hand on this. I suggest this; in the event of a rules conflict, ask for a page number. If they can't give one on the spot, rule from memory and move on. If they can, give it a quick look and rule based on that. In either case, make your ruling and move on immediately. Don't discuss it immediately. Make your ruling and inform the player that you can discuss it further after the session. No retcons, but go with the results of after-session discussion in any future instances.

Dawdling; if the players are taking forever deciding what to do or, worse, not even thinking about it before their turn comes up, institute a turn time limit. If you don't decide something in 30 seconds, you delay until the same initiative count next turn.

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Challenge is, in PF and 3.X, as much a function of the flow of information as optimization in high-op play. Playing the enemy smart can have a much more profound impact than just building them smart. You said the bard basically can't fail a knowledge check, but how much information are you volunteering with those checks? What a thing is or where a given location lies (assuming its a location he even -could- know about) are useful bits but that shouldn't be nearly enough to obviate any well structured challenges. I'm not familiar with RotRL or your game but I suspect that you may be giving too much on those checks since that's a common mistake.

__________________________________________________ ______________________

Burnout is just what it is. Take a break. Run a different system or maybe just pass on gaming for a week or two. Get together and watch a couple movies, play some video games, and munch on pizza while drinking mountain dew and chatting. You don't -have- to play a TTRPG to socialize with your friends.

Hope this helps, somehow.

2016-03-11, 07:23 PM
Burnout is just what it is. Take a break. Run a different system or maybe just pass on gaming for a week or two. Get together and watch a couple movies, play some video games, and munch on pizza while drinking mountain dew and chatting. You don't -have- to play a TTRPG to socialize with your friends.

I can confirm: Movie nights, video-games, eating out, and other social activities are great for reducing your risk of burnout. Anything to keep TRPGs from being your entire social life. That's a big reason why people stick around in groups that they hate. Doing other things with your friends is also likely to help you get to know them better and perhaps strengthen your friendship.

2016-03-11, 09:32 PM
I'm having a similar problem. Not the burnout, but the whole Nothing is Challenging for the Characters bit.

When a Rogue can deal triple digit damage on a single hit (backstabbing with a crit plus whatever buffs the Mage and Pally gives her) it can make it frustrating on a DM and a bit boring.

Shake things up. Narrow spaces. 7/8 concealment. Magic Dead Zones. Cursed Artifacts. Diseases. Insanity. Even temporary. Overwhelm them with sheer numbers. A kobold isn't scary. Two hundred of them in a Minotaur's Maze with 3 foot high ceilings and 2 foot wide tunnels makes it hard on min-max'ing.

Now that single backstabbing for 100hps damage is useless. Mage can't fireball. It'd be like being inside the chamber of a gun! And then add in giant spiders and giant wasps in the larger chambers. Go back to old favorites like Gelatinous Cubes and Rust Monsters and Beholders. Hit them with enough small stuff that they can't do anything big.

Now that's just for combat.

For Diplomacy, Intrigue, Mystery... Well, that's another post.

2016-03-11, 09:43 PM
Mage can't fireball. It'd be like being inside the chamber of a gun!

You are surrounded by crates of explosives (http://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/matchlightdanger01_7710.png).

It Sat Rap
2016-03-29, 03:27 AM
I don't keep myself motivated if I get sick of my campaign. When I don't enjoy it any longer, I stop playing it. Let someone else be the GM (for a while) and don't force yourself to do something you don't enjoy.

However, if there is still some kind of fun left in the game for you, simply make the game harder, if you feel like it is too easy. As a GM, you are the god in your world, you are above the rules and the dice, it can't be that hard to make the game more challenging. Give monsters class levels! Buff their abilities! Double their numbers! Fudge dice rolls! CHEAT! Yes, cheat if it is for the greater good! What, that's unfair? Of course it is, but the only thing that matters in the end is the enjoyment of everyone. As long as both the players and the GM enjoy the game, everything is allowed.

2016-03-31, 11:05 PM
GMs have the right to enjoy themselves as much as the players. If that's not happening there is only one thing to do:
You find a way to end the campaign gracefully and move on to something new. It is that simple.

2016-04-01, 08:51 AM
Rule nr 1. Enjoy yourself

Try to do something that you find fun in the campaign....your players might even enjoy it. Throw in an evil twist. Next time they teleport back their home base is gone....just vanished, and then you pit them against the biggest baddest meanest bad guy you can cook up where everything your PC's have worked for is at stake. And then you gracefully retire and do something else.

I often get tired with my campaigns when they have been running for a long time and then I just come up with a finale and end it. No reason to prolong something that is boring you.

2016-04-01, 09:21 AM
Take a break. Try a couple sessions of Risus, Kobolds ate my Baby, and Badassery. Maybe some Gamma and Dungeon world thrown in.

2016-04-01, 11:56 AM
All the previous advice on avoiding burnout is great, but if you want to keep playing....

--The previously noted post involving terrain and ways to avoid damage is good. I would add

Take a page from horror's book and add something that CAN'T be killed. Elder Evils work well for this. I don't know what style of campaign you're running, but keep adding in things that just seem wrong, like hearing voices, and adding areas where things begin acting strange. No need to be a jerk, but knowing that spells have a 20 percent chance to become a different spell of the same level will challenge anyone
Use miss chances, skill checks, and other things that remain constantly useful with level. A king can send them a letter asking them to do something, only to clap them in irons when they do it. The reasoning? An anonymous enemy with a really high forgery check sent the letter. Heck, no one takes forgery, so you could mess with an entire kingdom's communication in that way.
Lose-Lose more scenarios. Enemies are threatening both the life of the prince they befriended and the trade routes critical to the city. Which will they save? Doing both means splitting the party, since the prince won't stop in his duties.
The Vecna-blooded template can easily be reflavored for powerful NPCs or a cult which worships some ancient evil, and prevents divination, which stops easy detection before it becomes too late. Likewise, a grassroots conspiracy where everyone is unaware of the identity of the others is both useful and reasonable in preventing divination or torture from revealing names.

Of course, for all of this CAUTION is required to not be a jerk and no-sell anything they do, but used in moderation it can present a notable challenge for your party, even if they are casters. Some of those things will be even more powerful against them because of that. Forgery for example could make them think that the king is trying to screw them over or is somehow bypassing their magic, if you play it right.

2016-04-01, 01:18 PM
I've run multiple large scale campaigns, including 3+ years slogging through each of Night Below, Temple of Elemental Evil, and Castle Whiterock, plus one campaign of my own design. What you describe is pretty much the standard for any campaign that runs that long to that high a level.

A big part of the problem is that you are at the point in the campaign where the D20 rules set (including variants like Pathfinder) just plain breaks down, and pretty much anything the players attempt is going to be an auto-success.
There's pretty much nothing you can do about that but try and rush the campaign to an end and get back to a lower level campaign where the rules are more functional.

A second major element is that you are running a published adventure, which are designed for "default" parties made by the writers, which generally tend to suck utterly compared to optimized parties created by players at home. This is compounded by the published adventure being essentially "core" SRD, while I expect your players are using every sourcebook available, compounding the power discrepancy.
Again, there's pretty much nothing you can do about that but rewrite every encounter to the same degree of access and optimization.

As for the players loving their characters, why shouldn't they? They've played them for a long time to get them to the point where they can win so easily. Of course they want to take some time to wallow in it.

As for you feeling you are railroading, failing to present the plot properly, and similar issues, that's more difficult to answer.
You could really be that bad a DM, in which case there is no way out of it but getting better through experience.
However I know from my experience with such grand adventures that it is quite possible that the source of the problems is the adventure itself and not anything you are doing wrong.
At a certain point, those adventures get just plain railroad-y because it is the only way to keep PCs who can do "anything" on target. As you noted, they can just teleport back and forth on a whim, set up new toys, and come back to walkover the next session.
Likewise, after playing a campaign focused on a particular villain for so long, their motivations and goals should be blatantly obvious to all but the most oblivious of PCs. Nothing should be a surprise to the party anymore, from background mystery to puzzle to unique monster.
So rather than defaulting to "Yeah, you should just hang up the DM screen", I'm more inclined to shrug and say "Nature of the supermodule/AP beast", and suggest you aren't as bad as you are thinking you are. That is especially so if the players are enjoying things.

So how did I keep myself motivated when I was spending 20 hours per week prepping for encounters the party would role over in 20 minutes, while striding to an inevitable conclusion they all knew was waiting for them 3 months ago?
By focusing on how much fun they were having, while plotting the thrills of challenging them once again in the next campaign.
And by remembering that running a campaign whose climax they will want to talk about for years to come, with stories of how they blasted everything with gratuitous abandon, was supposed to be my primary goal, and that I have achieved it.
As for the players wanting to go even further, just have a simple talk with them and explain that as much as you enjoy them having so much fun, the time has come for this campaign to end and the next one to being, including noting that you are simply worn out having to do so much prep trying to come up with even the most minor challenge for them. My players certainly understood that they had "won" and it was time to move on, and appreciated me acknowledging it. So far this group has been going for 17 years on that basis.

2016-04-01, 02:36 PM
I can relate. Burnout happens. Level with your players that you need a break - the options really may boil down to ending the campaign or doing something different for a bit so you can recharge. This is really important. If you don't, you may run straight into the wall where you simply can't do any more.

Pull out a board or card game for a few weeks. Seriously. You need it.

Constantly coming up with new ideas is hard. Read a lot. Also ask on boards such as this one for ideas.

If you are looking for ways to shake up your game, here are a few thoughts:

Browse through the books for odds and ends rules to hang an encounter or even a tactic around.

Ask a friend to come up with an encounter. If the players know your style, an encounter designed by someone else can really shake them up.

Time pressure... there is an art to this really. Deadlines help. Make something bad happen in-game if they don't hurry. And follow through. Ideally, the characters should be aware of the time pressure.

Another way to make challenges tougher: don't let the players recover resources whenever they want. If you ratchet up the number of encounters they have to sustain between recovery periods, it puts an entirely different spin on the game, especially if the PCs are used to the one encounter day.

Break their toys. Or take them away. Or make them useless. Players hate this, but it is an entirely viable tactic that can make a simple encounter much more challenging. What does a player do when the uber wand of doom he was planning to use just got sundered. Or the caster's spell component pouch got pick-pocketed 15 minutes ago and he didn't realize it. Or some sort of magic doesn't work in this area. Don't use this too much, but a sprinkling now and then can work wonders.

Use a too-tough encounter. A lot of DMs don't do this and you want to be very sure the players can recognize it as too tough if you do. Throw an encounter at them where magic and force of arms simply won't work.

Other planes. Lots of material here that can shake up the game and change the rules.

Combined arms.
Mix different monsters together. Especially if it helps shore up weaknesses or they can capitalize on strengths.

Take advantage of numbers. Even the most powerful of PCs have a limited number of actions. You've got an effectively unlimited number in your tool box as DM. Sometimes the most effective action an NPC can take isn't to try to hurt the PC, but instead render the PCss actions less effective or useless. Counterspelling, Aid another, buffs, readied actions, etc. Play around with this.

Be as ruthless as the monster's intelligence dictates. Don't play them foolishly - use the PC's own tactics against them. For example: the PCs have access to scrying to spy on the NPCs, why can't the NPCs do the same and identify weaknesses. Likewise be ruthless on threat assessments based on what the monsters can see and what typical threats look like. Use the tactic that is most likely to be effective (assuming the monster is smart enough). Yes, this means the casters should usually get an extra heaping of hurt. Dragons, for example, are smart enough to recognize that most heavily armored foes probably have a good Fort save and higher hp (use magic or breath), unarmored ones throwing spells probably a good Will save (fly and land next to them to attack physically and disrupt spells), etc.

And if you are planning to wind down the campaign, there are things that you can to do to make this appeal to the players. One that I usually use is to base the next campaign in the same world and area as the prior one, but years later. This gives the players a sense of familiarity and also lets them see that their characters had an impact on the world. I've even gone so far as to repopulate dungeons that the PCs had previously cleared out with new threats that arose (sometimes even escaped minions from the prior campaign becoming the new evil leader).

2016-04-06, 07:53 PM
Don't forget, encounters don't have to be level appropriate. Drop a pair of mating red dragons on your level 5 group. Those reds do NOT like to be interrupted!

Or have an Avatar of the God of Death, no wait, of War is better, come down to smite them. One Avatar doesn't scare them? Have him appear in triplicate. Who wants to fight three Gods of War???
Still not a threat? Send 6. Or 15. Same god of war, but 15 Avatars. They can each have different powers even.

Or 15 with an army of minions.

Or a swarm of stirges and rabid wolves. Every try to fight a god with a rabid dog chewing at your ankle? It ain't easy, but it's fun.

2016-04-07, 11:38 AM
Nthing 'take a break'.
Do something else. I can understand if your players would be upset at giving up roleplaying altogether for an extended period in favor of board/card games or movie nights (not every roleplayer likes those things) but all you have to do is play another game with a different system and setting and goal. The more different from d20 the better. I've done this twice in the last two years (Laundry Files and the High School Harem Comedy) and the break was appreciated both by me and my players.
Pull them out of their rut of powergaming d20, make them have to think differently about the game they are playing. Do this until you are rested and feel you can finish off the campaign properly. My breaks lasted from two to six months and did wonders for my feeling of burnout.

As for the feeling of inadequacy, it may be the case that you need to work on your GMing skills. I am fully aware of my failings as a GM and constantly make the same mistakes I tell myself I should avoid. Yet my players keep coming back, so I must be doing something well enough. If your players keep coming back you are doing something well enough that they think it worthwhile to spend their leisure time with your games. I would recommend leading another game to help develop your GMing skills as well as to cure burnout. A different game and different types of stories and different rules makes you think differently about GMing and can help you learn different, perhaps better ways of running a game.

As for the important bit of actually communicating your problems with your players, just say straight up that you are feeling burned out and frustrated leading the game and need a break with something else. Unless they are rather dickish they will accept this and go along with something new for a while. It would probably help if you phrased things in such a way that you seem the one to blame rather than them, or at worst cite incompatible GM/playing styles.