Storytelling is an act of passion and dedication, and often it can feel unrewarding and unappreciated. It’s also a huge amount of work, and that can quickly, easily and unexpectedly result in burn out.

Being burned out means you have hit a wall – an extended period in which you are exhausted and stressed about game in an all-encompassing way that affects the quality of your storytelling and game management. But what can we do to help storytellers avoid burning out?

The first step is for storytellers to recognize the signs that might indicate they are burning out. If we don’t know we’re suffering from burn out, we can’t combat it. Some signs of burning out include:

  • Exhaustion: You notice that during and after game, you are completely zapped and wore out (in the negative ways).
  • Frustration and Cynicism: You begin to get pessimistic about game, the topic of LARP just makes you want to sigh and “ugh,” and you feel like it doesn’t matter how well of a job you do.
  • Lack of Motivation: You’d rather be doing other things instead of having ST meetings, working on downtimes or being at game.
  • Less Smarterer: You have trouble concentrating, you can’t remember details and you have trouble paying attention during game.
  • Increased Conflict: You’re butting heads with other gamers more often because you’re experiencing a lack of patience.
  • Preoccupation About Game: You’re just always thinking about game, no matter where you are or what you’re doing. You can’t have a conversation with your gaming friends about things other than game.
  • Physical Issues: You have heartburn, headaches, weight gain or other bodily issues that are common results of stress.

Obviously, a burned out storyteller doesn’t run their best game.

If you look like this guy, you're probably burned out.

If you look like this guy, you’re probably burned out.

The first line of prevention to keep a storyteller from burning out actually belongs to the players of the game. Recognize your storyteller’s hard work, and tell them you appreciate them. When you ask for things, be kind and understanding – especially if they have to tell you “no.” If you disagree with something they do, express it in a positive way that is non-combative – don’t get angry and call them names. When you have complaints, find a way to bring them to your storytellers that shows they are opportunities for improvement and not just the rants of a b*tchy player.

Don’t monopolize your storyteller’s time with complaints at the restaurant after game – let them come down from the event on a positive note and hang out with everyone as friends before you raise your concerns with them. And finally, reward them for their efforts through little things like having all the players in the game sign a birthday card for them or collect a dollar from every player to buy them something small and fun for Christmas. The greatest service a player can do to keep their storytellers from burning out is to make sure the storytellers are always aware that the game appreciates everything that they do.

As a storyteller, there are also things you can do to help keep yourself from burning out. The first, and probably most important, is to regularly Check Your Investment™.

Real life is always more important than a game. Characters are not people – players are. People matter more than characters. Respect, kindness and friendships should always guide your gaming. Remember that, too – it’s just a game. If you’re taking it so seriously, if you’re so obsessed, if you’re so involved and absorbed, if you’re so victimized by a game that you aren’t having fun any more, or you aren’t allowing those around you to have fun any more, then you need to step away. The only winners of role-playing games are the people who are having fun.

About every other month, I spend some quiet time and I reflect on the games I’m playing in, the games I’m storytelling in and the organizations and positions that I am in and hold. I consider the joy and happiness those things bring me. I consider the pain and stress they bring me. I ask, “Is it fun?” I weigh all of these things and if I ever find the bad to outnumber the good, I seriously consider what I need to change.

I want to stress that checking your investment doesn’t necessarily mean quitting a game (though, it may). Sometimes, it just means making an adjustment. It might mean finding another gaming group. Sometimes it may mean you personally reassess how important LARP is to you. Sometimes it may mean story-tell less. Usually, it just means you have to adjust your perspective, change how you think about things or make alterations to how much importance you apply to different aspects of gaming.

When you check your investment and decide you need to make an adjustment because you are becoming burned out from storytelling, there are often some easy first steps you can take:

  • Play: Find another game you can just simply play in. It could be a troupe game, a non-World of Darkness game or even a really good tabletop game. Just experience game NOT as the person running it.
  • Choose Your Battles: Some things that we freak out about just aren’t worth freaking out over. Take stock of the things that upset you and evaluate if it’s something that really matters all that much. If it does, take a moment to breathe before you deal with it.
  • Unplug: Game runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week in this era of social media and internet technologies. Set aside one day a week (or more if you need) to not participate or monitor game-related connectivity.
  • Find the Joy in Friendships: Hang out with your players in places other than game and make LARP a topic that is not allowed to be discussed. Moreover, hang out with your other storytellers outside of your game and outside of your storyteller meetings. Make an effort to enjoy the people you are doing game with in venues outside of game.
  • Do Something Else: Find another hobby that you can invest some time in to help take your mind off of game – especially something that is low-stress and non-combative.
  • Chill: Relax. Sleep. Enjoy some quiet time. Make time for yourself.
  • Delegate: Recognize that one of the strongest abilities of a great leader is the art of delegating. You are not the only storyteller on your staff (if you ARE the only storyteller on your staff, then change that). Let others do their share of the workload, and encourage them to do the parts that they are best at.
  • Organize: Take a few days to organize the administrative aspects of your game. Purchase a game storage box or tub that can travel to your game site and back to store your item cards, notebooks, character sheets, folders, downtimes, histories and other storyteller paperwork and tools in. Develop a filing system and file things where they go. If your work space is a mess, so too, will be your mind space when working.
  • Ask for Help: Don’t be afraid or too proud to ask others for help. This might mean asking for another person to join your storytelling staff. It may mean appointing a Narrator or two. Sometimes it means asking your other storytellers to do more work. Most importantly, it may mean simply asking your players to go “easy” on you at the next game in the form of a soft RP night to help you get caught up and reset your health.

Whatever you choose to do to help you fight burnout, the most important thing of all is to keep your investment in check and remember that this game is never as important as the people who participate in it. We all need to be having fun, and it takes all of us doing our part to make sure everyone can do that!

~Ryan Faricelli
Director of Communications

[Checking your investment is a major theme from my book on better storytelling, better playing and better culture, On A Roll: Level Up Your RPG.]