December 26, 2008


Two weeks ago my ongoing Kingship Chronicles campaign went bust. It was a 4th edition Dungeons & Dragons campaign set in The Great Dale from 3rd edition Forgotten Realms. The elevator pitch for the campaign would go something like this:
Three orphans must defend their homeland from an invading army of disease ridden living zombies, and they must also find a cure for their adoptive mother who has fallen ill to the blightspawn. The short campaign is for level 1 characters, who are expected to reach level 5 after several overland and underground adventures. The PCs will battle against mindless hordes of decaying blightspawn, thieves and bandits from Thesk, buried dead in the Crypts of the Arcomancer, and abberations from the Underdark. Can they convince the clansfolk of The Great Dale to join together to fight this common enemy? Will they be able to gain the help of The Circle of Leth in Yeshilmar? It will all be revealed in The Kingship Chronicles...
My players reached the end of the current saga with a huge - "final battle" style ending whereby they helped defend Yeshilmar from a massive horde of blightspawn and (barely) managed to save their dying mother. It was a solid close, with no loose ends, and everyone seemed very satisfied with the end result. All in all, it was a really fun 6-months that introduced us to the 4th edition rules.

And then we all just sorta decided... "Meh... lets do something else."

Some of the players want to go back to an RPG that doesn't use miniatures at all. Others want to stick with 4E, but to try something new (for them) like a sandbox-campaign. Still others want to continue with the current set of characters, but are willing to play "whatever the rest of the group decides". Me? Frankly, I always want the same thing: to be a player.

I've been a player in only 4 campaigns in 25 years, but I have DM'd countless campaigns and introduced the game to probably two or three dozen new players (ok, maybe not countless... but too many for me to count right now). Some of those players are still avid gamers today, and I'm happy to know that they credit me with getting them into gaming. But, none of them, to my knowledge, have ever been a DM. All my "converts" are still players and seemingly unwilling to make the jump to running their own game (with one exception: Hi Ray!). So, I'm left with this kind of hole in my experience where 90% of my gaming experience has been from "behind the screen" so to speak. But, is this a problem? Is it time for me to sit somewhere else at the table? Has the group stagnated as a whole? Or, is this just DM burnout?

So, what's a DM to do?
  1. Cut-off my nose to spite my face. "I'm not DM'ing ... so I guess that means we won't game at all!" This solution is not only childish, but it just screams "whiner!" and should stop right here.
  2. Look for a new group of players to game with that have their own DM. This is something I've honestly not done enough of. I've never been to a FLGS event, let alone a convention, and players at my table almost always been new inductees into RPG gaming. Rarely have hard-core gamers (people who go to cons) ever gamed at my game table, or vice versa, and the few that I know of happen to be entangled in a hugely awesome Star Wars campaign that already has seven players - which means "No Soup For You!".
  3. Convince one of the players at my existing game table to be the DM. I've tried this once before with very limited success. As I have said before - for many of the people I game with their entire RPG gaming experience has been limited to my game table. I think there must be some kind of critical inertia issue here, because none of them have volunteered to be the DM. Maybe they think it takes too much time? Maybe they are afraid of a botched attempt? Meh, I'm happy to help with both of those issues, or any other that would come up, but still they resist.
  4. Stop playing until inspiration strikes me again to be a DM. This is the way I usually handle campaign fizzle - by taking a break (as Phil suggests as well). Sometimes these breaks are months to (in one case) years. The problem is that I don't want to stop gaming or take a break. I'm not having gaming burnout.
  5. Post something on my blog and see if any other ideas come done the pipe. Well, here we are... what do you think I should do?
POST EDIT: My wife may actually take up the DM seat for the first time. After reading this post she remarked "Why couldn't I run a campaign?" And I thought, "Yes young Jedi. Now your training is complete!"


  1. Be honest with your group? Perhaps do a round-robin DM'ing for a few months, maybe using different games, different settings? Or perhaps a West Marches approach, where other people can DM?

  2. What's worked really well for me sometimes is, "Hey, guys, I need a break for a month or two. Someone else wanna run a bit while I rest?" That means they're not faced with MEGACAMPAIGN if they're new, because they know after a few weeks or so they can give it back, no matter how bad they screw it up :P

    A huge part of it is performance anxiety. Maybe you can get thme to do what Chgowiz suggested and round-robin amongst themselves. Then you can see how well they all do while you take a break. After your break, pick the best to co-GM, so they can learn with a safety net.

    Then after the next 6-month game, let them have it :P

  3. Stop DMing and play. That's my advice. Don't even think about donning the DM hat while playing. We usually have a bad habit of doing that ;).

    Have fun, sit back, and be a player for a while. Let someone else take the reigns and become the TNGDM (TM) (the next great DM). :)

  4. What made me want to start DMing was a combination of a) feeling like the other DM's were doing things "wrong" (not enough focus on cool scenes) and b) our other DM quit in the middle of a really cool module (White Plume Mountain) and I thought it would be a lot of fun to finish.

    So a) be a worse DM so your players are frustrated :) or b) confess your weariness in the middle of a campaign so that someone else can take over your campaign and adventure without having to create it all from scratch.

  5. Shake it up with another kind of game. After that main course you guys need a dessert...

    I would recommend a boardgame or card game. Check, or buy a cheap poker set, etc.

    Then maybe float the idea of someone else doing a very short campaign, or doing a round-robin with a very simple game system, etc.

    For the first session at least, make no promises or commitments to a new, big campaign.

    This also might be a good time to try some new players, see how they handle simple gaming with your group without the big campaign around. If your eventual hope is to run a West Marches style campaign, you're going to need them.

    Good luck.


By submitting your comment below, you agree to the blog's Terms of Service.