How do you combat DM fatigue?

One thought on “How do you combat DM fatigue?

  1. D. Walker says:

    I started out as a DM who tried to prepare every little thing, because otherwise I just felt… well.. unprepared.

    It felt like I needed to know and anticipate every little thing, and that if I came up with a cool idea I absolutely had to include or use it, and if I didn’t ever get around to it during play, then it felt like somehow I’d screwed up, and I felt compelled to try to shoehorn it into it’s “proper place” if I could, which was almost never possible, and even when it was it certainly wasn’t elegant.


    Now, since then I discovered Chris Perkins, and he quickly became my favorite DM to watch in action. Naturally, I kept trying to figure out how he does his stuff.

    But my problem was, I kept operating under the assumption that everything had to be prepared, and so I was blown away by a false perception.

    “Holy crap! Chris is so good – he must do INCREDIBLE amounts of preparation!”


    Occasionally, there would be a question from people about how long do he spent preparing, and Chris would invariably answer that he only spends about half an hour per session preparing. And again, I got blown away by a false perception.

    “Holy crap! Chris does ALL of that IMMENSE amount of preparation in ONLY HALF AN HOUR? That’s incredible efficiency! He’s a superhuman machine!”


    But eventually, I started coming across comments from Chris that made me start to slowly realize the error I was making. “I actually prepare very little”, he assured people.

    At first I found that hard to believe, and thought: “He must mean that there are other DMs out there who prepare utterly crazy amounts – like the people who build entire worlds and somehow keep every little detail in their heads, the sort of person who could memorize the Bible and quote any verse on command”.

    But I kept slowly getting more of a sense that, no – he actually doesn’t prepare much at all, and I was wrong that he was just super efficient at his prep work.


    Recently, there was a bit of a video interview with Chris, and he said something that really helped me finally grok what he’s been trying to get at. He was talking about Dice, Camera, Action, and he specifically talked about the prep work he did for Season 3, and I finally realized his secret – improvise, improvise, improvise.

    “I wrote down 30 episodes on a sheet of paper and did like… 1-line TV guide lines of what’s going to happen in an episode.

    They’re going to find a wrecked ship in the jungle. They’re gonna go to Oralunga and talk to an oracle. They’re gonna meet a pair of goblin brothers who are up to no good. That’s all I wrote.

    Half of those never happened. Because I expected in season 3 to spend half of the season getting to the Tomb of Annihilation, and then half of the season in the tomb, running around. Well, we’re now two episodes away from the end of season 3, and they’ve never been to the tomb. So that’ ain’t happenin’. All those plans… whatever. Gone.

    But I don’t feel bad about that because what did happen was just as cool if not more cool than what I had planned. And I’m hoping the same thing happens in season 4.”


    And now, it all makes so much more sense.

    Chris isn’t a master worldbuilder and storycrafter because he plots out every little detail with meticulous accuracy.

    It’s because he’s good at making stuff up on the fly, and letting his players do a lot of the work FOR him, helping him write the story as they play through it.

    He gives himself the bare “bones” of an adventure, and then fills in the “meat” of it as he goes, letting the interests and choices of his players influence and inspire his creative process along the way.

    Chris maybe knew that he wanted to use a Naga for his oracle of Oralunga, but I’d bet good money he didn’t decide to make it a stoner hippy until they were mid-session. He knew he wanted some goblin brothers to wreak chaos, but he surely didn’t know beforehand what sort of chaos that would end up being – because a lot of that decision was actually made by Ross, the player, instead. Et cetera.


    Now, I’d been experimenting on and off with improvising more in my games for years prior to this – stretching all the way back to my first tabletop RPG, Shadowrun. But this was the first time it all started to make sense and feel… well… actually doable and not scary.

    Whenever I tried to experiment with improvisation before, I would always end up afraid that I was flying by the seat of my pants way too much, and that the barely controlled chaos that I was letting unfold would somehow betray that I was a “Bad GM” if the players got wind of just how unprepared I actually was.

    But Chris helped me realize that, in truth, most players are not very good at telling the difference between something you planned out in incredible detail beforehand, and something that THEY thought of themselves at the table, that you just stole and ran with, pretending it was your idea from the start.

    And that’s the secret to DMing without killing yourself. Roll with the punches. Let the story meander. Gently guide it when and where appropriate, but worry less about trying to tell a pre-written story to the players, and more about letting them write their own story in a world that exists mostly in their own imaginations.

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