It’s day 14 of the Blogging for GMs project, and today’s post is about the positive aspects of taking a break from GMing:

Brannon Hollingsworth wrote Gimme a break!

Brannon’s post makes several good points on the pro side (thanks for contributing to the project, Brannon!) and I’d like to use it as a springboard to point you to a couple of resources on GM burnout, and to talk about “death by break” and alternating games.

As Brannon points out, taking a break from GMing is a good way to avoid burning out, and I’m not going to cover the same ground here. There are also a couple of other great resources on this topic:

9 Symptoms of GM Burnout
8 Tips For Recovering From GM Burn-Out
Roleplaying Burnout

The first two come from Johnn Four’s excellent Roleplaying Tips weekly e-zine, and the third is an article by Heather Grove (of Burning Void) that takes tips about writer’s burnout and applies them to GMing.

This topic is as old as GMing (okay, maybe “as old as a few months after the first GM started GMing” would be more accurate), and I don’t just want to repeat what’s already out there. Instead, let’s look at two specific burnout-related topics: “death by break” and alternating games.

“Death by break” is one of the downsides of taking a break from GMing: whether the break was taken by choice (as in Brannon’s post) or out of necessity, if it’s too long there’s a good chance the game will never start up again.

When I started gaming as a kid, we never really took breaks; if games ended, it was because we lost interest during play, or finished them. As an adult, though, there are a lot more demands on my time — which increases the likelihood of “death by break.”

My Selgaunt campaign took a four week break because I moved out of state, and even though we transitioned to play-by-post to try and keep it going, it never recovered from that break. (To be fair, our group also wasn’t the best-suited to PbP play, but looking back I see the break as a big factor unto itself.)

So how long is too long, break-wise? It mainly depends on two factors: whether your group does any other gaming during the break, and your group’s overall interest in the game. The second factor is pretty straightforward: if interest in the game is waning, a break will probably push it under for good.

As for the first factor, I find that breaks where no one is doing any gaming at all are the most deadly, because everyone finds something else to fill that time — which means there’s a chance they just won’t want to come back to the game. This is where alternating games comes in.

Brannon’s post talks about alternating GMs for the same game, which is a good option. Alternating two completely different games — with different GMs — can also work out well, and that’s the approach I’m going to cover here. My group is actually about to start doing this, and our main reason is one of the most common ones: so that if I need a week off for some reason, we have something else to play. Once alternating two games becomes part of the regular schedule, however, other benefits crop up as well.

You get to sit on the other side of the screen regularly (and at least for me, playing always recharages my GMing batteries), and the two games can each explore a different gaming style or genre. Most GMs I know always have game ideas simmering on their back burners, and as a GM it can be frustrating to be in a regular group — even a very good one — and not be able to run a game of your own. Alternating games gives you that creative outlet, and for some groups it can be a perfect fit.

It won’t work for every group, though, and there are a couple of things to think about before trying it. Assuming that one game is already running, you need to consider whether or not its pacing can survive if you starting skipping sessions. How often you play factors into that, too: if you only play once a month, alternating games probably isn’t going to work for you. Your group’s desire to learn a different set of rules should also be taken into account, assuming that you don’t want to alternate with, say, a second campaign of the same game.

Have you tried alternating games before, successfully or unsuccessfully? Have you lost a game (or games!) to “death by break?” Is there a “magic number” for how long your breaks can be before the game fizzles?