Reducing exhaustion levels- DM Self Care

Always important to stock up on potions of caffeine before DMing. (Source: Nintendo)

Being a DM is hard, and having a weekly session that pairs social skills development AND Dungeon Mastering can be a lot to handle, especially if you struggle with anxiety, as I do. However, I've been doing this for five years, and while I have had sessions that have not gone as well as I'd like, and have had times where I'm really not feeling so great, I've kept at it and avoided burnout- but it's been a very intentional effort.

So with no further ado, here's what's worked for me. Note that a lot of these pertain to dealing with anxiety, so many of them are geared towards addressing that.

-Assessing yourself. You have to take inventory of your own spell slots (think spoon theory, I just prefer the term spell slots.) There have been times when I've needed to run group and I'm dealing with a depressive episode, feeling sick, or going through some personal grief, and I've taken extra time to prepare myself for that. If you're on the verge of a panic attack from something else in your life, take enough time to get yourself down to a baseline before coming to the table.

-Communicate where you are. There have been times where I've been feeling under the weather, and I've told the kids that. Something as simple as, “Hey, I'm getting over a cold and running on very little sleep, so let's try to stay on point and keep things really positive today.” That also acts as a way to build empathy.

-Get the kids to help. Assign out jobs for the kids, whether that be keeping tabs on a kid who may have issues with staying attentive, or tracking initiative, it's perfectly acceptable to give kids a job to take some of the mental stress off your plate- and often times they appreciate being given the responsibility.

-Calories and caffeine monitoring. I make sure I eat something 3 hours before I run a game, and while I am a caffeine addict, I know my limits, and space out my caffeine intake so I don't get jittery.

-Co-DM. If you are in a co-DMing game, rely on your co-facilitator. There have been times where I asked my co-facilitator to run a game I was supposed to, as I wasn't feeling so hot, and they've done the same for me.

-Know your anxiety triggers. I tend to get nervous about not having enough planned, so I have at least 3 hours a week set aside for DM prep. Even though I don't use 80% of what I create, it's good to have it there, as it gives me something to fall back on (and in turn helps me think about session planning on a more intentional, client specific way. More on that in an incoming post on DM prep.)

-Naps. If you can, get a bit of shut eye. I try to arrive 30 minutes early, which provides enough time for a power nap and setup. I keep a small thing of mouthwash with me, because that nasty sleep mouthtaste definitely is a distraction after a nap.

-Meditation- I meditate anywhere between 5 and 15 minutes before every session. I deal with a lot of performance anxiety, and this does wonders.

-Find what you love and pursue that. I personally love world building, and when I'm doing DM prep, I set aside time to build up the world. It keeps my sense of wonder and imagination active. It also helps add descriptors to the world.

-Rehearsing scenes. I like to rehearse the NPCs sequences, as that helps me loosen up. Given that these are social skills groups, there is a huge amount of role playing, and having some time to get into character is a godsend. If you don't, you may end up switching accents, doing something decidedly out of character (which, as a nice save, you can set as character development/something amiss).

-Keep an eye on your substances. If you drink, don't drink the day before a game, as being even a little hungover can make running a game difficult.

-Music. On the drive to the session, find some music that gets you into the flavor of the session. If it's a mad wizard dungeon, the Portal 2 soundtrack is particularly good. If it's a goofy, weird session, the Undertale soundtrack is one of my go-tos. If it's a generic fantasy one, the Warcraft 2, Fable, or Lord of the Rings soundtrack is optimal.

Anyway, these are what have worked for me. Hope these help, and please let me know if you have any recommendations that work for you.