Burnout Recovery Spells for TTRPG Designers – II

(Play Different Games)

A little over a week ago, I posted an article describing my personal experiences with creative burnout. In that article (the first in the series) I described how there are a few tricks I learned and used to overcome the overwhelm. In this article, I want to zero in on how playing a different game can help you overcome TTRPG designer burnout.

A Break Designed for Success

Games are designed to be fun! However, everyone determined to be successful in this industry knows that designing an entertaining game requires a lot of hard work. It’s rewarding, creative, and can even be fun work, but it is still work. Unfortunately, setting it aside can be tough. Even when you walk away from the table, your mind has a habit of drifting back to combat mechanics, world design, marketing, etc. Breaking free of that mindset may require deliberate effort, so why not employ the effort already expended by somebody else? Play a different game!

As a designer, you’re trying to pull your audience out of their mundane lives and place them in a fantastic world. Well, that’s what you need to experience yourself. You need to be pulled from the world of spreadsheets, designs, marketing, and crafting, and jump into a world of fantasy, adventure, and escapism. Give yourself the opportunity to experience the very tonic you are attempting to build.

More Than Just a Recovery Spell

The subconscious mind is a powerful tool. If you wander aimlessly or perform mindless chores mechanically, your subconscious may draw your attention back to your work in progress. Personally, I found that while doing the dishes or mopping the floors, I sometimes find myself spacing out and mentally tinkering with my game designs. I may separate myself from my work, but my work doesn’t really separate itself from me.

Playing a game, however, requires more attention than a little house cleaning. You focus on your character, abilities, and tactics, so your subconscious can’t find a handhold to pull you back. Furthermore, we gain a greater benefit through immersing ourselves in another world, inspiration. Though your conscious mind stays focused on the game you’re playing, your subconscious mind is free to make associations and continue to whittle away at the designs you left in your office. You will often find that after giving yourself a break for a few hours, sudden insight unexpectedly surfaces.

This is your subconscious having a “lightbulb moment”.

Play Something Different

If you’re designing a game, you’re designing a game within the genre you enjoy. As a designer, you know of the wide variety of TTRPG systems out there. Try exploring something new! It doesn’t have to be a heavy investment. There are plenty of small systems out there capable of providing a few hours of entertainment. Jumping into a completely different system or genre really gives you an opening to immerse yourself in something new and separate yourself from your work.

For me, journaling TTRPG games work the best, but there are rules-light adventure games, solo dungeon crawls, and crunchy stat-building games. Go exploring, get inspired, and above all else, have some fun!

Don’t Forget to Breathe

Remember, you’re a human being and you need rest. It’s important to remember to take time for yourself. If nothing else, your work will suffer as a result of your burnout and exhaustion.

I know that this is important to you. Your friends and family know that this is important to you. Try to remember that you are important to you, you are important to your friends and family, and (at a far removed distance from the former) your mental health is important to your game’s development.

So don’t forget to take a break, breathe, and cast a recovery spell on your mental health!

-Ash Alder

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