How to avoid a burnout? A reader asked for help on EN World. Here’s what I recommended.
Figure out what is taking you so long, and drop it.
Spending too much time on NPC stats? Buy some, or have several sessions fighting only monsters, or just use the generic stats from the DMG, or use the NPC Generator 2.
Spending too much time preparing spellcaster tactics? Do away with spellcasters for a while. Use monsters with lots of hitpoints, big damage reduction, high AC, good saves, high damage per second ratings – and no spell like abilities, no supernatural abilities, no special abilities, none of that.
Spending too much time on adding class levels to monsters? Don’t do it. Pick a different monster, or let them use magic items, or use a simplified warrior class: +1 to-hit per level, +1 Fort per level, +1d10 per level. Done. No feats and save some time.
Spending too much time crafting NPCs using Prestige Classes? Use core classes only and use fluff to bridge the gap.
Spending too much time picking feats? Either do away with feats (like the simplified warrior above), or pick a feat chain and have all NPCs of a certain type follow the same feat chain. This makes things easy. Pick NPC level, figure out the number of feats, start at the beginning. An example from Kitsunemori: Iaido – This martial art is all about drawing a weapon first to deal maximum damage in as little time as possible. Feats: Quick Draw, Power Attack, Cleave, Great Cleave, Improved Bull Rush, Improved Overrun, Improved Sunder, Weapon Focus, Greater Weapon Focus, Weapon Specialization, Greater Weapon Specialization, Weapon Technique, Improved Critical, Deadly Arc (samurai only), Zanshin (samurai only), Improved Zanshin (samurai only).
Spending too much time drawing maps? Reuse. In my current campaign, I’ve reused a little seven-room ruined castle five times. Whenever the party left, something evil came back eventually.
Spending too much time inventing background? Drop it. Running adventures is not about being a Fantasy-author wannabe. It’s not story-telling all by yourself. It’s about being there, at the table. Focus preparation on the stuff that is going to happen at the table. If players go in unexpected directions (“You said they had one of the biggest libraries here, right? My character will read up on the hobgoblin rituals!”) don’t be afraid to say you’ll think of something, and prepare an adventure hook. Just switch to meta if you don’t want adventure hooks (“You spend hours and hours pouring over the ethnology books, and truly it is fascinating. But it won’t help you in this quest. Let’s go back and join the rest of the party…”)
Finally: Take a break and let somebody else run a game or two.
Somebody else said: “The thing that burns me out is unfamiliarity with spells or combat maneuvers while statting NPCs.”
I think the solution to that is (if you’re writing adventures yourself) to reuse. For my Asian campaign I have various samurais: Sam-1 for guards, Sam-3 for young relatives of the samurai, Sam-5 for the lord, his eldest son, his commanders, Sam-7 for the sensei. They all take the same feats. Thus, I minimize on feat variety and make it up with more fluff.
I usually try to minimize the number of spellcasters. If they get to cast spells, I plan for five rounds of combat max. Then I pick the spells I’d like them to have. I go the same route as for the samurai. There is a death cult, they are all Cle-5, and they all like to use Sanctuary and Summon Monster, and when summoning monsters, they all like to summon hell hounds. What varies is that the first of them had many undead to fight for him, the second had an unholy spear +1 on him, and the last one read a scroll of Planar Ally and made a deal with a bearded devil. Stat-wise, the clerics were all identical, and I only really had to know three spells for every fight.
The person also said: “I’m constantly playing a balancing game to make sure they’re not over- or under-whelmed. […] I have to adjust up all the HP, AC and equipment/treasure for each NPC.”
I said that I’d never do that. I’d just add or remove standard mooks. If the party is unfairly overwhelmed, reduce their opponents’ morale and have them flee sooner. If the party is unfairly underwhelmed, have reinforcements coming. Adjusting the number of standard monsters or mooks is much easier than fiddling with the stats.
I also liked DM Jeff’s advice:
I specially liked his example for an encounter description. The second half is optional. ;)