Disinterest and Burnout: The Slow Death of a D&D Campaign

It turns out that not every single one of my tabletop groups is excited about the idea of playing something new. One group, now that Wizards of the Coast has walked back some of their fuckery, is not very interested in playing other games. At least one person in the group found a reason to be disinterested in everything I suggested and while they said they’re willing to consider some stuff if I give them a bunch of information and some time to think about it, I’m not exactly expecting them to embrace anything new at this point. I’ve been running a game for this group for a few years now and I’ve known them for even longer, so I feel pretty confident when I say that they’re not exactly the most flexible group. Historically, they’re one of my most draining groups to run for. Which isn’t to say I don’t enjoy our time, just that I feel like I have to do a lot of work to keep the game going.

All of this came from us finally getting a chance to speak as a group, now minus another player (we’re down to three players from our peak of six, due to social compatibility issues with one player, another one being a surprise bigot/conspiracy theorist, and the last one withdrawing recently due to personal issues). One of the remaining players is trepidatious about trying something new when he finally feels like he was getting a grasp on Dungeons and Dragons 5e. Another just wants to fight monsters and get gold. The last seems more open to other ideas, but hesitant to leave D&D behind. All of which is reasonable since I don’t think any of them have played anything other than Dungeons and Dragons ever and our entire four years of playing together have been marked by scheduling issues, campaign restarts, and long gaps of time between our sessions. That, plus everyone clearly playing for incredibly different reasons leaving me unable to focus in on any one aspect of a TTRPG without alienating someone’s fun, means that my players in this game don’t feel very invested or interested in anything but recapturing the magical moments from when we first started the game.

Now, Dungeons and Dragons the hobby is not the same thing as Wizards of the Coast the company. I can continue to run games using the books and tools I’ve already purchases without a trace of doubt or discomfort in my mind. I own all of this stuff already and I mostly work out of physical books since I have a difficult time remembering things that I’ve only read digitally. Conceptually, this is a fine prospect. It would just be made a bit more difficult by the lack of a digital tool, since now my players would only have access to the game through me. I would have to be present and participating in every level-up, in every character choice, in every hunt for interesting magic items or new spells. Sure, that’s more work, but it’s work I’m already doing with this group so not a lot would change.

In truth, though, I’m still so burned out from the last few weeks that the idea of playing more Dungeons and Dragons makes me nauseous. I mean, the thing that kept me on edge, that invaded all of the places I usually go to retreat from the troubles of my day, was the drama surrounding Dungeons and Dragons. Everything even remotely connected to it served as a reminder that a major hobby of mine was imploding. The idea of spending more time thinking about it without a long, long break fills me with the despair-flavored exhaustion I’ve come to associate with burnout. I don’t know how long this is going to last, but even thinking about it since our group conversation has left me feeling more exhausted and drained than I felt at the end of last week.

What makes these games worth all the time and effort I put into them is seeing people enjoying the stories I’ve put together. Is collaborating with people to tell a story none of us could have produced on our own. Is spending time with my friends as we all have fun together. I get less of all that with this group than with any other. None of them are bad players, and a few of them have been very involved and energetic, the sort of people I’d love to bring into more of my games if only they had the time. That said, this is still the most draining of all of my games because it just takes so much work to put stuff together for them, that gives them all what they want, and then they frequently don’t actually do anything with it. One player drove most of the engagement with the story and world and now he’s gone. Without him to buy in, I’m not sure the rest of the group will invest themselves in anything. After all, their comments today made it clear that they’re not really interested in how the story we’re abandoning turns out. They just want to fight stuff and get loot.

That’s probably the reason I feel as tired and frustrated as I do, at this point. They’ve all said they want to end the current campaign but continue playing Dungeons and Dragons. They feel like the world is super interesting and that it’s gotten a lot of investment, but that their characters have not. None of them care how their characters’ stories end up and thus they’re not interested in continuing this game. Which, you know, is pretty frustrating to me since this tells me none of them spent the time to consider the arc of their characters or do any work developing them or even emotionally invest in their own stories. I asked them countless questions, gave them stuff to do between sessions, skipped sessions I had ready to go so we could do this work during our normal play time, made myself available any time they wanted my assistance, and actively sought them out when I knew they needed my input or help but weren’t asking for it. I fought them to get what little world and character development they’ve contributed, so it stings when they tell me they’re not feeling invested or interested enough to continue.

By the time this post goes up, I’ll have talked to them about this. I don’t know what I’m going to do with this group going forward, but I don’t know if I’ll be running a game for them much longer. It really feels like I’m busting my ass and they’re complaining that it’s not good enough for them. Maybe some part of this is a result of my general exhaustion and frustration, but the longer I write this post, the more I feel like we’re just not a compatible group. Maybe that’s the answer, here. Maybe I should, for once in my life, take the path of less work rather than more.

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