The Bored DM: How to Rediscover Your Excitement as a Dungeon Master

You are a bored DM and lethargy has kicked in.

It’s a tough place to be in as the one primarily responsible for setting up fun, creative sessions time after time.

I recently overcame this affliction, and I thought I’d share how I came out victorious. My hope is that by sharing my experiences I can help others out there.

Let’s look at the real impacts of a bored Dungeon Master, and some strategies to work towards being excited to play again.

Disclaimer: All opinions expressed here are my own. This post may contain affiliate links. At no additional cost to you, I may earn a small commission.

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A bored DM is an unhappy DM. Let's fix that.

Why DM Boredom is a Major Problem in Tabletop Gaming

Maybe you’re tired of the story. Maybe you feel the game is repetitive. Whatever it is, the game is not doing it for you anymore. A bored DM is a ticking time bomb for a cancelled game.

Below are a few symptoms of a bored DM and their effects on you and your intrepid adventuring party.

A Bored DM May Slack on Adventure Prep

It’s a lot harder for us to wrangle the energy to prep an ambitious and fresh adventure or encounter with boredom dragging us down.

This may not be the case for you, but for me, my story elements end up feeling bland, phoned in or contrived, and lack the creative vibe that typically keeps my players excited and enthusiastic. Everyone loses.

We May Inadvertently Create Snooze Sessions

One of our responsibilities as a great Dungeon Master is to describe the world around our players. Whether we rely solely on words or tie in images, a bored DM will likely have less enthusiasm here.

Sessions can become a bit more like a dull history textbook instead of an epic fantasy novel.

Cancellations Creep In

Boredom is a party pooper, and it leads to more cancelled sessions. Reasons and excuses to forgo a session become easier to come by. Scheduling turns into even more of a chaotic dance, and the game night vibe and the group’s continuity gets disrupted.

As a result, everyone can feel less committed overall, or less invested in the story and their characters.

A Bored DM May Cause Reduced Player Engagement

If the DM is bringing less excitement to the table, players typically follow suit. It’s a chain reaction. Everyone’s less interested, creativity takes a nap, and the game loses its sparkle.

Recently, one of my newer players said she couldn’t put her finger on why she didn’t feel as invested in the game until after we had our table talk about it (more on that coming below).

Mental Health Drain

Finally, and possibly most importantly, when any of these things happen to me, I feel terrible after the session. I feel guilty for using my players’ time irresponsibly. I feel like perhaps I’m not talented enough after all to be tasked with running the game.

It hits me hard and diminishes any enjoyment that my players or I may have had in the time we spent together.

Eventually, I will start to wonder if I even want to play Dungeons and Dragons anymore at all.

And that, above all else, is unacceptable.

Let’s take a look at how I recently fixed this.

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How I Rolled a 20 on Destroying Boredom

I may have lucked out here, but I managed to completely eradicate all of the issues outlined above.

Why I Was Bored to Begin With

It may help to understand why I was bored in the first place.

My current primary gaming group has been playing consistently since October of 2021. Through this time, I have run a hugely modified version of Waterdeep: Dragon Heist.

It included huge new systems, an enormous living, breathing city, and tons of content my players have really enjoyed.

We reached the end of the story arc with the villains’ defeat, and I was getting the feeling that some of my players felt obligated to continue with their current characters even though they truly wanted a fresh start. None of them were particularly enthusiastic about any of the next step quest hooks, and I was feeling a bit on repeat at this point.

The First Change

I decided, as a change of pace, to have us try Blades in the Dark. We had fun with it. It’s a unique system, a great setting, and my players were interested in some of the fresh mechanics.

I love the flashback mechanic and the clocks, which I plan on incorporating into my D&D games going forward.

An Ongoing Problem

However, as we continued running our “scores,” as they are called in Blades, I felt less and less attached to the story. I felt relieved when my players needed to cancel playing. I dreaded having to prep. These are major red flags and cause the issues I outlined above.

I have to say here that it has nothing to do with the quality of Blades in the Dark. In my opinion, it is a genuinely awesome game. It just wasn’t the best fit for our table.

I kept trudging along, doing the best I could with false enthusiasm and trying to find some joy in the game, somewhere. I felt that I was genuinely losing interest in the hobby, something I’ve been playing or participating in since I was a kid: over 20 years now. As one of the defining hobbies for my character, this was very troubling to me.

Also, I run a tabletop gaming blog. I think that requires loving the hobby.

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Time to Cancel or Time to Change

My inner conflict with this came to a point where I needed to either fix the problem or cancel my game.

I am very hesitant to cancel on this group.

My players are consistent, funny, excited, and overall excellent players. I am very lucky to have them, and it would be a grievous waste to dismiss them from my table. I didn’t really consider this to be an option.

Identifying the Core Issue

I started thinking about the core issues of why I wasn’t enjoying myself anymore. This is what came to mind:

  • I didn’t care about the story.
  • I didn’t care about my NPCs.
  • I didn’t care about the conflicts.
  • I felt like a round peg being shoved into a square hole. The mechanics of the new system were fun and interesting, but just not clicking as well as I’d hoped with me or my players.
  • And I just didn’t care. About any of it.

It all just felt contrived and pointless.

Fixing the Core Issue

I hoped that it wasn’t that I didn’t care about Dungeons and Dragons at all anymore, but I honestly wasn’t sure.

I started talking with my partner about what I would have fun with in a game. He is one of my players and has a high stake in how all this would work out for me, so he was eager to help.

We talked about how I always thought it would be SO FUN to run a sort of “Diablo I” style game, with some modifications. Players would go into a centralized dungeon entrance, do the fighting/loot/explore thing, and then come back to the surface and spend resources upgrading their gear and building up the town. A few other video games have done this, including “Moonlighter” and “Recettear.”

I remembered that on a whim I bought the sequel to Waterdeep: Dragon Heist entitled Waterdeep: Dungeon of the Mad Mage. It is essentially the opposite type of adventure, but it does provide tons of dungeon maps and a city: Skullport.

What if I destroyed Skullport, and homebrewed a system for my players to build and upgrade the town and its inhabitants? They requested previously a more combat-focused game time since W:DH is so combat-lite. This could be the perfect framework for us.

I have a tendency to pick an adventure module and then replace about 90% of it. It’s just how I do.

I immediately started thinking of ideas. Green flag.

New Ideas Inbound

What if I had a list of buildings ready with different benefits and building timelines, and in order to expand, my players pick one of two each time? (Reminiscent of the system used in No Man’s Sky for settlement expansions.) I could use the base city as a framework and go from there. I could include casinos, healing, training, all kinds of things.

It would build interest and give them a sense of urgency because they may not get that other option again. But I could give them a way to get it back…. And what if I also increased the number of NPCs living in the town, and issues came up from time to time, or they had to defend it from attacks? Basic town stuff, but it would resonate with my group for sure.

And so my brainstorming continued. It had been months since I automatically created content in my mind and got excited. The more I talked about it and thought about it, the more excited I got. (And continue to get!)

There was just one step left.

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Addressing it at Our Table

I’m not big on “mincing words.” My players sat down for a session of Blades, which I had prepared, and I said: “Before we begin, I’d like to talk to you about something.”

I told them that Blades is a cool game, but it just wasn’t doing it for me. That I was bored. I would be willing to continue to run it for them for a bit if they’d like, but I was ready to move on. I gave them time to talk about their feelings, too. I was surprised to hear that they mostly felt the same way.

What ended up coming out of the conversation was this: We knew it was meant to be a temporary trial, so I didn’t craft a major overarching campaign story. My players knew their characters were going to die, so they weren’t as emotionally invested as they had been with our last campaign.

And while these aren’t inherent game flaws due to the Blades system, it showed us that this game wasn’t a good fit for our table.

We did agree that it would be one of the most fun options available for a mini-campaign or a one shot, though.

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An Option and an Attitude

After talking for a bit, I gave them two options. We can continue the score we started last time. It’s not my best work, but it’s ready.

Or, we can have session 0 for our next campaign and you can make your new characters.

They chose to make new characters, and I got my old players back. They were laughing, joking around, and excited. The entire atmosphere changed and I felt (and still feel!) excited, lucky, grateful, and victorious.

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Steps Overview

In order to fix the problem in a similar way to how I did, these are the basic steps:

  1. Identify why you are bored or unsatisfied.
  2. Address its relevancy. It’s okay to no longer find excitement in something you’ve previously enjoyed, but it’s not okay to keep doing something miserable and feel guilty about or unhappy with your game.
  3. How do you remove the unsatisfactory element?
  4. What are you truly excited about?
  5. What steps do you need to take to implement your vision?
  6. Talk to your table honestly.
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Waterdeep is a magical city full of intrigue. Image by Owlie Productions via Shutterstock.

Our New Campaign

I used the end of their last campaign story as a tie-in to our new adventure. One of my previous players had to leave our table due to life, but ended our last campaign arc on an epic note becoming the Open Lord of Waterdeep. On his final roll to see if he navigates the path of good or evil, we decided that a 20 would be ultimate good and 1 would be a tyrannical maniac.

No joke, guess what he rolled? A natural 1. I couldn’t have been happier.

He has agreed to run himself as a major villain for a final battle encounter. It will be such a fun and special session we can look forward to!

New Campaign Story Starter

If you’re interested, here is the campaign story starter I gave my players:

Several years have passed since your previous characters defeated the villainous Cassalanters.

Waterdeep has changed. No longer the pleasant, bustling cityscape full of sunshine, seasons, and festivals, the years have worn with difficulty and hardship.

Korvo Phylund, once a just and respected leader, has turned against his people. He runs a brutal, violent campaign against the masked lords, on a quest to annihilate anyone in his way toward a true dictatorship. It is known as The Masked Purge.

The economy is trashed, the parties cancelled, and a tremor of fear runs through the city.

Not all hope is lost, though. You have heard whispers of a city named Skullport, deep beneath the surface of Waterdeep’s streets. This last hope may offer you solace and safety.

Quieter still is a rumor of a great power even further beneath, capable of assisting you with Phylund’s demise and the resurrection of the City of Splendors as it once was.

You are at Malice Inn & Tavern, seeking companions for your subterranean adventure. It is one the few positive spaces left in this bleak city.

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Closing Thoughts

They say boredom is the enemy, but I was relieved to find that my own detached and lethargic feelings were reflected in my group. This led us to make some changes, and my boredom ended up being the catalyst for an exciting new turn in our game time together.

Are you a bored DM? Have you run into a bout of lethargy? I’d love to read about your tricks for recovery in the comments below.

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Love, Malice. I hope you enjoyed the article! I'm here if you have any questions. Feel free to leave a comment below!

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