While I normally avoid writing about non-storyline webcomics (as I find it nearly impossible to something to talk about for several paragraphs), today’s Penny Arcade called out to me. Perhaps it’s because I have been where Gabriel is now treading; in that dark dreary place known as “Game Master Burnout” (though it sounds like he’s got the early stages of it, which can be treated with a several-month vacation by letting someone else take the reins). Hopefully, Gabe isn’t inflicted with the sudden-onset migraines that started to strike me whenever I even thought of running a game again (which has thankfully, after a number of years, subsided). Still, I have to admit I feel sympathy for him. And in a way, I also feel for his players; when a GM starts to flame out, the game often suffers for it.
We’ve been catching glimpses of Gabe’s GMing for a couple years now. I’m not one for the current game system that is masquerading under the name “Dungeons and Dragons” (you can likely guess my opinion of the system), but I have to admit it’s been fun catching glimpses of Gabe’s enthusiasm for running the games, and his slow gradual slide into the sadism that all GMs ultimately must cultivate in order to create a truly enjoyable game. (And yes, it is sadism of a sort to find the levers that make players twitch and then start playing them like a xylophone. The only thing that comes close to it is the devilry that a good writer indulges in when tormenting their characters… though I suppose that is closer to masochism seeing that the characters are often aspects of the writer.)
The two options as articulated by Tycho and Gabe are well known to me, and it’s difficult to find a happy medium between the two. Once GM fatigue sets in, burnout starts to nibble at a GM’s toes. To “persevere” as Gabe suggests is a path that leads to madness, or at the very least a loss of enjoyment for both GM and players. But just quitting doesn’t work either. (I was lucky, in a sense; my gaming group broke up because of a divorce, with the ex-husband getting a burnt-out GM and an enthusiastic gamer none of the others liked, and the ex-wife getting the “friends.”) If Gabe is lucky, he’ll find someone to take over for a bit, perhaps run a small campaign until he recovers his mojo. Meanwhile, it’s been fun catching glimpses of what Gabe’s gone through as a GM, and allows me to enjoy Penny Arcade as something I can relate to, instead of for the purity of the webcomic form.