Battling Burnout: Part 1 - Fantastic Voyage

GM Burnout happens to every GM from time to time. The game may grind to a screeching halt or your internal well may run dry. Running a game is quite rewarding, but sometimes it just stops being fun. For the next 4 weeks, I am penning a series of blogs about wrestling with motivational fatigue with my own personal stories. For this week’s edition of Battling Burnout, will be sharing with you tip #1, which I am calling: Fantastic Voyage!

After a lengthy campaign that I homebrewed for my friends came to a stopping point, I took a few days to gather my wits before preparing for what might happen next. I felt very creatively taxed as the group had encountered several casting changes which affected the plot in integral ways. When I attempted to put pen to paper, I remained flummoxed. Sure, I knew some of the endgame details, but the paths to those details were muddy and uninspiring. I hoped that maybe a few more days of downtime would help, but nothing came of it.

My writing and website partner, Zach, was also asking me about a World Building article that either we would both pen for two separate worlds, or there could be one single world in which we’d collaborate. I thought it was a fantastic idea, but my tank was still empty. Nothing that I could conceive of felt fresh, or interesting, or original. I was burnt out on many levels. Again, I figured that I just needed more time and that my muse would return to me.

A few weeks more had passed and I was still grasping for something that felt right. I knew I could run the game again if I had to, but I didn’t feel that internal flutter that I assume that other Game Masters feel when they have a really killer idea that is itching to get out. I was taking time to allow my mental batteries to recharge, but I wasn’t FEEDING them any juice. Little did I know, my brain batteries have a hidden connection, a simple little wire that ran through my veins into a network of tiny solar panels. Yes, I needed sunlight and fresh air. I needed an adventure of my own.

My wife had booked a vacation for us and I hadn’t really been looking forward to it. I preferred a quiet getaway in in the woods with invigorating hikes and relaxing afternoons by a mountaintop pool. Instead, she bought us a week long cruise to Mexico, with an overnight beforehand in Orlando, Florida. I dreaded the noise and the bustle, but I was going to be brave and make the best of things.

Lego Dragon

The first spark of inspiration came that night in Orlando. We stopped in Disney Springs for shopping and dinner, when I saw a dragon peaking over the shop ahead. An honest to goodness dragon! These were theme park shops but they weren’t all dressed up in your typical fanciful Disney fare. But up ahead was a dragon, and so I immediately grabbed my wife’s hand and we ventured towards the scaly foe. As we got closer, I could see the angles and ridges of its form. The flame eschewing forth was a Fel swirl of yellow and green. This wasn’t a mere dragon, it was a Lego Dragon.

Zach and I had just recorded a Lego inspired podcast less than a month earlier. March had been Building Block month and so it was very serendipitous that I found myself strolling into a Lego shop. I walked past the boxed sets that I expected to see, followed by a few more detailed sets that I would have bought up in the blink of a black painted-on eye, had I only money. There were huge pirate ships, a Lego Death Star, and an entire city boulevard! I figured I would grab a silicone ice cube tray and be on my way until I noticed the sweeping wall of Lego pieces.

Sheepishly I wandered over, my hands gently touching the unbelievable rainbow of plastic. There were columns reaching from floor to ceiling, in rows stretching clear across the room! Each capsule held a different cache of single pieces, and every cache was a different color. I was spellbound. A kind and knowing nod from my wife was all I needed, and before I knew it, I had a plastic container in my hands and was filling it up with whatever pieces struck my imagination at the moment. After twenty minutes or so, my container had been filled to the brim, so we paid for my haul and went on to dinner.

My mind had been rattled, shaken alert by the bright colors and the frenzy. I had to decide things quickly, thinking of hue and function and form. I wished I had more time that night to spill all the pieces out on the hotel bed and begin clicking together forms yet unknown. My tanks were now connected, with the first ounce of fuel returning to the soul. Little did I know what awaited me along the Orlando skyline just a few hours later.

Before we had left for the day, we passed an otherwise insignificant piece of tourism, a Ferris Wheel. It looked modern and enclosed, so it was air conditioned and super safe. But beyond that, I had no interest in it whatsoever. We drove past it in the day a couple of times, which did let us know if we were getting close to our hotel or not. But on the return drive that evening, with our money spent and our bellies full of burgers, I spied the strangest thing.

Through the azure and amethyst waves of dark sky, highlighted in roses and golds from the glowing city below, something was watching us. The closer we came, the deeper into its gaze we drew. A single orbit, ringed in bright heliotrope, peered into me as I stared defiantly back. The Ferris Wheel had become the eye of a giant, purple and brilliant, watching the citizens of Orlando. I could not tell if its intentions were just or malignant, but there it was, like a great eldritch arch. I could imagine the enormity of the spirit conjured in the making of that all-seeing-eye. I felt the dread of the infernal energies summoned from beyond the realm in order to create such a vortex. Indeed, my tanks were filling.

The next morning, after we had boarded the cruise ship, I made the best of my time. I was most interested to see the ship leave the harbor and so after our baggage was stowed, we headed above decks to get a good view. I loved looking at all of the buildings and structures along the waterways. I was excited to see metals rusting or gaining patina from the sun. I gestured towards weathered woods and stone, where the decay of our modernity left swatches of color and streaks of shadow. I felt the brush strokes from my hands, reaching out across the acres, highlighting with paints and enriching with dark washes. I could smell the inks and the acrylics as they dried in the salty breeze. I could have sat out there all afternoon. My tanks were still filling, even when I wasn’t aware.

Now to be honest, I have already traveled across the Atlantic Ocean through my enlistment, and gotten to spend a small handful of hours in various different countries in Europe. I saw the hills of Spain, the statues of Portugal, the streets of France, the churches of Italy, the bazaars of Turkey, and dunes of Israel. I was not ready at that point of my life to absorb everything I had seen, and I wasn’t fortunate enough to have a good camera with which to capture much for the future. But now I was a man grown with a mind awoken, intent on enjoying a change of scenery.

Our ship sailed to two different ports, with only the first one being of any substance or quality. Cozumel was our first stop and my first time going to Mexico. I could tell Cozumel was a tourist destination, to be sure, but I looked around and thought as we walked. I wondered about the things that lay beyond the painted walls and thatched huts. Beyond was culture, beyond was cuisine, and beyond was character! We took a catamaran away from the docks and within a few minutes, I was transported away along the seas. I watched the color of the water shift and deepen. The coast twisted and the landscapes that continued beyond the tree lines were filled with greens and browns. I was mesmerized by architecture, agriculture, and atmosphere. I was a stranger in a strange land for the first time in many years, and it meant something to me. I had left my little homestead, packed only what I could carry, had journeyed south, and taken a voyage across the sea to a new destination. I was finally aware that tanks were filling.

The rest of the trip I enjoyed with my wife and some new friends. However, there were quieter times of marveling and mind-searching when I would weave a few new strands of plot together to see the pattern that they would create. World Building ideas came from places of truth and inspiration, something that had been denied to me for weeks and weeks. I felt the natural assembly of Flora and Fauna, the building blocks of a story, and the openness of a much wider world that I had previously allowed myself to imagine.

My tip to you, faithful reader, is to get out in the world and experience something. You are not going on a simple fact finding mission, nor are you going to a specific locale in order to mimic what you see and copy it! I am urging you to go somewhere and get outside of your comfort zone. Get outside of what you know and see how the world is working around you. On the small side, take a walk through a different building, drive down a different road or take your lunch break in a new place. Hang a hammock up somewhere new, or walk along that lake you have always taken for granted.

In a grander way, take a vacation to a place you haven’t been before and seek out destinations that are beyond what you normally do. Go from the mountains to the see, from the city to the country. Languages and landscapes can reach into the core of the human spirit, disconnecting and reconnecting us in ways that allow for you to think differently. In this time of adventure and discovery, something small can light a fire inside you that you’ll find is the kindling for a much greater fire. Be open to the new experiences and try to adapt to all of the newness around you.

And to capture some of those fleeting moments of inspiration, don’t forget to bring a notebook and a pencil.