Note: This is the 4th part in a 4 part series about RPGing over the internet. You can read part 1 here, part 2 here, and part 3 here.
Inventory time! You've got a group, you've got a medium, you've got a game. Now let's look at the last piece of the puzzle. How to avoid burning out on GMing over the internet. There are two ways I use to keep myself from running out of steam for the games I run. The module mindset and the prep lite mind set. There are also tricks I use to lower my workload. I'll discuss those last.
The module mind set is a new idea to me. I'm testing it out in one of the games I'm running now. The thought process behind the module mindset is not to use modules like the name might suggest, but to frontload all the prep. I'm working to create all the encounters for a set part of the adventure rather than prepping in the week before. I'm doing this before the game even starts to offload the stress. If you plan far enough ahead you can finish all your prep before the first session rolls around. This takes a lot of stress off you as you only have to shuffle things around based off player actions during session. The downside is this can be fairly inflexible if the players decide not to take your plothooks.
The prep lite mindset isn't new, either to me or the rest of the internet. Lots of people run in prep lite settings, or simply don't prepare anything at all. This takes pracice, and a system that supports it. Many heavy mechanical systems need prep time to make sure encounters flow properly. Improv skills are a plus, as well as the ability to play off of your players. The base point for prep lite is the plot hook. You don't have to flesh anything out, but you need your starting point. From there you can springboard from where your players lead.
Every GM needs a bag of tricks, especially when preparing for games. I'm going to open up mine and let you have a look inside. Being a programmer by training, I try to create reuseable everything. Maps are the big time saver for reusability with online tabletop programs. Build a library of images that can be placed generically or non-generically with a few modifications. Being able to draw the encounter boundary, fill it with base terrain, and drop in a few set items is much faster than creating a new map every encounter. There are piles of free tile sets and textures out on the internet you can add to your library. The same goes for tokensets and other images. A map for a forest road/clearing encounter can be reused at a later date, or in another campaign. Don't create from scratch if you can avoid it. Use encouter based maps instead of mapping out every square of the dungeon in your online tabletop (though that can be lots of fun for a game. If you do map out everything, make it simple). See how much you can reuse if you start a game in a new setting. Many fantasy creatures look fairly alien and sticking a different colored filter over a desert map can transform it into an alien landscape. Make sure you have plenty of time to add to your library if you can't reuse for your new setting.
Finally, take a break! Always always take a short break between campaigns to give your brain time to rest up and for you to prepare what you need to run the campaign. I give myself at least a week off between campaigns, sometimes two. Take a few months if you're really toasted.
I hope you've found my musing useful to your endeavors to play tabletop rpgs over the internets. Here ends the series. Next time back to your regularly scheduled random posters.
Art from here