It’s that time of year again. In these parts, whether or not you celebrate Christmas there is a definite chill in the air when it comes to gaming. As an adult married parent with a job and other responsibilities, I’ve already made adjustments to the gaming schedule (short answer: weekly sessions have been gone for years!); December makes it even rougher, as holiday shopping and midwinter vacations disrupt the already precarious schedule.
I ran my last session on the first Friday of December. Thanks to scheduling conflicts (and my own aborted attempt to change campaign night) my group probably won’t meet again until the third Friday of January. Of course, January is well into winter and it’s definitely possible that a snowstorm or three couldÂ extend the already six-week hiatus.
Those of you who are regular readers have probably picked up on a recurring theme in my last few articles – my enthusiasm for my current D&D campaign is wavering, and the long break, combined not only with a new Star Wars movie but also the dozens of new inspirations I’m likely to get thanks to holiday binge-watching and certain gifts under the tree (and thanks to Chanukah being early this yearÂ some of those gifts already arrived!).
Even without external influences, the long break is giving me time for reflection. I realized that my current pace, while fun, is glacial, and I could easily see this campaign running for a few more years. At this point in my life that’s just too long. I’m feeling the pressure to cut bait and try something new. Except that I don’t want to do that.
As I said in an earlier article, this campaign is trucking along fine and everyone, including me, is enjoying it, even with the glacial pace. On reflection, I considered the following points.
The pace is glacial and the logistics involved include my laziness. Our game sessions tend to be short, often only 3-4 hours long. An exciting combat encounter or a deep roleplaying scene can easily burn an hour or more of that. Anything beyond a five-room dungeon takes multiple sessions. The end result is that adventures that I thought would take a couple of sessions stretch on to a dozen.
But you know what? Some of that is my fault. As a busy guy I sometimes can’t invest time in plotting and, rather than skip a session, I throw in something that I know will buy me time. This is actually great for immersive world-building, but not so much for keeping the plot moving.
I’m still standing at the crossroads. Again, as I pointed out in a February article, I’ve still yet to get to the meat of the campaign. If I don’t move things forward, then I really am going to have to abandon that plot and figure outÂ a different way to tie things up. Fortunately I’ve already braced myself for that, but I’d still rather go with the original plan.
I want a satisfactory ending. I’ve put a lot into this campaign; it’s the first one my group has played using the newest D&D rules and I’ve woven a lot of interesting plot points to it. I’d hate to end prematurely or hand-wave it all for the final scene. My group has enjoyed the ride so far and I don’t want to end abruptly.
Ultimately, what I’ve decided to do is accelerate the pace. A large part of the problem is that, both in assumption and in fact, the sessions move day by day. I need to advance the plot by leaping ahead at certain points. I’m going to share this with my players so that they won’t be blindsided by phrases like “okay, after several months working at the manor,” or “okay, you’re now 7th level,” when they just reached 6th level 2 sessions ago and it’s been taking them much longer to level up (Having said that, I’m sure the “you’ll level up faster” will be a salve on the “we jumped ahead” aspects of the campaign).
Hopefully, this will work and keep the campaign exciting while driving towards a conclusion.
How about you? Have you ever made a big adjustment after a long break? How was it received? Looking back, do you think it was a mistake or did it improve the campaign?
Your solution looks like it’s on target. The same campaign, but leveling every other session or so, might get you where you’re headed much faster–and let you keep the feeling of the full campaign.
Hmm. I dunno, Walt. I had a GM who got to the “not loving it” stage after a long campaign and it was a miserable experience.
If you are not going to buy-in to the new ending as the GM I’d just chop it cold and start something new.
And yeah, I’ve had campaigns stalled by holidays. Only one, my Delta Green game, ever survived the experience.
I had to severely truncate my Deadlands:Reloaded Lost Sons campaign when the players peeled away leaving only two, and one of those said he was going to have to leave by December. All the fun parts of the build-up were lost and the last session left me feeling like I’d been robbed (and I was recently robbed so I know that the feeling was genuine 8o) ). It was, from my perspective, a miserable experience and one I’m not anxious to revisit.
My campaign is at the same place, on pause until January. Good point about bringing the campaign to a close a bit early. I may even think about it for this year. I can always bring a new group of Big Bads in afterwards. Stringing it out for years and years may not be the way that adults can play any longer. Seasonal arcs might be better, ala the new Doctor Who (versus the old X-Files).
The last month of the year is always a hastle. Two of the players in our group (oneis me, the GM) have kids, so chamging venues is necessary as child care issues arise. The others, fortunatelt, don’t have this issue, butthey do have family scattered around the country, so they are often away for a week or two, and never at the same time.
We get around this by shifting game night, or running sideplots that don’t require all of the players, or we try a one-shot of something new. (Which might lead to the next big campaign, in our case…)
The extension of a long campaign is something I’m running into with our current game — it’s just been that good that there’s always something new to address. I’ve been working toward rolling it up for a year, but it always has something new to interest us.
If you’re having the opposite response, it might be time to edit the beast down, especially if you’ve got a few weeks til the next session. Do you really need that encounter with the NPC you think is super cool? Cut it, if you don’t need it. (Something Tarantino could learn from — 3 hours for The Hateful Eight!?!) Do you need to deal with every day on the way to the denouement? Cut the random encounters. Get to the point. Finish it BIG and move on. Maybe the characters are only Lvl whatever — adjustthe big bad to suit. Or don’t…make ’em bleed for the win.
It’s a difficult one, perhaps more common amongst the ‘old timer’ gamers. I do remember the days in my teens when we would play multiple times per week, letting everyone who fancied it have a run in the GM chair and spontaneously gaming whenever we had the chance, but those days are gone. Nowadays I am the perpetual, relentless GM, running a game once per week with a bunch of thirty-fifty something professional people, many with families. Times have changed.
One thing I have come to realise is that the game is sometimes secondary to the social gathering. Not always, but sometimes, it’s important to remember that those players around the table are people too. They want to chat, catch up with each other and often it is the only regular social event of the week. Work and family obligations make it difficult for players to turn up all of the time.
The games I run are heavily modified and I never run off-the-shelf stuff (but I do use it for inspiration). All of the players are very experienced (a couple I have gamed with for over 30 years) and as a result they are usually able to compensate for the empty seats around the table rather well. We ‘pool’ and share XP in our games, so that those who can’t make it don’t lose out, and the players will often share resources, treasure, items etc, saving appropriate stuff for those who would want it but may be absent that session. I also modify XP required to gain levels to move the pace along somewhat.
More recently I have taken to a 12 week ‘season’ method of games. Running one game for 12 weeks, then changing to a different one. This helps keep things fresh and can lead to some anticipation for the upcoming favourites. Planning for 16 weeks is nice, I get to see exactly what I want to achieve in that time, not necessarily throwing in the ‘big bad’ but perhaps introducing ideas, hints, sub plots etc. I’m a teacher by trade, so planning for 12 weeks (a single term) comes naturally to me. I plan whilst other games are in progress, execute and whilst doing so plan for the next game. The pace is perfectly measured, or at least it would be if it weren’t for those pesky players sometimes running off of the rails or speeding through sessions with all of the subtlety of a charging rhino. However, a few tweaks gets things back on course again; perhaps an encounter thrown in for a little combat to slow things down, or the removal of a scene that would take a little time and replacing it with something much quicker, i.e., a scribbled note is much quicker to play than a drawn out NPC meeting/encounter.
My point? A well planned series of events in which your players know that there is an ‘end’ coming in a set period of time, allows for that ending to proceed naturally, and even if you’re getting a little bored of the game, chances are, you will only have a few weeks left before you change the game.
Laziness? Yes, we all suffer from it. I have a quite a nice remedy that works for me; I mentioned early that I am a teacher, well each year I have 50+ students, aspiring to be game designers. Imagine setting a design brief for a game and having all those people come up with locations, plot hooks, NPCs, story arcs, quest and mission flow charts… all of that planning, all of those ideas… I get a at least a year’s worth of material and in the process my students learn how to design games using formal methods. Bingo! I know most people can’t do this, but we have the internet and people post all kinds of goodies. Yes it takes a little time, but getting a repository of all of those ideas you like and your players may want to encounter could help with the laziness aspect.