Guest author David Miller is a displaced Louisianian living in Calgary, AB Canada. He is a husband, father, minister, GM, technical writer at Assignmaester, and gaming convention planner. He and his game group plan Underground Con in Calgary, and he tries not to take too many breaks in his home game.
No one really likes death, and for certain no one gets excited by the prospect of dying. When player characters die in a game, there is often fighting and fist shaking involved. For example: Seeton was a sorcerer, and he died — he died the worst possible death by falling out of a window from a castle on a mountain side and his body, and the d4 per level of hit points it contained, were dashed against the rocks. Jody, the guy playing Seeton, was not happy — in fact, he was the antithesis of happy. He was pretty irate. And why shouldn’t he be? Seeton died a terrible, pointless death!
GMs don’t have characters, not really. The thing that is their own, the thing that they create and put time into is the campaign. Nothing is more fulfilling than a campaign that has a beginning, middle, and end. More often than not though, that is not the case. When a campaign dies, it is often without purpose or meaning, and that is a terrible way to go. One of the things that kills the campaign without any purpose is time. The long break. Holidays, months off — they suck the life out of a campaign with unequalled precision. There has to be a way to keep it alive despite these things.
Oftentimes, the campaign break is a necessary evil. They cannot be helped. Christmas comes, con season comes, people take vacations…the game takes a backseat to real life, and it should. Despite those things, how do we keep our beloved campaigns alive?
Talk About It
A campaign, like any good friendship is best kept alive through conversation. Yes, you talk about it. Not necessarily out loud, though that’s fine too. You are the GM and the most important thing about your campaign at this stage is that YOU are excited about it. The players will derive all of their energy from yours.
You have to be on top of it, and if you’re not, it is guaranteed that they won’t be. Keep that energy up. You’ve already put more time into your campaign than a guy sitting down to play Final Fantasy. Don’t let it go to waste.
Talk to your players about the game during this necessary game break. Send them emails about their characters. Ask them what they want and what they hope to achieve when you get back to the game. The players will stay interested. They will ask questions, and they’ll want to see the game push forward in meaningful ways. This is a great way to not forget what happened to each of the characters in your game as well.
Use Technology, and Network
Use technology to do lots of the book keeping and stay on top of it. Using a website like Obsidian Portal or just blogging about your campaign is a great way to talk to yourself about your game without being weird. You are able to get your ideas out there and you can stay apprised of the things that happened in the past and what you would like to see happen in the future.
On top of this, you can also visit pertinent message boards and talk to other GMs about your game. Of course, you’ll want to make sure that it’s not a place your players would normally frequent if you’re going to be giving away information that will be spoilers or vital to the plot of your game in the future.
Remember, gaming stories are often seen as a form of wankery on some level, but sharing your ongoing campaign can often be helpful to other GMs. Get your campaign ideas, plot points, ideas for NPCs or magic items, etc. out there because those conversations may not just be helpful to keep your game alive, but they may also prove as a benefit to other GMs as well to fuel their games.
Avoid the Shiny
One other thing that is worth mentioning is to keep away from the new shiny. During these long breaks in the campaign, if you got a new book for another game or system as a gift, or if you and any of your players have been talking about System X during the break, take note that the grass always looks greenest on the other side of the fence. For the sake of keeping your campaign alive–remember this: It isn’t! When you’re not playing the other game, it always looks better. Stay the course and avoid talking about other games. Your ongoing campaign is awesome and it is fun; I mean, you played it right up until this big break, didn’t you?
Keep these things in mind, and your ongoing campaign might just make it through the thing that can kill campaigns in a meaningless way. Talk about your game to your players, use technology to keep yourself motivated and to discuss your campaign with other GMs, and stay far far away from the new shiny. You’ll do alright. Give your game what it deserves — a beginning, middle, and end.
Don’t get to the extended break and shove it out of a window — die with purpose.
You point under avoid the shiny is quite true. Often, a big part of what makes [new game] look better than [current game] us that it’s cool new concepts without the work. Of course, to turn it into a playable game… it’ll take work!
Something I want to do with my upcoming Shadowrun game is to set up a website for in-game news of note, and let the players manage their downtime activities via email. I’m hoping this will help add some depth and open opportunities for more meaningful relationships with their contacts without taking away from table time.
Great timing. My own campaign just skipped two weeks, is on for two weeks, and will miss another two weeks. And then the fall holiday season begins.
“Avoid the Shiny” Indeed. I’m itching for fantasy again, but I’ve got this modern game to run. Maybe I’ll play in someone’s fantasy one-shot, maybe get in some CRPGing, or maybe I’ll go back to the gun range and renew my enthusiasm for modern weapons… A big part of gaming is managing expectations, including our own.
I think these kinds of online interactions are key to keeping the campaign going. Play-by-post can help too. About a year ago my group switched from weekly RPG sessions to twice-a-month because our work and family commitments had grown too much allow the old schedule to work.
Given that we’d followed a roughly weekly schedule for something like 15 years, that was a heck of an adjustment. To help with that I made sure to post adventure summaries, treasure lists, and xp rewards to our online forum immediately after the game. That was always good for a conversation starter because who doesn’t like to do the occasional level dance or snag a magic item (not to mention reminding everyone of the cool thing that their character did during the session).
We are running the Second Darkness adventure path, the first book of which focuses on urban adventuring and a fair amount of sandbox-style play. My players took to it like ducks to water, but that sort of adventuring can really eat up table time.Â
I decided to start running interludes, tied to each chapter and posted to our online forum, where folks could post their between game actions. I was astounded at how popular these turned out to be. Not everyone posted, but a solid core of 3-4 players would consistently respond to each interlude.Â
It let us knock out a bunch of role-playing and game business between sessions and focus more on the meat of the adventure when we met face-to face. It’s worked well — we are now up the third book — and the 12th interlude — and enthusiasm remains strong.