Guest author David Miller is a displaced Louisianian living in Calgary, AB Canada. He is a husband, father, minister, GM, 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.