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We Now Interrupt Our Regularly Scheduled Campaign…

It’s getting to be that time of year again where some shows I follow will finish their new episodes and I’ll have to wait until some time in 2010 for another new one. While I generally dislike the wait, I can certainly see the value in keeping the audience interested while managing resources. It’s simply not feasible to run a weekly series 52 times a year (soaps excepted, of course) and the writers, not too mention the viewership, would likely burn out. Imagine, for example, Heroes or Lost with 52 episodes a season.

Still, in my RPG circles, we usually run campaigns from beginning to end (whether planned or not) with only the occasional break due to conflicting schedules or other mundane reasons. For longer campaigns, this increases the chance of burnout, especially if you’re running weekly sessions.

One way that I’ve found to keep the burnout at bay is to put the campaign on hold for a couple of sessions and run something else. I’ll dust off a published adventure or two, usually for another system, and use them for two or three sessions. This allows me to recharge my batteries and be ready to jump back into the regular campaign once the break is over.

For me, it’s important that I use published adventures so I don’t get emotionally invested in the new game and abandon the old. Rather, I spend most of my planning time during the hiatus to freshen up my campaign. Sometimes I’ll hand the chair over to another GM to run something short, allowing me to be a player for a couple of sessions.

I should also point out that it’s important to have player buy-in. No one likes a bait-and-switch, especially if she’s waiting all week to continue the adventures of Gianna Castle, superspy extraordinaire, and you hand her Mandar the Half-elf the moment she walks in the door. Let the players know that you need a break and that you’ll be running something else for the next couple of sessions.

I generally run these standalone adventures like a convention game. I use pre-gen PCs that are optimized for the adventure, focus on the core mechanics and hand-wave the rest, and make sure that the adventure doesn’t bog down in red herrings or tedious combats. If two-three sessions bleeds into six-eight, then you’re running a mid-season replacement, not a short hiatus. Also, using pre-gen PCs helps keep the players from getting too emotionally invested in the brief campaign as well ensuring that you don’t need to waste a session on chargen for PCs that will only get one or two outings.

An exception to the above is the serial standalone, which I’ve also done. For example, my players enjoy the occasional Call of Cthulhu, Mutants & Masterminds, or Thrilling Tales adventure, but they aren’t interested in playing full campaigns. In this case I’ll allow them to make characters that only get pulled out when it’s standalone adventure time. So, for example, the Triumphant Three will save Freedom City three or four times a year as breaks from our regularly-scheduled WitchCraft campaign.

One thing that I’ve been considering is whether it’d be a good idea to use these hiatus sessions to recap previous adventures as well. For example, if I’m using three sessions to run something else, then at the beginning of each of those sessions I’d do a quick recap of the highlights of a previous adventure (if there were more than three, then I’d double up or exclude “filler” adventures). Not only would this serve as a refresher for the players, but it would also remind them that the campaign on hiatus is still alive.

What say you? Do you take minor breaks during campaigns (but still get together to play something else?) Has a minor break ever turned into a curse rather than a blessing?

6 Comments (Open | Close)

6 Comments To "We Now Interrupt Our Regularly Scheduled Campaign…"

#1 Comment By Bevin Flannery On December 2, 2009 @ 8:00 am

Our group has a plethora of folks willing to run things, and we regularly cycle through on-going campaigns. It gives the GMs the chance to take an extended break and enjoy playing as a character, and the players the chance to play in different systems. We typically go no more than 4-5 months of weekly sessions of a campaign before switching out. The change is nice; the tradeoff is that it can be a while before you get back to a particular story.

We have one GM who is now on the final arc of a D&D campaign that started before 3.0 was released; he has a Werewolf the Forsaken campaign in his back pocket that has gone through two arcs and has a lot more to go. Another GM has a Mage the Awakening that went through an introductory 6-week arc that was a test-drive; at some point we’ll get back to it, but he also has a Savage Tide campaign on the list, and is planning another D&D. Three others, including myself, have D&D campaigns, all of which have lasted and will continue to last for a while.

It’s an embarrassment of riches.

#2 Comment By Patrick Benson On December 2, 2009 @ 8:48 am

My preference is to run a story arc with a big plot thread wrapped up at the end and several smaller plot threads that can be picked up on as part of a long campaign. Once that is done, we either continue to play that campaign, or we take a break and play another system and do the same thing.

Plus there is always room for a one-shot game! Sometimes you just need a break from the ongoing campaign, and a one-shot adventure is a great way to pass the time on those game days where everyone can’t make it.

#3 Comment By Kurt “Telas” Schneider On December 2, 2009 @ 9:37 am

[1] – “There is always room for a one-shot.”

I like that!

#4 Comment By Scott Martin On December 2, 2009 @ 11:27 am

Particularly at this time of year, getting everyone together doesn’t always work. I’ve learned from Phil’s suggestion to formally take a hiatus between Thanksgiving and New Years– well, mostly– and plan on mostly wargaming from now until next year.

Switching between parallel games with different GMs is our normal way of keeping burnout at bay, but one shots make great recharges. One of our players came back to demo Aces and Eights recently, with half the session being in depth character generation. It was quirky and really highlighted the good and detailed of the system.

#5 Comment By Zig On December 2, 2009 @ 4:41 pm

I find that I need a break every so often from running a game. Whether it’s a gaming hiatus or someone else taking a turn behind the screen for a bit.

Typically after a break I come back energized and often with some great new ideas. I find my players also benefit from taking a hiatus. They get to try something out maybe, and then love to get back to their usual characters.

When I have a campaign come back from a break I usually type up an email summarizing where the party is and what they had done most recently.

#6 Comment By Crushnaut On December 3, 2009 @ 8:29 am

I like to run one-shots or short chronicles based on NPCs that the player characters have previously encountered, usually letting the PCs play the NPCs.

I did this once in a Vampire campaign that took place in modern day Toronto. The player’s campaign characters met an elder Vampire and he began telling them a story of the current Prince’s rise to power. Starting there players played a three session game where they played the roles of the current the Prince and his coterie of Vampires in 1910ish before they were powerful. This allowed me to give the players an idea of the history of the Vampire’s in Toronto without having to bore them with speeches, and history lessons. It had the added benifit of building up canon for the current setting. It was a little “railroady” as the ending was already established (history can not be changed … and this wasn’t time travel or anything), but the players seemed to embrace that and work towards a dramatic conclusion.

I hope to do something similar in the future, but instead allow the players to play NPCs they met previously without the whole “history has already been written” aspect. I think it will probably make it into a humorous session by letting them play non-serious characters. Still haven’t decided. 😛