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?