Back in the Swing of Things – GGG Looks at Recovery from a Gaming Hiatus

CalendarHullo, gentle readers. I did something last night I haven’t done in a while. I ran a session of my Seowyn’s Crossing 4E game.

But GGG, I hear you exclaim, you tell us about your games all the time! Well, yes, gentle readers, that’s true, but, between a Disney trip in early October, prepping for an Isles weekend in late October, prepping for my Lovecraft LARP at the end of November, and then the holidays, the truth is that my game went on a hiatus that kept being pushed on and on and on. What I intended to be an occasional break in the action turned into a nearly three month break from my whole campaign.

Now, there are advantages to this. I’ve had lots of time to think about the game, to ponder plots, look ahead to the rapidly approaching Paragon Tier, and such. Overall, though, I’ve been disappointed to have been on such a long break. I feel like my campaign’s lost its momentum, and I know I’d lost some of my thoughts on what would be coming down the road. Despite my concerns, however, my players seem happy to be back, and I certainly enjoyed playing.

The whole thing got me thinking about how best to recover from a long hiatus like this. There are things I feel I did rather well, and there are things I wish I’d handled a little differently. Hopefully my advice will help you if you find yourself with your game in a similar situation.

Keep in Touch

The most important thing in a relationship between people, no matter what kind of relationship it is, is communication. When communication breaks down, the relationship begins to break down.

If you don’t stay in touch with your players, then communication breaks down, and the game falls apart. If you keep in touch with your players, keep them in the loop, keep the game fresh in their minds, then the game lives on.

As I’ve said before, I keep a webpage and wiki for my campaign at Obsidian Portal, a website I highly recommend for GMs. I used the forum feature of it throughout my campaign to keep my players aware of why there was a hiatus, when I planned to get back to the game, and so on. My players used the site, too, updating it with little vignettes, questions about the game, and the like. This contact kept everything alive, so when we got back to the game, it felt very natural.

As You May Recall…

One tool that’s useful to many GMs is a strong recap at the beginning of every session. I use this time at the start of a game to remind my players of the overall storyline, the current situation, key NPCs, and what’s happening right at the moment in the game. This, combined with our theme music, brings the players back into the game and gets them in the right headspace for the evening.

The recap after our three month hiatus was even more important. It had been almost three months since we last played, so players really needed some reminder of where we’d left off. I wrote bullet points to myself both on key events of the current story arc, which NPCs were most closely associated with the current situation, and where exactly we’d left off. This helped pull them back to the game, reminded them of important details, and set up the events of the night. I think everyone was glad to be back in the action.

Hit ‘Em Hard!

After a long hiatus, everyone’s likely rusty with their characters, from RP to statistics. It’s worth running a session that’ll really give everyone a chance to stretch, limber up, and get back into shape. I recommend running something exciting, vibrant, and fun. You can always start in media res and go back to explaining how they got there afterwards if you really want to start with a bang. Imagine coming back after a hiatus to “Roll Initiative!”

The session I ran started with a roleplaying sequence, followed by a roleplaying oriented skill challenge, followed by a combat. In retrospect, I sort of wish I’d started with “Roll Initiative!” I could’ve run a short combat to charge things up, then jumped back to the roleplaying and the skill challenge. On the whole, however, I feel like it went well.

The Same…Only Different!

One thing I recommend in order to really pull people back into things is to offer a twist on something. The players may think things are going a certain way, but you can suddenly jar them, preferably close to the last moment of the game, then set things up so that they won’t just be glad the hiatus is over…they won’t be able to wait to come back for the next game.

In my campaign, my players are trapped in the Feywild, seeking a way home. They’ve been feted and lauded by the Marquesa Amarantha for the defeat of a terrible monster when they first appeared. Suddenly, as they were heading back to their quarters , various fey creatures began attacking each other in the streets. The attacking fey had completely jet black eyes. Some began to attack them, including some they’d known by name as friends. As they fought, Lord Aglovale, who’s been kind of a jerk to them the whole time they’ve been there, appeared on the battlefield. Rather than attack them, however, he began to fight alongside them. With the fight over, they now realize that an evil hag they’d heard about seems to be behind everything, and they’re racing to rescue the Marquesa.

The twist of sudden attack by allies and a perceived enemy fighting alongside them, not to mention a hag whom they’d been told was long-since slain appearing, has the players very intrigued to come back for the next session. I don’t think I have to worry about people wanting another hiatus any time soon.

In Closing

Although a hiatus can make trouble for a game, there are tools to help bring the players back ready for more. Keep the lines of communication open during the hiatus. Give a strong recap at the beginning of your session. Run a session that’s exciting and has lots of twists so that it’s not just coming back to the same old thing. I guarantee your campaign will be back in the groove again in no time.

Your Turn

Have you ever had to take a protracted hiatus from a much loved campaign? How did you make sure that the campaign came back as strong as ever? Are there any strategies you find worked or didn’t work for you? Let us all know.

About GGG

Andy/GGG is a gay geek guy for sure. He's been playing D&D since he was 10, and he equates reading Tolkien with religion to some degree. He's a writer/developer for a Live Action RPG called The Isles, and he writes a comic called Circles, a gay, furry slice-of-life piece that comes out way too infrequently.

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