5 Tips When Returning From a Campaign Hiatus

It’s been five days since we wrapped up GenreCon and, well, I’m yet to bounce back to my normal self. Cons are mentally and physically exhausting, doubly so when you’re running them, and you always have to pay your body back for the sleep debt and three days you spend operating on adrenaline and caffeine.

Net result: another short hiatus for my Mutants and Masterminds campaign while I regroup, catch up on sleep, and rediscover the mental capacity for after-work activities that aren’t marathon games of Masters of Orion II on Shifty Silas the laptop.

All of which put me in mind of the following topic for this Friday Superhero Gaming Post:

5 TIPS WHEN RETURNING FROM A CAMPAIGN HIATUS

1) START WITH A BANG

It’s easy to lose track of things during a hiatus: hot subplots grow a little dusty, character traits get forgotten through lack of use, and long-term plots are harder to follow when you’re not engaging with them regularly. It’s easy to forget that when you’re running the game, ’cause GMs are the types who live their campaigns twenty-four-seven, constantly adding details and sparking ideas.

Players, well, players aren’t quite so involved, which is why I’m a big fan of getting the players into a fight scene as soon as possible after a hiatus, and the amount of time we spent not-playing is often directly proportional to the amount of time I leave between okay, guys, lets start the game and roll for initiative.

The logic behind this is pretty simple: fight scenes are generally the most dynamic part of any campaign system devoted to super-heroic action. Its where the players have the most control over their characters and a place where their goals are easily identifiable (beat the bad guys) and utterly unambiguous (don’t get beaten). Also, to borrow a writer aphorism, characters in motion and doing stuff are far more interesting than characters sitting around and talking.

If there’s no logical reason for the players to be in a fight based on the events of last sessions, fabricate one. Excuses I’ve used in the past include this is a flashback, this session takes place in the Series Annual so all this is out of continuity, and so you’re on patrol when you spot…

2) ADVANCE A PLOT POINT

When you’re a GM, there’s a pretty good chance you’ve got a whole bunch of plots and sub-plots set on simmer, just hanging around in the background in case you need them for a quick adventure hooks (I’m terrible at this sort of thing – I once ran a plot audit on a long-term D&D game and discovered over a hundred unresolved subplots).

Pick one, preferably one that’s been allowed to lie fallow, and find some way to advance it in a big way in your back-from-hiatus session. It gives the players something new and juicy to latch onto, which can help ease you past the inevitable what were we doing before the break? questions that crop up.

3) LISTEN TO YOUR PLAYERS

So all the advice thus far has largely been about ignoring the hell out of whatever you were doing before the hiatus.  There’s a reason for this – you’re buying some time so you can listen to the kinds of discussions your players are having during the game.

It’s a well-known fact of GMing that no plan survives contact with a player group – the flip side of that is that some of the campaign elements you’ve latched onto as important aren’t quite so memorable in the eyes of the players. If you give them a new plot thread to follow and listen, they’ll tell you which of your old plot threads they’re eager to see back in action.

Eavesdropping is a thoroughly underrated GM skill at the best of times, but it’s golden in these circumstances.

4) END ON A CLIFFHANGER WHERE POSSIBLE

I’ve seen campaign after campaign killed by a hiatus from gaming, particularly a break that goes for longer than a month. It’s often not difficult to get the first session back, since that’s the session where everyone gets a chance to catch-up with each other, but after that first session you’re fighting whatever routines people set up during the time off. While this hasn’t proven to be the case with our M&M game (small groups have their advantages), it has happened in other games I’ve run.

The goal, then, is to end the session on a cliffhanger that makes sure people want to come back. Cliffhangers are a staple of comic books, soap operas, and any other form of serial narrative. Embrace the cheese of it all and end on something big, so the players have something to look forward to when the next session starts.

5) GO EASY ON YOURSELF

If the hiatus has coincided with a break in GMing, or even gaming in general, its important to remember that your probably going to be a little rusty coming back into the game as well. If you suffer from the same kind of perfectionist-GM-syndrome that I do, it’s important to take it easy on yourself when the game starts.

As a result of this, I like to plan for a slightly shorter session as normal when coming back from a break. It gives me some time to find my feet again and remember why I really enjoy running games, plus it allows for the inevitable side-discussions that break out whenever a group of friends who haven’t seen each other for a few weeks get the chance to catch up.

‘Course, as with most things in gaming, my experiences aren’t always going to be a perfect mesh with other GMs styles and approaches. No hiatus is the same either – a six-month break is a very different experience to having two weeks off over the holidays. If anyone’s got their own tricks and tips that have helped get a campaign back on track after a break, I’d love to hear about them.

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