How to pick up running a TTRPG game after a long break
It can be hard to keep a TTRPG campaign rolling along. Sometimes it’s hard to get everyone together to play for a while. Sometimes there’s a global pandemic. Sometimes you take a hiatus from running your game so that you can do other things. Sometimes Steve throws a bowl of dip at Paul and they won’t talk for two years and then there’s a sudden repair of their relationship and they want to get the band back together but you have no idea what you were even doing when you ran that game. That last one, I admit, I didn’t go back for. I’m sorry, once the group is throwing things at each other I am out.
Players can have babies, new jobs that take up a lot of their time getting up to speed, one time I moved from Seattle to Edmonton and the group had to go on hiatus for two years until we discovered Roll20 — what I’m getting at here is, a lot of things can happen to derail your TTRPG. Recently I took most of 2021 off from DMing our monthly D&D game here at Blizzard Watch, and next month will be my return to the DM chair for the return of the Riatan campaign.
So let’s just say I’m thinking about how to get the group back into playing again. Here are some ideas I’ve learned from having done it before, plus some advice I got from other DMs.
Make sure to get everyone back up to speed
If you, the person running the game, feel lost after a long break, your players also feel that way. They might not even remember much about their character and need a refresher as to what they were doing. Make sure to recap as much as is necessary to get them up to speed. Think of it as the start of a new season of a TV show that has one of those Last Time on Your Campaign montages before the announcer says And now the conclusion — You’re reminding them of what was going on and where their characters were when last we saw them.
It’s also worthwhile to consider this as a smart time to get everyone’s temperature, so to speak. Maybe some of the players want to make changes to their characters because they knew less about what works and what doesn’t when they made them, or they’re just not into that Warlock they’re playing and would rather they were a Cleric. It’s a good time to make these kind of changes since people haven’t been playing for a while anyway.
Check your notes, and maybe ask players for their notes too
Campaigns can change and mutate over time as your players make decisions that send the story off in directions you hadn’t originally planned for. You might need to get yourself back on track, and not only that, but in addition to knowing what you’d planned it’s worth finding out what your players think is going on. For starters, sometimes that’s better than what you had in mind. For another, if you pick up that players really don’t seem to have any idea what is going on, you’ll know better on how to give them clues towards the events of the game.
This doesn’t mean you have to stick with what you were doing if you’ve had a better idea since then, but it’s really helpful to launch off in a new direction if you have some idea of what the old direction was.
If you happen to be fortunate enough to have a whole lot of recordings of your sessions — maybe you were doing it as a series of live streams and have them up on Soundcloud or something, hypothetically — don’t forget to go back and listen to them.
Yes, I know this only applies to a few of us, but let’s just say sometimes I write these things to remind myself, okay?
Times have changed — don’t be afraid to change with them
Look, things are always different, but the longer you go between sessions and then come back to it, the more things are different. I mentioned above that you might have a better idea of what you want to do as a GM, and also, your players might have better ideas of what they want to do. So don’t be afraid to do those things, or let the players do them. If there’s any benefit to the we haven’t gotten to play in three months because Wanda was out changing a small town into a series of sitcoms and who knows what Stephen’s been doing but at last we’re all back it’s that you have the benefit of hindsight to help give you a fresh perspective. Use it.
Maybe you were dropping hints about mysterious facilities that seems to span the planes, but you weren’t sure where that was going. But while you were waiting to come back you watched a really awesome movie that gave you an idea, and I don’t want you to be afraid to steal that idea and use it now. Always be willing to incorporate a new idea, but especially don’t be afraid of doing so after a long period of being off. It’s the best time, since nobody remembers what they were doing anyway.
Hopefully that’ll help you get yourself ready to resume a game, whether you took a break voluntarily or just had no choice but to wait until Clark had a day free and Bruce wasn’t ‘busy’ even though it’s not like Diana and Arthur and J’onn don’t have lives, and yet they always manage to be available. Sure, Hal’s a flake, but Barry’s rock solid. Be a bit more considerate, Bruce.
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