GM Tips: Campaign Fatigue

GM Tips articles offer advice and ideas for gamesmasters to help hone their techniques and run their games, these lists are not exhaustive but provide some tips to point a GM in the right direction.

We’ve all been there as GMs, it’s easy when you start a campaign, your head is crammed to bursting with far more ideas than you can use, you’re excited about either creating or running your new campaign setting and hopefully the players are excited to jump into creating their characters. And the game goes well for a while, everyone’s enjoying it, you winnow your ideas down to the ones you can use immediately and the ones you keep tucked back, if you’re lucky then the player characters throw up some ideas you hadn’t considered before and you weave them into the growing tapestry of your campaign world.

Then at some point, maybe weeks or months down the line (depending on how often you play), you find yourself almost dreading having to prepare for the weekly session or putting it off to the last minute, not because you don’t enjoy running the game, far from it, you have a great time during the session but the initial enthusiasm for the setting has faded and, as a result, you don’t feel like you’re giving the game your best.

Does this story sound familiar?

Well if you’re anything like me you’ll have experienced it more than a few times, most recently for me has been the last couple of weeks with my 3Brothers D&D 5E setting; I’ve been running bi-weekly sessions for the last four months of the campaign and really enjoyed it initially but recently it wasn’t really grabbing me.

I’ve talked to my players and between us we decided on a course of action, but I wanted to post some advice to others who might be experiencing the same thing.

If you think you’re suffering from campaign fatigue

  1. Identify precisely what your issue is: Perhaps you are struggling for ideas or perhaps the rules system you are using isn’t grabbing you as much as you first thought?
  2. First of all, don’t make any rash decision like cancelling the game: You might just be in a momentary slump; take some time to think and reflect on your current feelings.
  3. Discuss the matter with your players: You’re not the only person invested in your game, the players have put time and effort into it as well, be open with them and discuss have you’re feeling at the moment, they may have some suggestions that you had not considered.
  4. Don’t lock yourself into one course of action too soon: There are a number of potential ways that your interest in the campaign could be revitalised, consider as many options as possible before deciding (in conjunction with your players) what course you want to take.Possible courses of action:
    1. Take a break from the game.
    2. Run something different for a while.
    3. Let someone else take over the GM role for a bit while you recharge your batteries.
    4. Read some books or watch some TV shows from the genre to give you some fresh ideas for the campaign.
    5. Shift the focus of your existing game.
  5. Advance the timeline of your existing game: If you want to effect a change of focus in your current game then one of the ways to do it is to have a period of downtime where time advances,  when you pick up your story perhaps a year or two has passed and the situation in the kingdom has changed for better or worse. If you do this be sure to get some input from your players about what their characters have been up to during that time, it doesn’t have to be massively detailed, more a general picture.Think of this like the gaps between the films in the Star Wars franchise, we know stuff has happened off-screen and we get the scrolling text telling us what has occurred to set up the events for the film.

So what did I do?

Well first of all I tried to identify where my problem lay, I was enjoying the games but at first I thought that the D&D system wasn’t really grabbing me, but after decision with my players I realised it was more that the anonymous feel of the characters at low-levels of D&D doesn’t seem to mesh particularly well with my GM-ing style. I prefer games where the player characters are centre focus, movers and shakers within a campaign setting, something that doesn’t happen until later levels in D&D.

I discussed with my players (both via facebook and through Google Hangouts) my current reservations about the game and suggested a number of ideas such as changing systems, running a new game, etc and in the end we decided that I was going to take a break for a couple of weeks and Rob was going to run a couple of Fate one-shots that he’s been preparing, after that I’m going to run a finite mini-campaign using the Fate system, it’ll be a piratical themed fantasy game and probably last for about ten sessions or so. Once that is finished we’re going to pick up the 3Brothers campaign again but move the timeline along by a year or so, advancing the PCs to a higher level.

Picture is part of a Doré wood engraving illustration from The Divine Comedy labeled for reuse on Google Image Search, the original image can be found here.

2 thoughts on “GM Tips: Campaign Fatigue”

  1. Have a look at the kind of adventures you’ve been running; saving the world gets boring after a while.

    1. Very true Alan, in the #3Brothers campaign I’m running we’ve decided to have a short break from it and then advance the timeline allowing some of the things set in motion to come to pass, this will have the effect of changing the status quo and the sorts of adventures the PCs will be on 🙂

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