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Friday, December 2, 2016

Getting Back To It

There are many ways to play table top RPGs. From one-shots to episodic adventures to full blown years-long campaigns, there is no right or wrong way to play. Just as long as you are having fun, at least. I have done all of these, and enjoyed them all too. Some are easier than others and each has its pros and cons. Some fit a time in everyone's life better than others. What I know is true of myself, and the desire of many, is the years-long campaign is the one you play. One with session after session of development, world building, character relationships, meaningful adventure, and long term ramifications.

These are the hardest games to get into, though, because they take time and commitment from everyone, and regularity. Many an early game that could last years comes to an end because of some scheduling conflicts that lead to other problems which lead to other problems. There is no harm in stepping away from that game, that group, or that schedule. Pushing too hard could just ruin the campaign permanently. Hells, even if it doesn't there is the chance that an extended break could be difficult to, well, break.

That has been my effort this past week, all culminating into a potentially 6 hour long session. I say potentially because when we left off things were grim. A TPK lurks around the corner should dice roll south. You see, we had introduced two people to D&D for the first time via Death House, the free adventure that came out right before the release of Curse of Strahd. That adventure was designed to take characters from level 1 to level 3 and ready them for the nightmares of Barovia.

It went fantastically. I have talked about it before, and can't praise Death House enough, but needless to say we purchased the Curse of Strahd campaign book shortly after. From there we embarked on what was, for me and everyone else, our first published campaign run. It went wonderfully, though I have found difficulty in not "knowing" everything as intimately as I do my home made worlds. After 5 or 6 sessions, though, scheduling took a nose dive. It became difficult, bordering on impossible, to get the entire group together for a session. It has been that way for about 6 months and changing it has been a challenge.

Groove Is Important
One of the major reasons we haven't been playing all Fall, despite my claims of an easier schedule personally, is that it has been difficult to get back into a general groove of things. This includes the blog, the podcast, and writing in general. Anyone who has kept an eye on here for the past 3 months knows this. A side game with fewer people and a regular schedule has seen at least as many hours as Strahd ever did and I have big plans to continue it. One shots were easier to fit in. The farther we got from Strahd the harder it was to sit down and remind myself about Barovia and the easier it was to explore the other things I had neglected.

It's not a bad thing to continue ignoring a campaign, even one that begs to be restarted. The time may not be right. No matter how much the players are ready, if you are not, as the DM, the game will not run well. If there are any hiccups within the context of that campaign that need time to be resolved, avoid trying to force it. Let time take care of it. I learned that with my Pathfinder game. Trying to fix scheduling, party dynamic, story progression, and mechanical issues all at once caused the game to lurch near the end and eventually crawl to a somewhat sudden halt. By then it was somewhat expected, but nonetheless sad. That game and the group have been waiting a little over a year to pick back up, but the time is not yet right for it.

The time is right for Strahd, however. The past few weeks have seen an upswing in my ability, desire, and flow of working on RPG stuff. I judiciously selected what to rebuild my momentum with and when. The Fall as been far slower to pick up than I wanted, slower even than I was capable, but that slow and deliberate speed was worthwhile. I am finally back in a place where I can say, "Let's do this!"

Preparation Is Key
Obviously, if you have been away from a campaign for a while you will have forgotten a lot about it. There will be plenty you remember, but far too much that you may not. The only way to overcome this is preparation. Looking at session notes, reading campaign notes, figuring out where you left off, and deciding where you'll pick back up. This can be a bit of work and, I want to emphasize, you have to be ready enough and want to play enough that this doesn't feel as much like work. Otherwise, you'll get nowhere quick.

Find an actual play, if you like them, that inspires the campaign world you created. Or a video game that you were influenced by to make that world. Or read a book that did something similar. If you enjoy actual plays and are playing a published campaign, listen to someone else play it. I have been binging Waffle Crew over the past two weeks. Not only are they a great group, but I learned more, internalized more, about the Curse of Strahd than any reading and note taking prep so far! Now I am quite ready to get back into that world, explore it, and see how my players react.

Just Do It
For many there will be hesitation to getting back into a game, but when it feels right you just have to dive back in. Don't let "what's the point" over-burden you with the potential that it all falls by the wayside. Maybe it will, maybe it won't. Maybe that game was meant to only be played twice a year. You will never know until you try.

By the same token though, that is exactly what I will be doing tomorrow, despite the nearness of the holidays and finals-season. We shall see how it goes. The session tomorrow and any other sessions we have soon, will inform me as to what I missed as important in putting a campaign back together after so many months. It counts as a trial run for me. A smaller campaign, with fewer sessions, and a shorter break than that Pathfinder game. It will be a learning experience no matter what. I have already shared what is needed to kickstart an old, dusty game here. I only hope that in a few weeks I will have another article with more information and some lessons learned to help you do the same, and do it successfully.

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