As I write this post, it has been more than four months since I ran a session of D&D. In late October, we had our last game. A combination of factors has lead to this lengthy break, and as I look to getting back in the swing of things, looking at some of the causes of the break, as well as planning for what might come next, might be useful.
This is not the first lengthy break for our group. We started playing last February, with a full group of 5 PCs. In June, the only member of the group (besides myself) with any previous RPG experience moved away. We took a break until late August, then resumed the campaign. In the fall, my oldest son got a part time job and a girlfriend, leaving him less time for gaming. This left just three regulars, one of which was my ten year old boy.
While it’s not impossible to run a game with three players, since the campaign began with five, it makes things harder, from both narrative and paperwork perspectives. The moved player’s character was given a graceful exit, but my oldest son’s character is still hanging around. This means someone needs to run the Thief in addition to their own character. My youngest needs help from time to time, as well. My friends have been gracious about this, but it’s not an ideal situation at all.
Party composition is another big problem. With just the three PCs (leaving out my oldest’s Thief), the group will be Defender/Controller/Striker. Missing a leader makes it more difficult, but not impossible, as I discussed before. But I fear that not having the damage output of the second Striker will cause issues. I don’t feel like I can run encounters from premade adventures without significant tinkering. More time spent customizing encounters puts a larger burden on me as a DM, especially due to my inexperience.
The biggest problem we are having, though, has got to be player apathy. After we decided to take a break through the holidays, I decided to wait and see if either of the two adult players asked about when we were playing next. My son asks about playing all the time, but my friends didn’t even mention D&D until earlier this month. This makes me think that they don’t really enjoy playing D&D as much as I enjoy DMing. I wonder; is this a problem all DMs face, or is it unique to my group?
I’d be lying if I said the announcement of 5th Edition, or D&D Next, whatever you’d like to call it, isn’t a factor as well. D&D Next sounds much more like the game I grew up with than 4E has been. Though I will forever be fond of 4E since it was the edition that truly brought me back to the hobby, I would really rather play a simpler, faster version of the game. It takes a significant amount of work to forge 4E into what I’d like it to be. With the prospect of a cleaner system on the horizon, it’s hard to get excited about wrestling with 4E again.
Part of me wants to just forget about it, and keep playing board games every week like we have done for months. We are having a great time doing it, that’s for sure. There are many games I don’t get to the table as much as I’d like. And none of them require the significant prep time that D&D does, freeing me up to do other things. Many of the games we play, like Talisman, Catacombs, and (obviously) Castle Ravenloft, scratch the D&D itch anyway. Still, I miss the storytelling of a full-fledged campaign.
Earlier today, I updated the adventure log at my campaign’s Obsidian Portal site. Besides making me wonder if my players ever even use it, I found it was quite difficult to remember all the little details I had in mind for the campaign. We left on a bit of a cliffhanger, but the effectiveness of that plot device is surely lessened after so much time has passed. With the characters at 8th level, I had originally planned for a grand finale at the end of heroic tier, but I doubt we make it that many more sessions. Perhaps I will advance them at a much faster rate, maybe a level every couple adventures, so we can reach a good ending place in the story after a handful of sessions, coinciding with the natural break after 10th level.
Beyond that – who knows? Perhaps a few solid games of D&D will rekindle the spark we once had. I might even renew my DDI subscription, which I let lapse last month. Or, we might just decide it was a great ride, and we had fun, but now we are ready to move on. As a group, we will make the decision together. Either way, I truly feel like I need to give 4E D&D one last hurrah. Whatever else happens, this campaign will have been a success, easily the best one I’ve ever run in my DMing experience.
This is very common. In my experience, it isn’t at all about the quality of the group. I’ve been in home campaigns with absolutely incredible DMs and the campaign still fell apart. Part of this is that even excellent campaigns have bits and pieces that don’t please everyone. Part of it is how hard everyone is willing to fight for regular play – the more you find like-minded driven gamers that will play to finish, the more it can withstand distractions. A game in college can be a captive and determined audience, while a game for gamers that are parents is prone to many more demands and distractions. So, no, it isn’t just you.
It can help to have breaks. A one-shot can add variety and help keep the group motivated. Taking turns spotlighting PCs can help. Bringing in new content can help. But it is all still a tough goal – the nature of most campaigns is that they fall apart eventually. Working to keep them from doing so is part of the fun!
I don’t personally see any reason to break from 4E, but it has been fun for me to play through old editions. A sweet spot is actually playing a bit of both. It keeps things diverse while still giving plenty of time to enjoy 4E.
Don’t sweat it. This happens a lot. My players talk about a game I ran three years ago all the time. They list it as one of their favorites. At the time though, there was a lot of apathy. We had huge breaks. There were times when it was super difficult to get things going.
Much of it has to do with player buy in. The previous poster offers a lot of good advice. Back to previous advice given, we generally take a break for the holidays. But we also try to do a couple of one shots. It keeps us gaming, but it allows us to check out from our long term story and incorporate visiting gamers. Its a great time to explore alternative systems or side ideas. Sometimes I try to do one shots that illuminate more of the story but doesn’t involve the PCs.
I would also tell you to deliberate on the way your players like to play. My players like a lot of freedom, but sometime I have to push the story forward. It can lead to some apathy for a little bit. But there is a real possibility that its nothing your doing, and your players just have other things on their minds.