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My regular campaign has ground to a halt due to scheduling problems. At this point, we don't really know how long it will be until we play again. Everyone is still interested, at least for now. Is there a way to keep the campaign from dying out when we can't play, or is it doomed to extinction?

Obviously, changing to play-by-post or somesuch might be a possible way to go, but I haven't had much success getting my players involved in that--if you think that's the best way to go, some suggestions on how to transition them (and me) into that medium? (That last bit might be setting-specific. I'm running 4e)

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Here's a recent episode of Fear the Boot where they discuss this exact issue: – Daenyth Mar 29 '12 at 18:09
@Daenyth - what about summarizing their comments as an answer? – Simon Withers Apr 3 '12 at 0:49

10 Answers 10

Have everyone make notes, and keep a copy of everyone's. Likewise, take a photocopy of everyone's character sheets. Put them all in a folder. Keep that folder safe.

In the process of reopening, have everyone read their notes, and share some stories of past character deeds.

If you have time before hiatus, wrap up or tie off a bunch of loose ends, but not all. Leave some big hook, and use that at relaunch.

If players are up to it, writing down various memories as short fiction may also be a good way to keep the characters "alive" in the player's heads.

Switching medium from Face To Face (FTF) to Play by Post (PBP) or by Email (PBEM) may or may not work; it is very different in pacing and feel. And often, much slower. Play by Chat (PBC) works better; but still requires the same scheduling issues, tho' it doesn't require transportation. (I have, in fact, run my FTF game from 15 miles away using skype... I was sick, rest of group wasn't... and we wanted to keep it that way.)

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+1 I like the short fiction idea. – LeguRi Sep 9 '10 at 14:33
These are good suggestions for the actual restart of the campaign, but I feel the question is more about the time in-between when there is no gaming at all. Keeping the campaign alive during this time is the real challenge. Do you have any suggestions on how to handle that? – Jakob Mar 12 '12 at 17:48
@Jakob the only way to keep a campaign active during the hiatus is, essentially, to not have a hiatus. Either switch mediums, or pack it up for unpack later. – aramis Mar 14 '12 at 4:36
I have two players "telecommute" for my weekly L5R 4e game via Skype, and other players at the table. The only problem is mic positioning. – CatLord Mar 29 '12 at 18:38
My current TOR-AotEotW game has 3 FTF, plus 2 by skype. Both skype players are former roommates of my wife & I (from before we had kids), and so the group is pretty tightly connected. Add in an old friend of mine and my eldest child, and we have a group with BAD puns, inside jokes galore, and plenty of fun. I'm thinking of finding a different chat solution tho', as skype won't let me share my screen with 2+ users anymore. (It used to be that you could send to 2+, but only one could be sending at a time.) – aramis Mar 29 '12 at 20:38

If possible (you haven't left off the game on a very intense cliffhanger), move forward the campaign world by one month for every week that passes IRL. Write updates on what happens in the world, ask the players to sum up their characters' reactions to the events.

Example: "With the coming of spring the King falls quite ill, which gives rise to talk about issues of succession, though - on the surface - everyone wishes for his quick recovery. In the town you currently reside, a faction supporting his second son appears to be strongest. However, your last adventures seemed to point to this son's involvement in some shady dealings that the public probably isn't aware of. Tell me how your characters react."

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Agree with this. You could also simulate events that happen to your party, either as individuals or as a group, maybe even granting them a bonus level to come back to when your campaign kicks off again. – brindy Sep 9 '10 at 10:45
Oops. Wrote my answer before seeing yours. I've gone a slightly different way, but wanted to reinforce this idea. – F. Randall Farmer Mar 29 '12 at 22:30

This might be a good time to flesh out your setting and characters by collaboratively typing up a mess of details online. You can set up a wiki, share some Google Docs, or just start a big email chain. Then, ask each other questions. You can ask your players questions about their characters' goals and histories, and they can ask you for details about the setting. For that matter, you can ask them for setting details, too. Also, you can all trawl through places like deviantART and to find images that fit your characters or illustrate your world.

Sharing material like this should help keep the game alive until you can play again, and make it all the richer once you do.

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The wiki was going to be my suggestion when I came across it here. I second the option. I am currently reviving a campaign and the wiki is helping. We keep flushing out the world as a team as we have time to contribute. It keeps the characters, setting, and general conversation alive and kicking the whole time. We have not played in months, but we get wiki updates at least every week and frequently in bursts as we all play off each other's input. – EFH Mar 29 '12 at 18:20

First make sure you write down where you are ... the last thing you want is to go to restart the campaign, and realize that have no clue where you left off.

Depending on where you are currently at in your campaign, you may want to wrap things up over email, to bring the "open chapter" in the campaign to a close. This would allow you to be more flexible when you do restart. By then you may find that you are down a player or that a player has been tempted by some new player options (classes, races etc...).

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Try keeping the game fresh in players' minds by asking them to talk to about it: what has and hasn't been engaging, where they would like to see the story go, etc. There's no time like a hiatus to analyze how things have been going and make changes for when the game continues.

Take this time to build out the world, too. Write fiction, histories, details about people and places that the players have heard about. Letters, newspapers, town crier proclamations, etc. If the campaign pauses on a break in the story, use that opportunity to advance time in the world, and set up a new situation that the characters will have to deal with when the campaign starts up again. Ask your players to contribute as well. Getting them to involved in the world-building will keep up their interest.

Another thought: if you're hesitant to switch the campaign to Play-by-Post, perhaps try running a secondary campaign online. Have your players create a new group of characters who are dealing with the reprecussions of the main character's actions. Your players might enjoy getting a fresh perspective on the story. It would also be a good time to use a different system, one that's rules-lite and doesn't require too much investment.

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+1 for the idea of playing secondary characters online dealing with the effects of the main characters. – SevenSidedDie Sep 9 '10 at 7:05

I keep a campaign wiki for every game. If players leave the game temporarily (in your case that would be all of them) I occasionally post updates to the game world, events, that kind of stuff. If they're interested, you could ask them how their characters would react and weave that into the story. This assumes you just want to keep the fire burning until you're all ready to resume play.

Maybe this sort of blog or wiki updates can move the game into a dominion game if the players feel like it and have the characters to pull it off?

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This is another YMMV (Your Mileage May Vary) answer. It worked for a small group who enjoyed writing. It might not work for most groups, but I don't see a problem applying it to most games, including D&D. I've never played in a "real" play by mail campaign, but this is how we did it:

We had a great Shadowrun game going through my last couple of years in college. After graduation our careers dropped us all over the map. We managed to keep the campaign going, in a fashion, for a couple of years. Occasionally we'd get together in person, but most of it was done by mail (somewhere along the line it switched from snail mail to email, which tells you how long ago this took place).

The first thing we did was recognize that this was a way to keep the campaign and the characters alive. It was not a substitute for gaming, so in that sense it wasn't really Shadowrun any more. It was us advancing the Shadowrun story we'd started earlier, but without the rules.

The adventures wound up taking the form of short stories. There was a definite arc to each, and a well-defined beginning and end. I would start the ball rolling by writing an introduction that placed the player characters in danger. They were given a mission by a Mr. Johnson, or perhaps someone close to them was kidnapped, or the cops started coming down hard on the neighborhood Orks and Trolls. I'd also include several bullet points laying out potential directions in which the story might head.

With the setup established, the players would collaborate to come up with some ideas about how they would proceed, One of them would continue the story I'd started, writing in the details of how each member of the group would behave and what sorts of additional trouble they'd get themselves into. Then the next player would add more to the story.

I'd usually jump in after the second or third player-created narrative chunk and add some twists, flesh out the antagonists, and so on. I'd also add more bullet points to help guide the direction of the narrative. Usually after another couple of story chunks, I'd close the adventure with a final chunk. I'd then reward Karma Points primarily on the basis of how well each player advanced the story rather than on how many heroic feats of derring-do their character performed.

The rules were pretty straightforward:

  • No PCs can be killed
  • Players should feel free to place each other's characters in serious jeopardy, so they have to be cleverly written out of danger
  • While the game rules are not used to determine outcomes, the parameters of the rules still apply (no made-up spells, your elf can't fire one Panther assault cannon from each arm)
  • Only the GM can kill off a major antagonist

This approach worked because we all enjoyed writing. We also knew the personalities and motivations of the PCs well enough that we could construct stories that fleshed them out even further.

When we were able to get together for an actual game session we were all ready for action, and we didn't have that "taking the campaign out of mothballs" feeling. It was also fun because some of the stories we came up with between "real games" were among the best story arcs in the entire campaign.

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One technique I have used for a game on hiatus was backstory filler. If I ran into a player or otherwise had a long conversation with them, we would start filling in the details for their respective character and have mini-episodes. At least this way they could have more richness and a homing point to how to play the character.

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I see this as two problems - keeping things fresh in the player's minds, and getting them excited enough to make the game a priority in their lives. Here's an idea:

Keep the World Alive

What if the game-world continued on around your PCs? Send out short weekly updates (news bulletins) about how the world that they all know and love is continuing while the PCs are resting/recuperating/managing their estates, etc. You could even have little stories about how the PCs are doing minor things, such as working at small tasks or traveling great distances to their next destination.

If any of them want to engage in character-building/role-playing via email during this time, great - but if they don't there is no penalty - you'll still mention their character regularly in the bulletins.

If you're lucky, you can use this narrative to build the crisis in your story to the point where the players really feel the need to have their characters return to the quest...

The Mechanical Carrot

Offer a bribe to get them back together: In D&D say that the down-time brought them all up to next level, inviting them to advance their character. In other games, bennies, items, whatever is shiny enough to coax them back to the world, and the table.

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I like the regular updates concept, because it provides a nice narrative element. The updates are like the "in-between" moments in a novel, when the action has to slow down in order to provide contrast with the high-excitement moments. – Erik Schmidt Mar 30 '12 at 0:07

It is not 100% clear to me if you can have access only with part of the player (even one at the time, for example...).

In this case I'd suggest running with them secondary quests (even single-played, maybe with hired NPC if this suits the game).

Players unavailable in that occasions may get rumors of the news (by email) and react (or not) a bit like OpaCitiZen mentions, only that their friends may be involved as well, from time to time. If the players have lands and castles you can provide updates of how they are (or are not) developing (population, taxes, buildings, events...)

I often enjoyed a lot this kind of sessions with only one or two players active each time as they provide different perspectives.

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