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I've been running a game for almost 50 sessions now, over the course of about 2 years. The game has been going well, the players enjoy it, and I enjoy DMing it as well.

However, due to life circumstances that are going to be changing soon, I need to put the game on hiatus.

The issue is that the game is currently in a state where the plot is moving and about to start moving in a new direction - and the characters do not have the opportunity to idle by while the game itself is put on pause.

How do I go about pausing the game in a graceful manner?


For more specific narrative information, the party has been investigating the existence of a set of ancient forges that long ago produced all life on the planet - though they currently only have knowledge of the one being responsible for the creation of the Warforged, they have a map of where the other ones are located. They also have gotten confirmation that this is the purpose of those forges by a goddess with information on the subject. They traveled to another goddess's realm and resolved a dispute of nobility therein, and are currently planning to travel to another goddess's domain, both as part of the paladin's quest to rekindle the connection between these sister goddesses, and also to get more information on the nature of these forges.

They also believe that the Spider Goddess is responsible for trying to unearth and seize the power of these forges - and are hesitant to confront her right away until they have more power and knowledge on how they could stop her. Which is why they are instead seeking out the domain of the most powerful goddess in terms of pure warcraft that they know of.

Their journey there will take them across some unfamiliar land, but will also largely take them across a path they have trodden before, and also up to a city that is one character in particular's homeland, where a subplot is waiting for them to encounter.

All in all, while they have recently solved a major plot point, they are also preparing to set out for the next one right away - so the idea that they would have any kind of downtime at this juncture really doesn't make sense.


The system is DND 5e, using a setting I made up myself partly based off of the initial Lost Mines of Phandelver module they started with.

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5 Answers 5

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Share the reasons why you cannot continue

It seems apparent that all of you, including yourself, enjoy the game, but there are external, real live circumstances that make it impossible to you to continue running it for the time being:

due to life circumstances that are going to be changing soon, I need to put the game on hiatus.

You can share this change with your players, and explain the situation to them, so they can understand why a pause is necessary. I just recently paused DM'ing my group as we are building a house and moving, and there is just not enough time in the day. When I explained this to them, nobody had any hard feelings about it, to the contrary, they all were understanding and supportive.

Especially if you have just closed a major story arc, this seems to be a good and natural breaking point in the action, even if the PCs are not going to enter downtime. Write a situation summary with open actions and current plans, so you can refresh your memory and resume there later when you get back. In the meantime, maybe one of the other players can DM for the rest of the group (or even you, if being a player is possible for you), with a new campaign.

The only thing I would caution you about in an expectations that this campaign ever will resume again. We paused playing campaigns at higher levels multiple times in the past for various reasons, and what inevitably happend every time is that people moved on playing something else and being exited about that and wanting to continue it, rather than pick up some old campaign from a year ago again. I'm not saying this must happen, but I've seen this happen a lot. It's not even a bad thing, as long as everyone is having fun.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This is an exceptional answer, but I would like to strongly emphasize the importance of writing a detailed summary of the situation and a separate summary of any GM only plans you don't want to lose. Time tends to dull memories and even if your memory is perfect, in a shared situation like this it's important to have something to maintain the game state that everyone agrees on if you want to have any hope of resuming. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 12, 2023 at 15:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ Seconding @TimothyAWiseman here. Write absolutely everything that you can think of down. \$\endgroup\$
    – order
    Jun 12, 2023 at 16:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ I like this answer - especially about writing down where we are to refresh myself when we return. Also to add some context - I'm going to be focusing on getting some training done in order to advance my career in a new state - so while I do that training, I want to be able to focus on that and not have to worry about planning a new session each week. \$\endgroup\$
    – Zibbobz
    Jun 12, 2023 at 18:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ You can still get a degree of closure even if this campaign never gets resumed. Sketch out an outline of what would have happened in the last part of the campaign. A future campaign can use that like a historical account, and you can sprinkle in references to characters, events, and places. Perhaps you encounter a statue of a future version of one of your players' old heroes, you overhear a bard tell the story of the war against the Spider Goddess, or the new party encounters the distant result of events set in motion in the old campaign. \$\endgroup\$
    – bta
    Jun 13, 2023 at 16:58
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I don't understand why you think this is relevant:

The issue is that the game is currently in a state where the plot is moving and about to start moving in a new direction - and the characters do not have the opportunity to idle by while the game itself is put on pause.

Just as a TV series can end a season on a cliff-hanger and pick up moments later when the next season starts a year or more later, so can your campaign. You've reached a good point of resolution, all you need to do is inform your group that you're going to have to suspend for a while. If your group has been keeping a game journal that'll help pick up again later, if you haven't you might want to write down as much as possible now so you have it to refer to when you pick things up again.

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    \$\begingroup\$ One player in particular, bless them, has been keeping very detailed campaign logging that will be very useful for this purpose. \$\endgroup\$
    – Zibbobz
    Jun 12, 2023 at 18:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Zibbobz Whatever you do, keep that player! :D \$\endgroup\$ Jun 12, 2023 at 18:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ @JackAidley It may be relevant as one of the "cheap techniques" you can play as a GM is to let them have a filler arc, with one of the other players DMing, or even somebody else from outside the table. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 13, 2023 at 14:35
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My game group of five people has four who rotate GM duties, each with their own campaign. Our games are continually put on hiatus for 6 months or so. Pausing has never been a problem. Just inform everyone a few weeks ahead of time, give them the reasons and put them in a very specific spot. People understand how real life obligations work. If you can set a resumption date, that would be really helpful. Stay in communication during the interim. Remind them at intervals that that the campaign will be resuming, increasing as you approach the date.

Resuming is usually the harder part. The best way we have found to resume a campaign is to keep notes, and the week before the game, the GM writes up a synopsis that lists:

  • All relevant plot points that have happened till now. Very light detail on ones that are resolved, and the greatest detail on ones that are most relevant to the immediate action.

  • Immediate goals that are likely to be addressed in the next session (find the old man you were told about, who has the scrap of map you need to continue), followed by longer term goals that the campaign resolves around (eventually destroy the uber-lich before he is re-formed.

  • A list of NPCs is helpful, again, tailoring the detail by the likelihood they will be encountered or be relevant. Example: A shopkeeper NPC they loved who is in a city they left behind probably need not be mentioned, but if that same shopkeeper is the one who will be selling them supplies they need for the first game, they should be named and described.

The idea is to remind them of what they need to know to get back into the rhythm, and provide reference for the rest.

And if you can give them an opening that immediately puts them into some kind of action, that can be a useful tool to build momentum. Game mechanics are largely spelled out on the character sheet, and by actually playing through a scenario that relies more on that can help ease them back into remembering relationships, goals, character quirks and so on.

Another way to build excitement is to grant them a level the week before startup (assuming you are using milestones). Players love new and shiny, and a new ability or spell level can really build anticipation, and give them something to share with each other, in or out of character. It's also a nice reward for patience.

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There are several good answers here, but you might also want to consider a different system that has shorter campaigns for a filler while you get your RL issues sorted. Powered by the Apocalypse and Forged in the Dark games often run 6-8 sessions for a "season". If the hiatus needs to be longer than that, you could easily run them longer, or intersperse some one-shots. Fiasco generally maxes out at 4, but Dread can handle quite large groups.

Getting other players to act as GM and run something they're excited about can both give more experience but also playing from "both sides of the screen" is invaluable for learning how to be both a better player and a better DM.

Also, remember it's totally fine to not like other games. Some will be a better fit than others, and if D&D is your jam there's no shame in trying something else and deciding it's not for you. There's also the possibility you'll find some some great tools in other RPGs that you can steal and homebrew to make your D&D game better.

Finally, if you (or any of your players) are a Critter you've probably heard about Candela Obscura which looks to be a great new FitD game, and would probably be an easy sell.

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If one of your players has even mentioned wanting to run a game some time, approach them and ask if they'd like to take the reins for now. However, if you plan to return to your existing game, I would, right now, write up a several-page-long synopsis of where things stand, both in the broader plot and for each of the characters. That will make it much easier to glide back in.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This should probably have been posted as a comment and upvote for keithcurtis's existing answer on rotating GMs. If you would like to instead improve upon your answer, I suggest removing the comment about "+1 on rotating GMs" (that's what upvoting is for) and add some additional details to your answer to make it distinct from keithcurtis's own answer. \$\endgroup\$
    – Zibbobz
    Jun 13, 2023 at 16:43

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