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For the last year I've been DMing a campaign that has included a lot of "making it up as I go", but right now I don't even have time for that. We've decided that I'll transfer the campaign to another player and make a character for myself.

But I'm not really sure how to properly hand over this campaign. There aren't a lot of notes or maps, but there is a fairly extensive written story of all the session notes put together. In it, there are lots of events, and most of those have at least some backstory that we players were either investigating or that was going to come back to haunt them later.

I don't want to overly constrict the new DM, but I also don't want to get him in trouble because the old players later decide to explore something that he doesn't really know about. The new campaign will be set a few years after the old one, so at least there's no immediate trouble, I think.

Should I go over the entire session notes with the new DM and explain the background, or should I just let it go and only explain if he has questions? Are there other possible traps for when a campaign is transferred to a new DM who used to play in it?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ You may not have a lot of notes that were taken during the campaign, but that doesn't mean you can't sum things up post-hoc. Take an afternoon to think about the most important and memorable moments of the campaign, and write them down. It doesn't matter if you get every detail right - the important thing is to leave the new GM with a rough idea of how events transpired in the campaign. It sounds like this 'story' you have of past events already serves that purpose pretty well, so you're already ahead of the curve. \$\endgroup\$
    – Zibbobz
    Jul 13, 2015 at 16:49

3 Answers 3

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Let the Baby Bird Leave the Nest

Having rotated a campaign through many GM hands, the least disruptive thing we found was to not worry about it. Your turn at the helm is over.

Our group has multiple people that like to GM. We created a world we really liked and want to continue exploring when it is someone else's turn to run a campaign. We decided that the campaign and characters would be run on a rotation through the various GM's. At first, the first GM built up a lot of plot and planning, and when their main story arc ended, handed that off to the next GM (me). This was a major problem for me, and the group. There were things in place that did not make sense for me to run, and the old GM tried to sort it out (tried to protect her 'baby').

Sessions were slow and awkward until we decided to simply scrap the plot I was handed, and abandon the notes and details of unexplored lands. This freed me to offer a new arc to the players. This is how we have been running it ever since - the GM runs their piece, then hands it off to the next. Anything that they want to touch on later waits until its their turn to GM again.

You are way ahead of the curve on this, as you have nothing to hand the next GM. The main problem you may run into is "This is my baby" feelings about the campaign. You will have them for the first few sessions. Don't act on those feelings. Let it go, and let the new GM show you a new story with the characters and world.

Because you are (probably) not leaving the game on a natural end of an arc, only give the new GM a vague idea of what was to come. They should be able to fill in the blanks. Try not to get upset if it does not come out the way you had planned.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Bravo! I wish I could upvote this more than once, if we were on a .se I actually had some rep in, I'd bounty it for a bonus at the very least. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ender
    Jul 12, 2015 at 15:56
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Since you have "fairly extensive" written session notes, I would apply the principle that especially in a "make it up as you go along" campaign, if the players didn't see it then it wasn't real. Unless the new GM wants to know what you were thinking.

There is no such thing as "something he doesn't really know about". There are things that have been defined in-game, and things that have not been defined in-game. Things that you had some ideas about in your head that never made it into a session, aren't "things he doesn't really know about", they are "things he has not yet defined", just as if he'd been GM all along and simply hadn't thought about them.

Therefore, hand the notes to the new GM, to refresh his memory of what he has in fact already played through and to form the basis of whatever note-keeping style he prefers. From his point of view, he is basing a game on a work of fiction (the notes), with the added advantage that he can consult the author if he wants to.

Any question he wants to ask you, such as "so who was it that hired those assassins who attacked us in session 17?", you answer to the best of your memory. He should use this wherever the events make no sense to him, or where he cannot think of a way to explain them that excites him. He is free to ignore or change your answers.

Any questions he chooses not to ask you, because he has his own idea of who hired the assassins, you keep studiously quiet. He should use this whenever he has an idea that he's excited about. What you thought you "knew" was happening behind the scenes is now just your OOC opinion. Maybe it was the boss they pissed off in session 12 and killed in session 24. Maybe it was someone else. You're no longer the GM, so your opinion no longer decides. Which is good, since it means you can be surprised. Hints that you thought led to one conclusion will turn out to lead to another.

He can also consult other players in the same way, if he feels that his memory could use help and the session records are lacking. One of the big problems he might face, is that IMO it's easier for the GM to remember stuff from the past, because the GM has a coherent picture of the whole, and made all the setting up in the first place, whereas the players didn't. Furthermore, players are conditioned to defer to the GM's memory, and that instinct might be disrupted by him not having been the GM at the time. So make sure he has a chance to discuss with you how he'll handle situations where he needs to remember past events not fully documented in the logs, and where his memory might differ from that of the other players of the time.

Another problem is that the same NPC played by a different GM will often not seem like the same person. For this reason he might like to concentrate on a different cast of major NPCs than you did.

There will certainly be some change in the "feel" of the game due to the GM change, but the time gap and the official declaration "new campaign" justifies this. The new GM in any case will decide how closely to imitate your "feel". There's no reason he can't run with completely different mood and themes in the same setting, and it may well be that almost all of your "secrets" become irrelevant to what he's doing.

FWIW, I have taken over one part of a multi-GM game in the past, where the exiting GM didn't have notes even of what had happened in-game, and hadn't ever discussed some of it with the other GMs, and wasn't available to consult at all. Therefore, there was in-game information that existed only in the memories of the players affected by it (and, this being a biggish game, a lot of things happened to only one or a few players apart from the group as a whole). The only way to deal with that was to just replace great wadges of plot with new things that were not consistent with what went before. A few players were robbed of plot and contacts as a result, which sucked. But aside from that it was OK, so given your notes and input, your replacement GM should be able to avoid the bad aspects of the change.

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If I had to do such a thing, and I had no pre-existing notes to turn over, what I would do is this:

  1. Explain my general philosophy and themes for the game in question: The game is about this, and that, and this other thing. The big conflicts are these. These monolithic (or monolithic seeming) blocks are like this, for this reason.

  2. If there were any things that I know the players were puzzling over or chewing over, I would communicate the answers to the new GM. Or, if I was winging it, I would admit it. Or, if the players were puzzling over something I considered unimportant, I would admit it.

  3. In a similar vein, if there was a hidden consistency or connection between some events that the players hadn't yet figured out or even started to puzzle over, I would note those especially.

  4. Within reason, be available to consult. "Hey, did X, Y, and Z have anything to do with each other?" "Oh, yeah, I forgot about that-- yeah, X and Z were connected, but Y was a coincidence."

Of course, the new GM would be free to accept or ignore any of that; that is the nature of handing over a game. But in the broadest possible terms, my goal would be to enable consistency when the new GM wants to be consistent and (and this would be much harder for me) to enable the new GM to break consistency where he needs to, without doing do fatally.

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