Campaign TrailGM Resources

6 Ways to Save Your Campaign from the Holidays

This week is Canadian Thanksgiving and my campaign is taking a week off. Halloween, U.S. Thanksgiving, Christmas and the New Year are all right around the corner too. Holidays are awesome, but they can create challenges for GMs running a scheduled campaign in the weeks at the end of the year. Today on the Campaign Trail I’m providing 6 ways to save your campaign from the holidays.

1) Plan to Take a Break

Sometimes a little break from the campaign for everyone can be a good thing. If you know that you and most of your players are going to be away, just agree to take a planned break. Trying to push the story along with half your group is less fun for everyone at the table and not fair to the missing players. Don’t force the game, just agree to take a planned break. Missing a couple of sessions at the end of the year can be a chance for you as the GM to get your creative juices flowing again or to even get ahead of the players with some extra prep time. Try to end the last session on a cliffhanger or resolve something important, creating a memorable point to return to in a week or two (just like with TV show during sweeps or a mid-season finale). Take a break with a strong finish and avoid limping along through the end of they year with half your group.

2) Create a Shared Schedule

As mentioned, I’m busy with family over for Thanksgiving weekend and my regular Friday game is on hiatus this week. Our group has a discussion board and we have a thread that shows the upcoming 4-8 weeks to keep everyone up to date on who is available and who is away. This let’s us know in advance if people are away so we can plan for breaks and one-shots, avoiding the dreaded 2 or 3 people showing up and waiting an hour for everyone else to not show.

Without a schedule you’ll have frustrated players showing up expecting the full group, only to end up playing Munchkin, with half the group missing. By providing a discussion board, forum or shared calendar for your group, everyone can see when attendance is going to be light and make decisions in advance about cancelling a session or playing a one-shot or side quest (see #4 and #5 below).

3) Use a Virtual Tabletop

If your group is geographically distributed during the holidays, but your group still really wants to run a game, a virtual tabletop can help make this a happen. Virtual tabletops like Roll20 or Fantasy Grounds can allow any players who aren’t able to attend in person to join the rest of the tabletop group.

  • Being the remote person away from the table can be frustrating, as it can be difficult to hear and follow exactly what is going at the face to face table.
  • To create a level environment it’s a good idea to have all players (even those in the same room) use the virtual tabletop for all rolls, sharing maps/artifacts and combat.
  • If used correctly, you might even find that the virtual tabletop makes tracking initiative and calculating rolls faster than using physical dice.

4) Run a One-Shot

If you know in advance that an upcoming session is going to be missing a few players you might want to schedule a one-shot, maybe even inviting some former players or friends looking to try out a tabletop RPG for the first time.

These short adventures are usually run over a single session. The benefits of running a one-shot are:

  • allows inexperienced GMs to take a turn running a session, giving the main campaign GM a break to be a player
  • allows players to try out new characters and come back to the main campaign ready to play their PC again
  • allows everyone to try out different genres such as sci-fi, horror or steampunk without having to invest in an entire campaign the group might hate
  • allows everyone to try out different rule systems without moving the main campaign to a new ruleset that might not work for the group
  • a chance for the group to just have fun with something different than the regular campaign

5) Run a Side Quest

Another way to run your game during the holidays is to schedule a side quest. a If your players are not interested in trying our those shiny new rules or letting another GM take a turn, then some side quests can fill in a scheduling gap nicely. Use side quests to provide one of a these for your players:

  • a way to play out a story that is important to the background of a PC
  • focus on downtime activities like building a fortress, setting up a business or even running for political office
  • a quest to discover information about a magic item
  • a mission that acts as training for a new class power or to explain how new spells were learned
  • a one-shot with current PCs (with new PCs or even existing NPCs) to explore another location or point in the history of your campaign world

Just make sure that missing players don’t get mad that their PCs are missing out on experience points, magic items or important plot developments.

6) Bring the Holidays Into Your Campaign

Maybe the holidays are a time when you and your players can gather together to play, maybe even for a couple of longer marathon sessions. This is no reason to ignore the holidays, bring them into your game. Whether it is your regular campaign or a one-shot, you can embrace our real world holidays in your game. Try a holiday themed adventure featuring feasts, winter festivals, gift-giving, Yule, Santa, Krampus, you name it.

  • A Halloween one-shot can be a great way to handle some players missing the game due to taking kids trick-or-treating and parties. You could even make it a special tradition, like Ravenloft creator Tracy Hickman who runs a gothic horror adventure in the setting he created each year. Go into full Halloween mode with costumes, maybe even dressing up as their PC.
  • I ran The Darkest Night a couple of years ago, which is an a Christmas themed adventure where players battle an ancient evil to save Krinklefest (or Santa vs. Krampus).
  • The popular actual play show Critical Role has the players attending a Winter’s Crest Festival  which has become a tradition for the group.