“I come back to you now, at the turn of the tide.” ―Gandalf the White
Welcome back to By Any Means Necessary, the (supposedly) weekly blog where we try to bring more fun to your Dungeons & Dragons™ games by, well, any means necessary.
Except we haven’t been weekly at all. By Any Means Necessary (BAMN for short) kinda fell off the map ever since this article which was published almost two months ago. So where have we been? Well, it’s a bit of a long and boring story. Plus, it has nothing to do with D&D and you likely wouldn’t be interested. Bah, what the heck, I’ll tell you anyway.
I got promoted at work!
Well, not exactly. One of my coworkers went on paternity leave while he welcomed his new baby daughter into the world (update: she’s adorable), and I got offered to take his job for the span of two months. What this means for me is that I am working about 30 more hours per week than I was before, and have had to readjust my whole life around the different hours (and a different sleep schedule too). Also, even though this is only a temporary change, it’s very important that I do well in the position so that I am considered for more permanent promotions in the future. With all that going on, I haven’t had any time or energy to devote to personal projects, let alone a weekly blog article. That’s really all it amounts to, lack of free time and energy. See, I told you it was a boring explanation.
Things should, in theory, be back to normal now (unless another sudden and unexpected drastic shift in my free time happens to occur), but it does raise an interesting question as to whether or not a weekly blog is a feasible schedule for me to even keep up. It might be worth considering changing that schedule – be it a temporary change to accommodate my life for right now, or a more permanent change to accommodate other interruptions to my availability to write in the future. Maybe BAMN should be a bi-weekly or even a monthly blog? Or maybe I should start seeking out guest authors to help contribute so I’m not the only opinionated blogger bringing more fun to your games by any means necessary? Then at least I wouldn’t have to write a new article every week. Or maybe I should just start writing shorter articles? They don’t all need to be 5000+ word epics. Food for thought. Put a pin in that, we’ll revisit it later.
As I’m sure you can guess, this blog isn’t the only thing that was impacted by my recent workplace changes. Rogues & Recaps got put on hold, my novel hit the back-burner, dishes piled up in my sink (gross!), and I was only able to run one D&D session in the past four weeks! I know, right? How can I live with myself? It’s a good thing we were recording all of our sessions with the plan to eventually release them as a podcast because I had completely forgotten where we last left off! I actually had to go and review the audio before planning the next session. Crazy, huh?
Which brings us to the subject of today’s article…
Resurrecting your D&D games
We’ve all been there. Whether the hiatus was planned or your game just petered out because life got in the way the result is the same: picking up where you left off won’t be easy. Maybe it’s been weeks, or maybe even months since you last played. In some cases, the hiatus might be years or even decades (I just had a conversation with a friend at Gen Con who was meeting his old College buddies to pick up their old game from ages ago). How do you deal with that amount of downtime? It’s not going to be easy, that’s for sure, and some groups might just as soon give up and start a new campaign instead. But let’s assume you decide not to take the easy road; let’s assume you really want to revisit the characters and stories from before. How do you do it? Read on, true believer, and I’ll try my darndest to answer that question for you.
Players or Dungeon Master?
Reviving an old game is tough for both players and DMs, but for different reasons. As a player, the principal concern is how do you find your character’s voice again? Maybe you had a detailed backstory that you wrote down (in which case, good for you), but maybe you didn’t. Whether or not you kept judicious notes, remembering how your character spoke, their mannerisms, how they acted, thought and behaved might still be difficult. The best place to start is with their personality traits, their flaws, their bonds, etc. These are the things which define your character. Backstory and notes can help too, but what if you don’t have any of those. Maybe you’re that annoying player who didn’t fill any of that stuff out when your DM asked you too. What then?
The best place to start is with what you do remember. Harken back to the most memorable moment of your long forgotten campaign, and think about how your character reacted to it. Think about how you felt in that moment. Think about what you did. Chances are you won’t remember all the details, but the broad strokes, the climaxes, the roleplaying emotional peaks. Heck, maybe all you remember is that cool action sequence in which you saved the entire party with your quick thinking. That’s good. That’s enough to start you off on the track to rebuilding your character from the ground up. It won’t give you everything, but it will give you a springboard. From there try to think of your characters goals and desires. What motivated them? What were they after? Was it gold? Glory? The love of a prince or princess? Revenge? You don’t have to have the same motivations as before but you do need to try and remember what they were so as to have context for your character’s personal growth. If all else fails and you really haven’t got a clue what your character was like, ask your DM if you can join in as a new character instead ― maybe even one with some attachment to the previous character you played, a brother or sister or something.
As a Dungeon Master you can probably get away with not remembering the idiosyncrasies of all your various NPCs (you can just make up new ones, I promise your players don’t remember them anyway), but where your struggle truly lies is in making sure the world feels familiar. If that seems like an esoteric answer that provides you with no real direction to follow, that’s because it is. Reviving an old game as a Dungeon Master is quite difficult. Obviously, if you kept notes, that’s the first place to look for inspiration, but often notes aren’t going to be enough. The notes might tell you the facts, but not the substance. And not everyone takes notes, so maybe you don’t even have those. So what then? Do you just wing it and hope for the best? No. We can do better. Here’s a list of five creative ways you can revive an old game.
Five Ways to Revive a Dead Game
- Time Skip. If it’s been a long time since you and the players have visited this campaign, maybe it’s been equally long since the characters have adventured together! Instead of picking up where you left off, pick up the game months or even years later. Anything you or your players can’t remember can be easily explained away as something that can’t be remembered because it happened so long ago. If the world is different, that too can be a result of the passage of time. And if the player’s characters have significantly changed, it’s because of the time they spent “off-screen” changing; growing older, perhaps even wiser.
- New Characters. Whatever adventure the previous group of characters were on abruptly ended with their sudden disappearance without a trace. Now a new group of heroes has risen up in their wake to pick up where they left off and maybe also find their missing friends. This method saves anyone the hassle of having to remember their past characters too thoroughly. It also has the added benefit of acting like a “passing the torch” generational story, which could be a lot of fun.
- New Lands to Explore. Journey to a far-off land where everything is different and the characters have to learn how they fit in all over again. Plenty of successful TV shows change up the location between seasons so as to have the characters interact with a different environment (ie. The Walking Dead, Last Man on Earth, Pokemon, just to name a few). This idea can work well for your recently revived campaign, too! Take the characters out of their element and you won’t have to be bothered by the fact that you don’t remember everything, and neither will your players.
- Amnesia! Oh noes! Your characters don’t remember ANYTHING. Not who they are, where they are, what they were doing, NOTHING. What happened that made them all lose their memories? And will they ever get them back? Pulling the amnesia card lets everyone off the hook to remember what the revived game was about, and allows them to rediscover their characters and the world all over again with you at the helm deciding what stuff gets to stay and what gets left forgotten.
- Some combination of the above. Don’t like any single method? Try two mashed together. Heck, try them all! A century has passed and a group of new characters in a new locale with no memories of who they are or how they got there need to solve the mystery of their current predicament before bad things happen, and along the way they’ll discover traces of the old campaign and how it links to the current one. It could be fun.
- And a bonus sixth method because we can’t count: Do a sequel! Maybe instead of continuing the old campaign, you start a new one that is in many ways a sequel to the one you ran before. The Force Awakens to your New Hope. Don’t bother trying to continue what you were doing, instead start anew. Play a game that’s unburdened by the past but with just enough of it sprinkled in here and there to give your players a sense of familiarity and continuity to the whole thing.
Some things are better off dead
Reviving an old game doesn’t always work out. Maybe you are wearing rose-tinted nostalgia glasses when you think of the old days, but find that in practice an attempt to continue a long forgotten game is awkward at best. That’s okay. Sometimes games ended for a reason. If that’s the case, let the dead rest and look to the future. There’s nothing wrong with giving up on a campaign if it stopped being fun, that’s really just an indication you need to start a new campaign with fresh ideas. Not every game deserves a revival. Trust me, you don’t want to do to your favourite old game what Heroes Reborn did to Heroes (or Heck, even what Heroes Seasons 3 & 4 did to Heroes).
Were you a part of any games that took an extended hiatus and then revived successfully? Tell us how yours went in the comments below!
By Any Means Necessary (BAMN!) is a weekly blog where we try our very best to bring more fun to your Dungeons & Dragons games #ByAnyMeansNecessary!