Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Running A Game That Takes Breaks

After this Friday's session my L5R game is going on a short hiatus. It's something that is a regular occurence in the game. My L5R game goes on a time skip, and one of the players takes over as the GM and runs a game - that also takes breaks - during the time skips and other what nots. As a GM running this way puts some interesting challenges, and provides some wonderful freedoms, and today I want to talk about that.

Have A General Idea of This Arc and the Next Arc
The big thing to keep in mind as the GM of a game like this is to think of the game in terms of arcs. You can use whatever format you want for it, but most of the normal entertainment mediums don't work here unless you're talking like Anime and Manga plot arcs where you'll get a number of episodes dedicated to one larger story but when that story ends the rest of the world can keep going.

For example, my L5R game is wrapping up the Introduction Arc. The intro arc is just what it seems, it's a time for everyone to meet their character - and the other players' characters - figure out how they work, and get established in the world. I like taking a break after that because it lets the characters settle and digest, it also gives me a chance to let players tweak things if they don't like them - with a small time gap to help explain what's going on.

Just knowing what your current arc is though isn't enough. You also want to have an idea for what the next arc is going to be too. More to the point, you want to know when the next arc is. After all, you need to know how much time is passing, right? Again, in my case, my L5R game's current arc took place over the spring. We're picking back up mid-autumn/early-winter and the next arc will take place over Winter Court. That means we're skipping the summer and beginning of autumn.

Know What The PCs Will Do During The Break
You want to leave room for the players to do stuff themselves over the break, but know about what they're going to be up to. Are they spending their down time? Paying off debts? Doing a job for the King? Going home to reconnect with their family and upkeep the old homestead?

Don't leave the players with a void where they cease to exist one day, then pop back into existence some other day in the arbitrary future. This is how you lose your players. Just because the game is on break doesn't mean you ignore the characters. Give them something to do - something small and that you wouldn't expect to be on screen but could still warrant discussion with the player.

Give Out XP
I like to give out XP for breaks. I do this for two reasons:

1) it lets the PCs grow and change, at least somewhat, over the break both mechanically and narratively.

2) It bothers me when large periods of time pass with no mechanical gain for it.

Now, I don't give out XP at the same rate as when the game is active. The idea isn'tto end up with max level supermen and women before the end of the second arc. It's just to reflect the growth that happens as time passes and what happened in the previous arc settles. In otherwords, it's the small growth that occurs as the PC normalizes the faster XP gain they've been getting during session.

In L5R I've found that about 1xp a month makes for a steady rate of XP. if I'm skipping a year it lets a PCcome back with some significant change. If I'm only skipping a few months there is still a boon but fundamentally they're the same person - at least mechanically.

Use Your Time Wisely
Now here's where the break is a double edged sword. You have a break from GMing and that's good. It gives you time. But you have to use that time wisely - and without interfering with the game running during the break. Talk to your players, on the side preferably, about what they're doing during the break and give them some individual narrative love to progress their stories. Mostly though, you want to be preparing for the next arc.

You're being given time, time with no pressure to run individual sessions between it. Use it. Make the next big bads extra special. Set up side arcs. Get your world in order. This is your chance to launch the second arc with all the specialized world prep and set up that most games only get for the first arc - where it risks being ruined by Players trying to figure out their Characters. Use it.

The edge pointing to you? When you break from the game you risk not coming back to it. You need to be prepped enough that when the players come back you dunk them back into the world and make it so fun that they're not thinking about the other game. Make it worth their time to come back. Or don't, but you may not like those consequences.

A Personal Note
I don't think this method is for everyone but I rather like it. I like that it lets me wind down after GMing particularly intense sessions and jsut be a player for a bit in an unrelated game. I like that it gives me time to set up special encounters down the road. I like that it lets me draw my games out to be about the PCs from age 15-30+ in some cases without having to go over every day, week, or month, and without the game being about the uberpowerful juggernaughts from age 17 onwards. I use it to stretch my stories out, and naturally extend the power curve my players go through so that they end an arc perhaps too strong for it, but come back in at a level appropriate to where they grew and ready for them at this level.

It works for my group. Maybe it will work for yours, but if it doesn't don't try to force it.

1 comment:

  1. I agree that this sort of play style (with break and time passing) is especially well suited to L5R and similar settings. I use this technique when I am GMing an L5R campaign as well.