It sucks, but sometimes you have to put a game on hold. Sometimes things aren't working out, and among other things you need to analyze what is going on, why it is happening, and how to fix. It could be a bad fit for players. It could be a bad fit with characters. It could just be a bad time to try to do the game considering real world commitments. Today, I want to talk about putting a game on hold and some things to look out for when you do it.
Don't Blame Yourself
First and foremost, don't blame yourself. Even if you - as the GM - are part of the problem, miring yourself in self blame isn't going to fix anything. Sometimes games just don't work out despite our best efforts. If you're not having fun with the game, then you should address that. If you can't address that now, the game may need to go on hold. This is natural, and it will happen to everyone eventually. Self blame will just get in the way of making a decision that is healthiest for the whole group. After all, a game with a sour GM is more likely to end up toxic than magically fixing its issues.
Identify The Problem
Once the game is on hold, identify the problem. Is it just that people can't meet right now? Is the premise wrong? Are players not playing to expectations that were set for the game? Figure out what about the game has you unhappy - or unable to run it. Discuss it with someone you trust to give you honest feedback, and even better if said person is in the game that is on hold as well because they can add their perspective. Often once you share concerns and problems you'll be shocked to find that you aren't alone in feeling them - everyone else just didn't want to be the person to bring up a gripe.
Be Careful Jumping Back In
If the game went on hold because people just couldn't make it, or someone had to drop the game for a bit, then you can jump back in ASAP with little problem. In fact, you should so you don't lose the game.
However, if the game is going on hold because someone isn't having fun - particularly you the GM - or due to other problems, be careful about rushing back into the game. Wounds take time to heal, and if you jump back in too soon you could find yourself over-reacting to minor setbacks because they trigger all the remembered anger, pain, and disappointment from before the hold
Give yourself time to heal. It'll be ok.
Find A New Launch Point
After a delay it's going to be nigh impossible to pick up the pieces right where they were before the break, so why bother? Move things forward, shuffle some things around, and find a new spot to re-introduce PCs into the game. The time and distance IC will help make everything feel new and ease the players back into the world.
Be Prepared For It To Never Come Back
As a final note, be prepared for the fact that you may never find a good time to return to the game. This doesn't mean it was a bad game, just that the game as it was couldn't last. Any time a game goes on the back burner there is a chance it never comes off again. How likely that is to happen depends on you, and how much you want to continue or finish the game.
Changing Players Can Suck
As a real final note, one of the worst parts of GMing is the expectation that you have to take care of all the table stuff, including expelling players from the game. If a game is going on hold because of problem players, you should still take a small break. Break or no break though, it may be up to you to tell the problematic people that you can't have them in the game anymore. Depending on the how and why that can go a number of ways, but I will point out that someone not being a good fit for this game, doesn't mean they're a bad fit for other games. Nor does it mean you can't remain friends. So take care. Don't burn bridges you don't want burned.
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