Culture

Jumpstarting Your Stalled RPG Campaign

So your roleplaying game (RPG) campaign has stalled out, for any number of reasons. Maybe you’re out of ideas. Maybe your players have developed their characters to the point where they can backhand Conan the Barbarian and get away with it.  Maybe you’re all in a place where you can’t see how to keep things going through to the climax.  Or maybe the climax already happened and you didn’t realize it.

But you don’t want a mundane fix to any of these scenarios (in order: go steal some new ideas; roll up new characters; figure out what the obstacle is between the players and the climax, and destroy it; end the campaign with the party meeting in a bar, and then go play a different RPG). No. You want something memorable.  Actually, you want awesome – but you’ll settle for memorable.  Well, here’s some possibilities. Fair warning, though: they may blow up in your face. That’s the potential price you pay for memorable.

  • First: Total Party Kill.  But not in the way that you’re thinking.  No, this is going to be more like Total Party Assisted Suicide or Total Party Murder-Suicide, depending on how well or poorly your gaming group gets along with each other.  Go around the table and ask each of your players how they want to die. Or… go around the table and ask each of your players how they want the person just to the left to them to die.  There you go. There’s the campaign’s final adventure.  Making something coherent out of it is your problem as a gamemaster (GM), not your players. Also note: it’s rather, well, final.
  • Second: randomize the party.  Get everybody’s character sheets.  Mix them up thoroughly, give them out to the players.  Nobody gets their original character sheet.  Nobody gets to say “My character would never do that!” Nobody gets to be upset when their old character gets run into a brick wall at high speed. Everybody has to at least try to play their characters as they were originally designed, though. This option gives less agency to the players than the previous one, so make extra sure that everybody’s cool with it.
  • Third: blow up the world. Mundanely, if at all possible (demonic incursions are a bit cliche at this point).  Throw an earthquake or a tidal wave at them, but here’s the important thing: it has to do permanent damage to the game world.  No half measures, here; take away things that the players relied upon, for good or ill. Make them deal with all of the consequences, and don’t let the wreckage get cleared up right away, and/or without a trace.  This definitely imposes an external adverse condition on the players, so definitely make sure that everybody’s cool with it. Not everybody likes post-apocalyptic games.

Now, there’s also stuff that I would recommend against. First off, going all surreal and/or ‘everything that you know is wrong’ is going to be a strong temptation: but, honestly? Most people are not very good at surrealism — and far too many people who are not think that they actually are. Besides, few people like to be told that they’ve spent the last few years retroactively wasting their time. I’m not even going to say “If you think that you can pull it off anyway, rock on.” Very possibly you cannot pull it off anyway, whether you think that you can or not.  Full-bore horror, including body horror, is probably a no-no as well. I’d recommend against anything that’s simply setting up any sort of novel and personal emotional roller-coaster for the players (although Blowing Up The World might manage that anyway); it’s not really fixing anything that might be truly wrong with the campaign.  It’s instead just providing a temporary diversion and pushing off a resolution to whatever your campaign’s internal problem actually is.

Finally, there’s always the default option, which is to simply and genuinely not care about whether the campaign’s stalled… as long as the players and the GM are all having fun. Because, you know, fun is permissible. Fun is encouraged, even.  If your campaign was a collection of meaningless vignettes and incomprehensible gibberish that was nonetheless thoroughly enjoyed by your players, then your campaign was a success.

PS: When all else fails, and if at all possible, involve a cow.  If I have learned anything from roleplaying games, it is that. Well, that and the truism that you can’t dodge falling damage.