It’s summer. In the midwest, it’s been like a thousand degrees every day for the last 3 weeks. Lawns are turning brown. People are hiding indoors. You’d think this would be a great time to play some D&D, to just hang out in the cool basement and roll some dice while chugging a cold beverage. Yet somehow, it seems like D&D always catches a shaft in the summer time. Families go on vacation. People move. Kids have more quirky commitments as things like swimming lessons, babysitting and drivers education make scheduling more bizarre than ever. So how does one get the D&D fix in the summer?
I think my answer, or at least my attempt at an answer is two things.
1. The One Shot
You don’t have to put your campaign on hiatus. We all know how that goes. Very few campaigns ever actually come back from hiatus. Hiatus is where campaigns go to die, pure and simple. But how does one deal with high levels of absenteeism and lower levels of commitment? The answer is planning fun and quirky side quests that exist within the regular campaign but that don’t depend on any single participant. The key here is to be flexible and to add new game elements. You want the game to feel familiar, like it makes sense for the characters to do these things, but a little different, to set up the eventual return of the regular campaign.
If you’re in a very dramatic and serious storyline, add some more comedic elements. If you’re dealing with the royal court and intrigue, take the adventure into the hovels and alleyways of the local shantytown. Something that mixes it up but makes it necessary to eventually “go back” to your regularly scheduled program. This gives you a chance to get a little variety and flavor without creating a competing “product” that might derail your previous narrative. If you’re playing something deadly serious and you then do a short arc of MORE deadly serious, the players may decide to stick with the current arc, rather than go back to the previous one. In short, make it feel like a vacation that everyone enjoys but eventually looks forward to heading back home.
This is a similar concept to point number one but going a bit further. Try some new games. Sometimes, keeping the group meeting at the regular scheduled time is enough to avoid the dreaded campaign killing hiatus. Keeping the dates and times in peoples schedules and keeping them coming back, even if it’s a smaller version of the group will do the trick. In this case, it can be fun to try a new game. Perhaps a board game or card game can fill the void. In some cases, you may have players who are looking to add to their gaming experience repertoire and want to try a new ruleset, or a different style. Something like Fiasco might fit the bill or even something like the newer D&D board games like Castle Ravenloft or Wrath of Ashardalon. These can help give the RPG fix without the issues of creating characters or learning an entire new ruleset. But, don’t be afraid to do just that. If you’re currently playing Pathfinder or 4E, perhaps your smaller group might like to try something like Dragon Age RPG. Or perhaps you want to go old school and try one of the quirky new retro clones. Something like Adventurer Conqueror King System or Castles & Crusades are similar enough to their source material (B/X and AD&D respectively) that learning them doesn’t take much time and they are different enough to justify giving them a try.
Whatever you do, don’t just throw in the towel and make a blanket declaration like “We’ll get back in contact in September” because in the space of 2-3 months a group can start to dissolve. Someone might find a new group in the interim, just to pass the time, and now they’re in a position of trying to decide what to do. Someone might move their commitments around thus creating a future conflict during the normal playtime. Any dozens of things could move to alter the balance of the group. I’ve seen it happen too many times. So, have fun this summer, play some games but be careful. Don’t let those campaigns die. They’re just like your lawn. They need to be properly fertilized and regularly watered so they don’t turn brown and wither during these scorching hot months.