On Taking Breaks

For most of my gaming life, I have always felt bad about taking breaks in my gaming. It always felt like I was letting down my friends if I couldn’t keep running a committed campaign for months on end. In reality, what would happen is that I would quickly burn-out and abandon games anyway because the pressure was too much.

Recently I have been re-evaluating this attitude. Largely, the impetus to examine my beliefs around being a Game Master arose out of my own significant mental health challenges about 18 months ago that led to me seeking therapy. But you don’t have to let things build to a crescendo to reconsider your own attitudes toward play.

As I understand it, within the theory behind Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (or CBT for short), our Thoughts lead to Emotions and, in turn, to Behaviours. Thus, what we do is rooted in what with feel and think. By extension, what we think is rooted in a litany of Rules.

In common parlance, we might simply say that these Rules are our Beliefs. Looking at my Game Mastering behaviours would allow us to look at the beliefs that might lie beneath them. From there, we can ask: is the rule true and is the rule helpful?

Newly Detected Rule: The GM should be running a committed game on a regular schedule until the campaign ends.

Is the rule true?

No.

For me, the idea of a committed roleplaying game that runs for months or even years is a strongly appealing one. But it’s not the only way to play RPGs.

Consider how popular and common it is to play one session convention games, one-shots, and single adventures. On top of that, consider the idea of an Open Table.

With the popular approach, the game isn’t committed to anything beyond a few sessions or a single adventure. With an Open Table, the GM might play a great deal but there is no commitment to a specific schedule; you simply play as opportunity arises with whomever wants to play.

Is the rule helpful?

No.

It’s not helpful to set up a very high expectation for attendance on a schedule over an often undisclosed period of time. Life changes. Things happen. Heck, sometimes we lose people and the group cannot maintain its cohesion. It’s likely that setting up the idea that you should be running a committed game for a long time is to set yourself up for failure.

Be suspicious of “shoulds” and “musts” in your thinking.

In my experience, it’s natural to run into periods in life where we simply don’t have the energy to give to our hobbies. We can’t always attend. We don’t always have a game to offer. And that’s ok.

Proposed Amended Rule: The GM could choose to run a committed game on a regular schedule but it’s ok to take a break when things get hard.

The corollary is that when you take a break you risk the group evaporating because, again, people are busy. Once an event comes out of our schedule, it’s very hard to put it back in.

I have taken to trying to keep the slot of time active while accepting that it’s ok not to play every session. We could just chill and chat instead. Or someone else can run today.

My suggestion is that setting yourself up to run a committed game for a single adventure over a pre-determined period of time is healthier. It’s ok to run a one-shot for a session or three and then re-evaluate. Do we want to continue? Great… let’s do another few sessions. And so on.

The mistake I’ve made for far too long is to imagine that once I begin a new game, I am committing myself to playing it… well, for how long? Forever? That’s simply not realistic.

Take a break when you need to. Players will understand.

Game on!

6 comments

  1. This is a message I need to remind myself of all the time. Not setting unrealistic expectations and challenging our rules/beliefs.

    You’ve also been great at identifying when I think u’ll need a break in advance rather than leaving it last minute. Thus allowing others to find other things to do, but also letting u know u have that break to look forward to.
    It might help too if some of the players had optional one-shots to drop into the gap… if they’re ok to do that.
    Being open about why u need the time is great too. So we can all be honest about real factors in our lives, not ashamed and feel the acceptance and understanding of the group through it.
    Setting in the next planned session beyond the break also helps to keep the group together.
    All things you’ve been applying successfully 👍🏼

    Like

  2. I’ve been leaning towards much shorter campaigns (10-12 sessions of 3-ish hours each) for similar reasons. And lately, I’m experimenting with chopping things up even more finely, e.g. running “anthology” campaigns, where each scenario is 1-2 sessions. Characters are welcome (but not necessarily expected) in later scenarios in the same “campaign”. Think of a series of Call of Cthulhu scenarios run in something kind of like Twilight Zone style (but allowing for repeat appearances).

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I think a usable answer to this continual conundrum lies in the format of your podcast—seasons.

    Like a big project broken into smaller parts, it may be possible to run an “everlasting campaign” if you only commit to a small series of sessions within a series of seasons. This may be even more comfortable if an “open table” type of gaming is used.

    Liked by 1 person

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