What do you do to reinvigourate a multi-session game?

Currently I’m running 4 players through Fever Swamp (an excellent hex-crawl) using Cairn (a hack of Into the Odd by Yochai Gal) and I feel things have stagnated (and not in the swampy sense!) a little. By this I mean that it feels like the players and myself are kind of “going through the motions”: we pick up where we left off, they decide what they want to do next/which hex they want to travel to, there’s perhaps a random encounter or an encounter with a rival adventuring group, etc, etc.

I think it’s me. I think I have lost inspiration and interest in the game. I’m pretty sure that if I was more “into it” and excited about the things I have prepped for the game, the game would come alive. I like the rules and the Fever Swamp setting, there just doesn’t seem to a satisfying or cohesive narrative emerging. Maybe I should go back to a game where narrative is more baked into the rules (I ran a lot of Dungeon World a while back and it delivered here)?

And I think I get to this position reasonably often. If I could just do some good prep, prep that I felt happy with and inspired by, we’d be ok. And maybe this is at the heart of it: I’ve never enjoyed prep much (I’ve been GM’ing for over 30 years), and I’ve never found a style of prep that I’ve liked (and boy I’ve been around the houses with this!). (Perhaps related, I never found techniques for exam revision that worked for me, which seems related to me, although that was decades ago!)

We are playing remotely over discord, audio only, in the evenings (the only option for us currently) and I guess we can all get a bit tired.

Sorry to ramble there. I’m just looking to see if these are issues people here can relate to. Ideas and advice are bonuses.

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You are not rambling, and this is a forum, discussion and sharing thoughts is welcome :slight_smile:

a few thoughts come to mind -

  • do you just need a break, weekend away from your game (and maybe your job/house etc) to recharge?
  • players often like call backs, are there npcs, locations, items, minions, sidequests - that have been forgotten or ignored, weave them back into new plots
  • are there background or character goals elements that have not been used yet?
  • is it possible to go play a different game, one with completely different tone and genre, a palate cleanser
  • you could link in a nearby area, example-gnolls raid the area from the fetid hills, attacking bad guys in the swamp and good guys along the coast, maybe the bad guys even ask for help or the gnolls kidnap the pcs and the old bad guys so the pcs team up with their old enemies against the new ones? (that trope happens alot in tv series) this also opens up new quest locations in the hills if the pcs want to get away from the swamp
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Oh nice, thanks for the advice! I think this is helping to crystallise things for me (and that is giving me a shot in the arm).

We’ve had a break of a couple of weeks from the game already. Thinking about where we left it (just after a fight) I’ve been struggling to get energised about what happens next. That could partly be because when playing on Discord the players are slightly more reticent about offering up their characters’ own agendas. I need to feed them more perhaps.

I’m wondering whether the problem here might be hexcrawls in fact. Maybe they just don’t work that well for my group when doing long-term play. (I recently ran this same hexcrawl as a one shot with different groups and it was great fun.). I’m realising, I think, that I love the idea of hexcrawls more than the kind of narrative they produce. Narrative matters less to me (and my usual players) when the table knows they are in this for a single session only.

So I’m going to beef-up my up-front prep with juicy, meaningful (to the players) encounters, as you suggest. The gnoll idea inspires me particularly, and it reminded me that there is a Corpse Pile roaming the area. I’ll have that turn up and make sure some dead comrades/NPCs are members of it! Maybe the PCs will choose to group up with the rival adventurers to survive.

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Yeah; I was going to say from my read of your original post that it doesn’t sound like you (and possibly your players as well) are into the kind of game you are running. If it feels like you’re just “going through the motions” then it feels to me like you don’t find the ‘core’ of the game very engaging.

If it were me, I’d probably circle back with the players and have a chat and see if they’re not feeling it the same way you’re not feeling it. If so, I’d maybe use my next session to bring the game to an acceptable ‘pausing point’ and then set it aside. Maybe you’ll come back to it and maybe you won’t. Then pick up something that feels more enticing to you.

OTOH, it’s perfectly okay to do what you seem to have decided to do, and try to “jazz it up” by pulling in more elements that sound more interesting to you and your players, but I’d have concerns about that being satisfying long term – especially if you don’t like prep, because you’re going to need to constantly drag in stuff to keep everyone entertained, since it sounds like the ‘core game’ isn’t that much fun for you.

So my question for you is: What about this game makes you feel like it’s worth keeping, instead of moving on to something you’d all enjoy more? Is it just sunk cost? Or is there something there?

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Thanks for the thoughts.

The reasons I’ve kept going with this game really come down to two things:

  1. wanting to give a hexcrawl a “proper go”, and
  2. a couple of false starts beforehand that were down to difficulties getting everyone together regularly and not wanting to restart again (the player group is now a subset of the people in the previous false starts, so they have lived through those but can all commit properly!)

I think I’ll give the jazzing up idea a go (the next session is in 3 hours time) and see how that goes.

Another thing that just occurred to me is that I missed out doing a good “session zero” which is normally something we really enjoy. Why didn’t we do it? I guess I dropped the ball there; I think I expected PCs to be dying pretty regularly. It feels like there is perhaps a whole different conversation to be had about session zero in high lethality games…

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No reason not to do a Session 0 now, right?

I love Blake’s suggestions above. I imagine there are a lot of “out of game” thing you can do. If you want to stay in game, consider:

  • Collaboratively draw a map. Get everyone in on the action. I do this when we’re feeling a little aimless. Not sure how this would work for a hex crawl, but you could do it at a city or even building level. Take a break from the rules and just draw together.
  • Draw a relationship map, highlighting the tensions between the PCs and select NPCs. Find someone who might have been the Big Bad all along, someone who was pulling the strings without anyone realizing it.
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Fever Swamp has a few potential issues that could be hastened to hard frame some story:

  • Corpse Pile. O no, it’s suddenly in the next hex
  • Grandfather Rotte. The People get together to ask the party to stop him waking up
  • Cult of the Drowned start doing some actual drownings
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Have you decided on an end? It seems like you try to play in a campaign style, but it’s not really suited for your personality as it is today.

I usually scope things, like “This will take me 2-3 session”, and then try to end it when I reached that point. I got so many things that I want to play so it’s wasteful for me to spend more time than five sessions on a game.

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I actually prefer open-ended campaign style play - I don’t play with any particular ending in mind, but I do generally feel most comfortable structuring my prep around adventure locations.

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Another angle on this—how long are your gaming sessions? Sometimes shortening them can make a difference, especially if it’s an online game. I know the feeling of wear after a long online gaming session can leave a sour taste in my mouth. Shortening from your standard session length can leave everyone ending with a feeling of wanting more (which is a good thing! Makes you look forward to the next session) while also making prep easier, as you discover the adventure will progress a little less each time than your default assumption.

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Hmm yeah. Our sessions are generally about 2 and a half hours and sometimes this feels like plenty. We struggle to get together often so we’ve been tending to try not to reduce the session time. I’ll give it some thought though - maybe quality over quantity would work for us here.