The DM’s Guide to the Holiday Hiatus

We are quickly approaching the holiday season. As Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s roll around, people get very busy. Family dinners, parties with friends, and extended periods of travel take up lots of time. As a result, many times, you and your players don’t have any time left to get together for D&D.

Calling a break for a few weeks could be a good idea. Chances are, you don’t have as much time to prep as you normally would, anyway. It’s probably better to go on hiatus for a while, rather than have poorly planned campaign sessions where only half your players show up.

The problem is, when you take a break, you risk losing your momentum. In my own experience, it often takes a session or two after a break to get back into the groove of running a good game. It’s like an athlete who skips training for a while; when they taketime off and then get back to performing, they are probably not able to run as fast or with the same level of endurance they had before their break. DMing is very much the same way. When you are running regular games, you are progressively better at it each week. When you take a break, you unavoidably come back a bit rusty.

So what is a DM to do, then? Even if you can’t run your regular campaign when your group is on holiday hiatus, there are still lots of D&D-like activities available to you. While these aren’t exact replacements (just like a basketball practice isn’t the same as playing a real game) they are good substitutes that will keep your Dungeon Master “muscles” in shape.

Work on your campaign journal
Many DMs keep a journal or record of their home campaigns. I personally use Obsidian Portal, and I have been quite pleased with it. A written record of what happens from session to session is a great tool for you to use when planning new adventures. If you can look back and catch up on past events in your campaign, it’s easy to maintain a sense of continuity when you are getting ready for the next session.

If you are anything like me, though, your campaign journal might not be what it should be. Perhaps it’s out of date, and you didn’t record the last few sessions. Maybe you left out important details, like plot hooks, or NPCs that might show up in the future. Since you have time due to the hiatus, why not get caught up? Your creativity will stay sharp, and your games will run even better when the hiatus is over.

Play D&D Adventure System Board Games
Sure, everyone in the group is very busy over the holidays, but perhaps you can still get a few people together for a short time here and there. Running one of the new D&D board games is perfect for situations like this. It may not be the full blown 4th Edition experience, but it is a very good substitute. You are still with your friends, rolling some dice, shuffling miniatures around, and doing many of the other things that make D&D what it is. There’s even a narrative structure, with roleplaying opportunities available. The latest game in the series, The Legend of Drizzt, is particularly strong in this respect, with ties to the popular novels.

Playing a simplified board game may not exactly push you as a DM, but it does scratch the D&D itch. You could even get inspiration from some of the monsters, encounters, and scenarios used in the board game that you can incorporate into your campaign. Best of all, you might get someone to play the board game that isn’t in your D&D group. Who knows? That non-gaming spouse or acquaintance might get interested, and end up as a player in your D&D campaign.

Run a one-shot adventure
Another possibility is to run a one-shot adventure. As with the previous suggestion, there might be times when you can get three or four players together. Maybe that’s not enough to continue the campaign proper, but why not run a one-shot instead? Use those Game Day adventures you have lying around, or pick an interesting adventure from DDI. Your players can try a new class they are interested in, or experience a unique setting much different from your campaign world. A change like this could be good for them.

And running a one-shot is great for a DM, too. There are no worries about tying the story in with what has gone on before, or giving clues to what’s to come. You don’t even have to worry too much about balance, either. If a pre-made adventure is too tough or too simple, just fudge the numbers a bit until it feels right. This option is one of the best on this list, since you are still playing full-on D&D, and thus keeping those DM skills sharp.

Play a D&D game by post or email
As your holiday schedule fills, time becomes a precious commodity. You might have plans almost every evening, but there are still bits and pieces of your day here and there that you could use to play D&D. Playing the game via email, message board, or other online methods can be a good way to keep playing D&D even when your calendar is totally packed.

I’m no expert in this area, by any means, but I did play in an email-based 2nd Edition campaign many years ago, and I really enjoyed it. Good places to start looking include the EN World forums, or RolePlay onLine. Considering post that you are interested in playing by post or email on Twitter using the #dnd hashtag. Obviously, playing this way is no substitute for getting together with your friends face to face, but it’s hard to argue the convenience of being able to play D&D on your smart phone after a big turkey dinner at Grandma’s, or while waiting in line for a Black Friday deal.

The holidays can be a very stressful, busy time. Trying to get everyone together so the game can continue is next to impossible. Putting your campaign on a holiday hiatus until things calm down is probably a good idea. You can still be quite productive as a DM by keeping your campaign journal up to date, playing board games or one shots, or joining an play by post or email game. Just because the campaign takes a break doesn’t mean you have to!

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