Guidance – GMing 101: Restarting a Campaign

Welcome to Guidance, Private Sanctuary’s source for tips and techniques for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, written by Everyman Gamer Alexander Augunas. Today, we’re going to be talking about returning to GMing after a long break.

You send out the text messages with a grin. After a long while, its finally happening. You’re playing Pathfinder again. Sure, you haven’t played in a few months, almost a year if anyone’s counting, but you’re an awesome GM! There’s nothing for you to worry about, right?

Except when you look at your books, they’re looking awfully big. And wait, are you SURE you wrote a binder’s worth of notes, because that doesn’t sound like you. Wow, they’re detailed notes too, and you don’t remember any of them. Did you really have this many ideas in your head? Ideas that aren’t there now?

… how the heck are you going to get back into the swing of this game?

Fighting the Fight

Let me tell you, folks, the scenario that I listed above is a real one. In October of 2014, I was faced with this same situation. Prior to October, I hadn’t actually run a game of Pathfinder in almost ten months; my gaming group was thrown into disarray when one of my primary players married the other, and the wedding took from January to September to successfully plan and host. Then when the wedding ended, the newly weds decided to use their wedding funds to move out of their dinky apartment into a much larger space that better suit their living and travel needs. The other players in this group were in a similar situation; one started a new job while the other got increased responsibilities. Ultimately, the primary reason that I had started Everyman Gaming (the blog) was to keep in touch with the game and keep my GMing skills sharp until life finally settled down.

And eventually, it did. I had started going to Pathfinder Society, my friends moved into their new place, and sure enough I got my gaming group back. I sat down, ready to plan an all-new campaign to get everyone psyched out to play Pathfinder again (plus several of my players were really keen on some Advanced Class Guide options), but when push came to shove, I realized something.

I had no idea where to start getting back into the game.

It was like I had forgotten everything that I had ever known about being a good GM. And in a sense, I had. You don’t have to remember how to start an adventure up for the very first time when you’ve already got a successful one going. And ten months is a LONG time to be out of shape. So for all of the people out there who are me or who have ever been like me, pulling their hair out while screaming, “How the heck am I going to do this?!”, this article is for you.

Step 1 — Calm Down

No, seriously. This is the first step. Calm. Down. Remember, you can get buy this. If your players have agreed to play with you, then it means that they’re interested in whatever story you want to tell with them. So don’t get worry, don’t get upset, and don’t convince yourself that you can’t run a new game or restart an old one. The only way that you won’t be able to succeed is if you tell yourself that you can’t. Success is 95% thought and 5% action. If your thoughts say no, then that 5% isn’t going to save you.

So calm down and get to work.

Step 2 — Hit a Reset

Don’t focus on trying to jump right back into your fantasy odyssey or trying to forge a new, just as fantastic experience right from square one. You’re not going to be able to, you’re setting your expectations too high. Hit a reset button. This doesn’t mean that you restart your campaign at level 1; that’s not fun for the players. Instead, start fresh. If you had last stopped in the middle of an adventure, allow some time to pass. Tell your players that the gap in time in the real world actually caused a gap of time in the fantasy world. As I mentioned, I recently had to put a campaign on hold that was sitting in the middle of a tense political negotiation between the PCs and a rival. Here’s an anecdotal t below:

“Just as it’s been ten months since we’ve played, its been ten long weeks since we’ve last checked in on the PCs. When we had last played, Roy Redstripe had made an agreement with you: he would help you ship the refugees of Westmark to your settlement and even contribute to their relocation and housing, but in exchange the settlers had to be given armistice to abandon citizenship within your kingdom if they felt so inclined and he drew a physical border between your kingdom and his, one that placed your land as a direct bunker between his kingdom and the aggressive dominant of Giddean Tiller. Furthermore, you know that many of Redstripe’s lackeys have been seeding discontent for your administration among the refugees and the territory that he’s declared as his own includes an area that you strongly believe houses an ancient Atlan ruin.

Originally, you sought to keep Roy Redstripe at bay politically using legal proceedings and red tape, but Roy seems to be smarter then this; he’s flown his massive airship to your settlement and has been meeting with you directly to try and get the treaty signed in his favor, and your attempts to dissuade him have only threatened to have the treaty become even more unfavorable to you. Roy Redstripe is cunning, having basically corralled you within your own capital city with red tape.
Now, the first thing that I need to do is see how the refugees have been holding out during the arduous process.”

As you can see, this method allows the players to take a breath of fresh air and gives them a new, unmolested scenario to deal with. Although the players might not be entirely happy with how events have unfolded in their absence, explaining that this is simply a measure that has been taken to allow everyone to restart the game on a fresh note without needing to be pressed to remember information from several months ago should allow you to move on without too many complaints. If they’re true friends and roleplayers, they’ll be more excited about getting to play their old characters again then upset about your creative licenses.

Step 3 — Start Small, But Action-Packed

Don’t bash your allies with tons of little details; you’ll drive yourself crazy trying to commit them all to memory yourself, and then you’ll actually go crazy when you realize that your players also don’t remember most of the details that you just spent a gods-know-how-long amount of time trying to force yourself to recall. So don’t bother; start off with something fun, relatively mindless, and action-packed. Remember that for most players, combat is the fun part of a campaign, so putting together a quick, easy dungeon for your players to romp in is going to be a positive thing all around. Choosing a dungeon that can act like a bit of a tutorial, reminding the players of where they currently are in the story, is the best of both worlds, so do it!

In the example I gave above, one of my PCs HATED medusa in-character, and I had a cult of them that caused a lot of trouble for the players, having gone so far as to literally cause the catastrophe that left almost half a million people without homes and killed nine times as many others. Offering the PCs a chance to tackle a clandestine cult of medusas would allow me to offer a side adventure that is meaningful to the PCs, action-packed, and overall a great way to remind them of where they’ve come from, as the medusas could have a spy network with tons of information on the PCs at their disposal.

Step 4 — Reconnect

Once you’ve gotten back your refresher dungeon/encounters and you’ve had a few great action-packed moments, you’re finally ready to reconnect. Hopefully you and your PCs have been reminding each other of stuff throughout Step 3, so when everyone is finally back on the same page you can get back into playing the game where you left off.

In the anecdotal example that I’ve been giving, after dealing with the outstanding threat (the medusas), tensions between the PCs and the Redstripes will have deescalated to the point where they can go back to having serious, productive talks with them, exactly as they left off before the long gap.

So, there’s my four-step process on getting yourself back into a game that you’ve put down for a while. In the future, I want to make a guide for starting a new campaign after you’ve been down for a while, because that’s what happened to me personally. What do you think? What tips and techniques have you used to get back into the swing of things after a long lull? Leave your answers and comments below, and I’ll see you back for another article on Wednesday! Take care!

Alexander “Alex” Augunas has been playing roleplaying games since 2007, which isn’t nearly as long as 90% of his colleagues. Alexander is an active freelancer for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game and is best known as the author of the Pact Magic Unbound series by Radiance House. Alex is the owner of Everyman Gaming, LLC and is often stylized as the Everyman Gamer in honor of Guidance’s original home. Alex’s favorite color is blue, his favorite Pathfinder Race/Class combination is kitsune [REDACTED].

Alex Augunas

Alexander "Alex" Augunas is an author and behavioral health worker living outside of Philadelphia in the United States. He has contributed to gaming products published by Paizo, Inc, Kobold Press, Legendary Games, Raging Swan Press, Rogue Genius Games, and Steve Jackson Games, as well as the owner and publisher of Everybody Games (formerly Everyman Gaming). At the Know Direction Network, he is the author of Guidance and a co-host on Know Direction: Beyond. You can see Alex's exploits at, or support him personally on Patreon at

1 Comment

  1. Darrell Vin Zant Reply to Darrell

    Well, first order of business is the re-cap. We sit down and try to have the players explain the story to each other, while I chirp in with additional details of things they missed. Fortunately, I’ve been blessed with a good memory and tend to remember large swathes of information.

    If you’re playing an AP or using pre-published products, it can help to go back and re-read things they’ve already completed, as it refreshes things for you. Even better, if you’ve been writing a campaign journal, it’s like going back and reading the details of encounters.

    My group and I tend to take ‘the summer off’ as we live in Alaska and summers are usually very busy. So every year we have to restart campaigns over again and we’ve kind of developed a habit of doing so. However, I think the next time I restart my campaign it’s going to be very different as I’m sitting on over a year (19 months since I last rolled dice) in hiatus due to so many conflicting schedules. This one may involve more re-caps and, inevitably, at least 1 re-build of someone who lost their character sheet.

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