After our game group broke up late last year due to work schedules and folks moving away, we managed to pull together a bunch of new gamers and pressed on. Our Battlestar Galactica barely took a hit — a function of how complete a picture of where we were going for the “season” I had. I knew we were in the final stretch for the miniseries events, I knew I wanted a steadily quickening, higher stakes series of adventures where the characters were picking apart the Cylon conspiracy but would be too late to stop the war. Another campaign just stalled — the Liberty City Marvel Heroic game simply stopped, partly because one of the gamers that was the impetus behind playing it was no longer with us. But it was the Hollow Earth Expedition 1903s pulp game that surprised me. It had been one of the stronger games, with long arc stories that provided fast, fun, and…well, pulpy…game nights.

The new players and their characters were well thought out, and should have gelled, but for some reason it just wasn’t there. The characters didn’t fit together, the players weren’t feeling it, and the GM (me) was having trouble fitting the characters to a plot. The campaign was broke, and as a result has sat fallow for months, overshadowed by the BSG stuff. Sometimes, new blood breathes new life into the game, as with Galactica — it doesn’t need fixing, because the change just works — and sometimes you have to pop the hood. So, how do you fix a campaign?

First, talk it over. I’ve known HEX just wasn’t working, and it was only after the prospect of more new players I knew I had to make the decision on whether to scrap the campaign, tweak the characters, or play something else. After our play session on Tuesday, we took a half hour to chat on the situation (and another half hour with one of the long-time core players that’s survived the series of group collapses over the last three years.) Ask the players what they want to see, what they think is wrong, and how they think it can be fixed. I was surprised to find that one of the players agreed with me that his character — while an excellent character on his own — was a bit too over the top when paired with the others; the other found his character was a bit too subdued and realistic for the pulp setting.

That got me thinking to my own expectations as the GM. I’ve wanted to do a more over-the-top game, but my natural inclination as a historian makes me want to use my knowledge of the period to “make it cool” through use of the facts of the 1930s. Originally, the game dealt with Chinese cults, ancient warrior priests, mellified men that could heal injuries, sorcerers…but after China, was a much more realistic and subdued campaign chasing Illuminati treasures. No magic, no vast set pieces, but lots and lots of good action and cliffhangers. The attempt to weld the old characters to the new led to a kludged mess that even i was having trouble following, because I didn’t know, as GM, what I wanted to do. There was no stable core to the game.

Second, don’t be afraid to change the things not working. The HEW game was solid when it was over-the-top pulp. I had even tossed out the idea of resurrecting the Gorilla Ace! campaign, which was as comic book crazy as you could get. Another idea was to try something new — maybe a 1950s retro-future “space rangers” style game with an interplanetary setting for the Cold War. (This is a period that people seem to eschew for pulp or action games…at least, I rarely see it used.)

Third, collaborate: I asked the guys to drop me character ideas and three things they’d like to see for the various games I was proposing we play (including the pulp game) so that I could see what they wanted to play, and how they could be sewn together to make a cohesive group; and how I could use that group to create adventures around. Find the expectations for everyone — not just the GM, not just the players — and figure out how to bring them all together. Sometimes they’re too disparate to work and everyone either has to bend a bit, or you turn to something else, but usually, you can find some kind of common ground.

Once you’ve figured out the basic premise, pitch it to the group. Now let all the players (GM included) tweak it until everyone is happiest with it.  Then play.

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