GM Advice: 4 Signs Your Campaign is Dying

It all started out so well. There was a real buzz at the table, and every session was great. But now, the game seems to have lost that buzz. Is your campaign about to die?

By William McAusland (Outland Arts)
By William McAusland (Outland Arts)


Nothing is forever, and even the greatest, most successful campaign eventually ends. However, lots of campaign die before their time because the participants aren’t enjoying themselves.

As GM, you’ve invested a lot of time and effort in your campaign.  Keeping an eye out for the following signs enables you to take pre-emptive action to save your campaign from an ignoble death.

  • GM Demotivation: If the GM is not enjoying himself, the players are going to realise that fact pretty quickly. Perhaps you can never seem to find time to prepare, you cancel sessions for trivial reasons or even start to dread game night. Any of these are a good sign the campaign is dying.
  • Non-Attendance: If you enjoy something, you make the effort to turn up. Sure, every now and then the harsh realities of life – a sick child, an accident or what have you – stop a player attending. If this starts happening regularly, it’s a sign the player would rather be doing something else with his time.
  • Players Ignoring (or Messing with) the Plot: Some players love hack and slash, but the overwhelming majority in my experience find an engaging storyline (no matter how basic) central to their enjoyment. If the players start wilfully ignoring – or even deliberately trying to wreck – the campaign story that’s a good sign they are not enjoying the campaign.
  • Players Not Invested in their Characters: We played a pickup game of Basic D&D recently and we all have great fun. However, I noticed players doing stuff they would never do if they were invested in their characters. In my Borderland of Adventure campaign some of the players have had the same character for over two years of real time and three years of game time. Because they are invested in their characters they don’t do stupid stuff with them – in my Basic D&D game their attachment to their characters was somewhat less…

Spotting the signs of impending doom is the first step in saving your campaign (if you want to). The first thing you want to do is determine why your campaign is dying. Once you’ve done what you can decide to end your campaign or try a change of pace to revitalise flagging interest. Whatever you do at least you are doing it on your own terms.

Help Your Fellow GMs

Have you had a campaign die? Did you spot The End coming? Are there any other signs you’d add to the four above? Let us know what they are in the comments below and help your fellow GMs avoid campaign death.

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Creighton is the publisher at Raging Swan Press and the designer of the award winning adventure Madness at Gardmore Abbey. He has designed many critically acclaimed modules such as Retribution and Shadowed Keep on the Borderlands and worked with Wizards of the Coast, Paizo, Expeditious Retreat Press, Rite Publishing and Kobold Press.

2 thoughts on “GM Advice: 4 Signs Your Campaign is Dying”

  1. I have had campaigns die and mainly due to professions getting in the way such as military deployments or even a death in the family. As far as the rest I would suggest once it is seen and noticed it is never too late to implement a means to fix the problem.
    ~If people are leaving to do other things, politely ask them away from game if they will be returning or should your character just be retired from the game. There is no need to pry as to why they have stepped out of the game as it is clear they have other more pressing engagements and likely will never tell you the honest truth such as a girlfriend that doesnt like RPGs and they want the gf more than the next game session.
    ~Invite other players to the game as seats become available and it should be easy enough to include them into the game as it progresses. Ensure the character is brought up to at least the average level of the party and outfitted properly if needs be and all should be good.
    ~If you are the GM and facing burn out or de-motivation, toss in a quick side campaign episode of a prepared adventure to change up the mix a bit. Avoid this if you have done it already twice over though as it is a quick fix and can distract away from the main goal/s. Reward the group with real world incentives such as pizza for the group should they reach completion of the goal for that session. Goal setting ahead of time with the characters or between the characters will help keep things flowing and on track.
    ~As stated above if you have players that are tending to be jerks and a huge distraction or being disrespectful of the GM and deviating the group away from the goals or the campaign in general, then penalties need to be applied if they are doing it in character. If they are doing it as players then handle it as such. Respect must be given at all times and control of the campaigns rests in the hands of the GM with regards to the actions of the characters themselves. Any deviation from the goals can be seen as a mutiny and should be addressed immediately and may end with the players being asked to politely leave the group. Should this need arise, have people invited in to fill out the slots they vacate. I have seen this done with other campaigns for LARPs and even had to do this a few times myself… it is never easy but it needs to be done at times.

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