Top 5 Ways to Stop Your RPG from Getting Boring
It’s not unheard of for Game Masters to experience what authors refer to as a “sagging middle” and grow tired of preparing material for the same world time and again for players. And players may become frustrated when they hear a GM say they don’t really prepare and instead let players run with things, or become jealous when a GM states they’ve over prepared while you’re struggling to keep things engaging. None of these need be the case! Let’s discuss five ways to avoid a boring middle of your tabletop roleplaying game campaign.
Smash up multiple genres
One of my favorite card games of all time is a game called Smash Up! In this game there are several genre decks from dinosaurs with lasers to ninjas, super heroes, steam punk, zombies and more. Each player chooses two genre decks, each with its own quirks and play style, and shuffles them together or “smashes them up.” The two opposing decks take turns overthrowing bases for points. It’s a whole to-do.
The point of my bringing up a card game when talking about tabletop RPGs is the spirit behind the game. When you identify multiple genres you and your players enjoy, you can incorporate those genres into the narrative you craft and the world you build.
There are many examples of genre spliced RPG campaigns. Callisto 6 by Geek & Sundry incorporates a cyberpunk world with super heroes in the Cypher System. Critical Role tells a D&D story that smashes together high adventure, political intrigue and mystery with high fantasy. We’re Alive: Frontier (also by Geek & Sundry) uses the Outbreak Undead system and tells the story of a zombie apocalypse while adding an adventurous flair to the survival horror genre.
Even when it comes to television and movies, The Shannara Chronicles combines a high fantasy world with a post apocalypse, horror and drama. The Legend of Korra relies on a martial arts heavy fantasy world smashed with an American 1920’s flavor to craft a mystery adventure tale with humor and drama alike. Firefly combined sci-fi and western genres with supernatural elements as well as doses of drama and humor to great effect. Alphas took the super hero genre and twisted it with a crime drama mystery.
All of these are examples of genre splices that worked. By incorporating multiple genres you breathe life into your RPG world and you help avoid losing things to do because there are multiple facets of nuance to your setting, ensuring there’s always something new and different to explore.
Steal from your favorite media
Is there a television show or movie you just keep coming back to? Maybe it’s for the story, either good or bad. Perhaps it’s because of the character interactions or an element you wish had been explored that wasn’t. Such things bring passion and this passion translates when you’re a GM running a game.
If you’re really into your setting, characters or plot, your players can tell and it gets them excited for it too. Passion breeds excellent execution and it helps avoid a sagging middle of a campaign because there’s always something new you love and want to share with players.
RPGs offer unique opportunities for GMs to explore aspects of their favorite media previously relegated to the realm of fan fiction. While we love a good fan fiction from time to time there’s something special about retelling a story or exploring new elements of a familiar plotline or world with your friends.
Stealing elements from your favorite media and repurposing them into a new context with an RPG is a fantastic way to avoid getting bored with your campaign halfway through. If you feel like you might still get bored try adding even more elements from media you remember. As long as you have a wellspring of memories to pull from you can keep adding onto your game and tell some amazing tales!
Dive into video games
Can playing a video game be prep work for a game session? Absolutely! Not only could you pull inspiration from the stories, worlds and characters of video games but there’s an added level of inspiration to them — mechanics.
Many JRPGs hold nostalgia for their mechanics just as much as the stories they told. From Shin Megami Tensei style element matchups, to Octopath Traveler boost systems and beyond. Many games have a few memorable, key mechanics you can adapt to your favorite RPG with great effect!
There’s another aspect to video games that has recently sprung up with increasing popularity: playing D&D or another RPG while simultaneously playing a video game. Some GMs have friends build a character sheet for am RPG then set the game in an MMORPG world like that of World of Warcraft or Guild Wars 2 and have players create the same characters in the game. The players then gather on a common server to act out, or roleplay, their game’s events within the video game itself using the video game as more of a VTT, where the map and minis are replaced with the avatars in the game world. This subculture is fascinating and innovative and it really showcases how creative players and GMs can be in the context of a premade world.
Add more bad
What I mean by this is turn your apparent big baddie into the minion of a stronger force. If you let the players speed through a story to the big bad, it might feel off to them. But you might also want to capitalize on this unrest because it feeds into the story that the person the players thought was running the show for the other side is actually little more than a pawn.
Many television shows employ this idea, especially anime. Digimon, Fullmetal Alchemist and My Hero Academia only scratch the surface of shows making terrific use of this trope.
Another option for adding more bad guys is to add different factions trying to ally with the players. By allowing players to use their middle of the campaign to get to know various members and factions you build your world and have the opportunity to showcase how each of these factions might have both good and bad within them. It also puts the reins in the players’ hands as they decide whom to interact with next. It adds another layer of complexity if you allow the players to choose which of the evils takes power in your world.
Explore consequences of character backstories
Players often put a great deal of thought into their characters’ histories. It validates them and makes them feel special when the GM uses something a player mentioned in their character’s background and brings it to light in the current events of the campaign.
The middle of your campaign is a perfect time to employ this as it usually affords room for players to stretch out a bit (metaphorically speaking) and it gives opportunities to play with and explore the world. The middle of the campaign is more where players get to develop and show off their characters’ stories and while not all players dive into this headlong, a random encounter or two never hurt.
Such encounters might even be a direct result of a character’s background choices and might reveal secrets about the character no one knew before. Causing the world to react to players not only in the present but also as a result of the past is a great way to help immerse your players and develop the narrative. Bonus points if you tie the character’s backstory into the main narrative at large!
What do you think?
Hopefully we’ve given you some ideas for how to avoid getting bored with your RPG campaigns! Do you struggle with a sagging middle in your campaigns? Have you ever just gotten bored with a character or story? Tell us about it in the comments!