Ask The GM: Getting the Band Back Together

By John Serpico on


Kevin asks – Some former players want to revisit an old campaign that we retired about four years ago. The problem is I can’t remember everything that happened. I still have the character sheets but my notes are really incomplete. How can I run a game if I don’t have a full recollection of what happened?

A return to old characters in an old campaign setting can be a joyous homecoming. That is, of course, if it all still feels like home. In order for you to guide your players back to that world, you need to know the way there and what’s waiting for them. You certainly understand this, which is why you’re a bit stressed as to how you can build a great experience without the luxury of great notes.

Thankfully, you’ve got the character sheets, which may well be the only true necessity in this situation. Trying to run a game from years ago without those sheets would require you to rebuild characters. And I can say from experience that a “from memory” replacement character sheet never feels quite right. You can convince players that orcs exist and are terrifying. You can convince players that the sense of doom they’re feeling when entering a dungeon is justified, or that a magic key can activate a giant arcane cannon that can save a fictional universe. But you can never convince a player that a character sheet full of estimated statistics and equipment is just like the real thing.

With character sheets in hand, you now need to do two other things. The first is to fill in the gaps in your memory, and the second is to come up with a reason for the party to be back together. Regarding your memory, one tip I always recommend is to ask your players to recap what they remember about the game that was. Send out an email and ask them to write back with their favorite moments and how the last few sessions impacted their characters. That will give you, if not the full story, at least a good idea of what your players are looking forward to (or hoping for) on this return trip. Ideally, your players will remind you of where they all ended up, reacquaint you with one of two great NPCs, and relive the last big, fun thing they all did. From that foundation, you can easily build a one-shot adventure or even a short campaign that references plenty from all those years ago.

The other thing you need to do is determine why the characters are still all together. Much of that will depend on how things ended. Did the party defeat a great and powerful villain and end the last session of the campaign toasting at a tavern? Great! They’re all in one place and might be hungry for a fresh adventure right on the heels of the previous one. But did they conquer the great darkness consuming the land and then return to their respective towns and families? If that’s the case, a new calamity might emerge that is big enough to reunite them. You can play with the passage of time here to make things easier, too. Did four years pass in game or only a few days? You can have the players start right where they ended or use the real world delay to advance the calendar and change locations. That allows you to distance the players from the previous campaign as much as possible, especially if your players remember just as little of their old adventures as you do!

Because you have the character sheets and players enthusiastic to reprise their roles, you’ve already got the minimum that you need. So now you just need to use your players recollections to supplement your own and come up with an engaging story that jives with what you learn from them. After that, you’re ready to jump back into the world.

Happy GMing!

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