It happens, inevitably; a gaming group is going along fine, life rears up, and before you know it you’re down to either just yourself or yourself and a player who isn’t feeling the urge to go without the rest of a group to play off against. Often this happens before a campaign really gets going, so it usually isn’t too tragic of a loss, aside from whatever you’d invested in prepwork. The good news there is that prepwork is never wasted, just archived until it becomes useful again.
But now you’re there, and there’s the question of What Now? Suddenly the block of time you had scheduled to play a game is wide open, all the time you were going to be doing prep is wide open, and you’re not sure you can scrounge anyone up to get things rolling again. What’s a GM to do?
First, decide if you want to even try to get a new group
Maybe the group fell apart because you, the world-builder, were getting burned out; perhaps everyone you can think of is either already occupied or not a good fit for anything you’d be even remotely interested in doing. Either way, take the time to stop and ask yourself if you really want to jump back behind the screen right away. Maybe you’ll find you want to take a month or two off to do other things and let those particular creative cells recharge, or you’ll realize that the prospects in the area would make you consider joining Witness Protection after a couple sessions.
There’s nothing wrong with taking some personal downtime or realizing that certain groups would be horrible for your mental health.
Next, if you want to pick up, sound out your prospects
It may turn out that more than a few of the people you’d like to game with are going to have schedules that clash; in a hobby where some of the professionals have been in it long enough to hit retirement age, most of us aren’t going to be the once-emblematic group of teenagers and twenty-somethings with wild amounts of free time. The odds are pretty good that this, in some form, is what crippled your last group, so you’re probably already prepared to try to work around this. Just don’t be surprised if it proves insurmountable, and do your best to resolve it before it can bite you.
You might be surprised by how many people are desperate enough for a hint of a game that they’ll swear to their availability even when they know they won’t be reliable.
Take the time you need to pick the game, setting, and campaign
This shouldn’t be any different from the usual campaign prepwork, but if you just had a game fall apart you might be tempted to toss it back into play for the new group. Don’t do this; that game was made with other people in mind, and you’ll put as much effort into tweaking it to fit the new players as you would spinning up a new campaign from scratch. Worse, one of the new people might have an aversion to that game or that setting. Work out your options and pitch it to your prospective players. See what sticks. Feel free to include the old game as an option, but acknowledge that you’ll need to rework it.
Don’t skip any steps. No, seriously, treat it like everything is completely new. It is.
This means getting the players together and building characters, working them into the story, getting them hyped up for the game itself, and making sure that all your stuff is together and ready to roll before the first game night. If you’ve decided you Know What Went Wrong, you’re going to be tempted to skimp on the other bits of game prep to make sure that that bit is perfect – which just means that you’ll likely skimp on something some of your players will deem vital and the new game will suffer for it.
Above all else, remember that a failed game isn’t a judgment on you
Games can just fail, and often will. Sometimes you’ll do something that screws it up and upsets the players badly enough that it kills the game. When that happens you will know it. If you’re wondering if it was something you did, you probably shouldn’t be; unless you’re utterly oblivious to the discomfort of others, the warning signs should be obvious. A failed game is mostly due to mundane causes, and you shouldn’t stress over it – nor should you be overly vigilant about the new game. Spend your energy on game prep instead of on stressing over whether or not the game is going well.
So go take a look at your options, look who you can find, and decide where you’re headed from here. There are stories to be told and adventures to be had. Get to it!