Long Campaigns

I run long campaigns. I didn't think I ran long campaigns until well after I got online; the letters pages of Dragon convinced me early on that the average campaign was about ten years, and that assumption stuck with me for a long time. And if you look at the levelling rules for, say 2nd Ed AD&D, you'll see that unless you go completely mad, you'll be playing for about two years once a week to get characters from 1st to 20th level. So, I felt, the rules supported this, even if I was on a schedule more like a game a month.

It wasn't, I think, until I saw a poll on rpg.net about campaign length with the "1-3 months" option way ahead of everything else that I realised I was doing something different.

Part of this is personal preference, of course. Having put the work into a campaign setting, I'm not going to waste it by running six sessions and calling it done. And I'm physically incapable of not developing a campaign setting once I get started. But I also suffer from some confusion around the topic. Players are barely getting to know a character after, say, ten sessions. As the GM, I'm only getting a grasp on what they really want out of the game at that stage. How could you run anything shorter and have it turn out well?

So my campaigns tend to take years to complete, and to have enough plot threads to fill that span of time. My instinct isn't actually to have an end at all; my simulationist soul claims that endings are a narrativist trick, and not worthy of attention. I'd simply have the player characters continue through interesting lives for ever, given the chance - pursuing their own interests, and uncovering a conspiracy here, a small war there, a jaunt off into the planes for whatever reason, and have the return of old nemeses happen occasionally and organically. Players, however, demand coherent plot, and plot demands resolution.

At some point, I think I'd like to run the kind of game my instincts demand. It would need player buy-in from the beginning, of course, and no expectation of a resolution that won't be coming, nor indeed an expectation of an over-arching plot. It would also need characters carefully designed for it, with clear ambitions from the start which they can work toward over the very long run - and they should also be the kind of characters who generate a "things to do" list as they go, so that when that initial ambition is completed, they've more to get on with. And it would probably need to be run in a different area of my own cosmology, rather than on the main campaign world, because by its very nature, it would develop tendrils of story that would interfere with everything else. But I think all of those are surmountable.

I've an article brewing on the practicalities of "How to Run a Long RPG Campaign", or thereabouts, but it is - appropriately - taking a while to put together.

Posted by Drew Shiel at February 6, 2012 3:33 PM

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