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Thursday 28 January 2016

10th Anniversary Classic Rant: In Defense of the Long Campaign

So recently its been commented on theRPGsite that some people prefer short campaigns because long campaigns often have the unfortunate tendency to "peter out"; they overstretch themselves, and then collapse, going out not with a great bang but an unsatisfying whimper.

Now, no one can deny that this is a phenomenon that happens. Its happened to me several times, and I consider myself (and have been considered by others to be) a fairly experienced and talented GM.

My Roman Campaign and my Chinese campaign both suffered from this sad fate.

However, I will always hold to the position that longer campaigns are simply more satisfying. They are undoubtedly worth the risk, every time. 

First, a skilled GM can try to resolve this problem; often, if he's smart about it, he can catch on and save a game. This happened with my Legion campaign, which at one point was at risk of "petering out", but I did some retooling and now I can proudly say its back to being a spectacular game.
Barring that, you can often at least catch the decline and "wrap up" the campaign in a way that becomes satisfying to all involved. My D&D Classic campaign went this way, it was very near the end already (with the PCs having reached or nearing their maximum levels), but I could see the decline, and decided that rather then slogging it out at the pace we were going the smarter thing was to wrap up the game with a really big spectacular finish, and its one that my players remember very fondly as the feather in the cap of that excellent campaign.

But even if a campaign fails utterly at the end, as was the case in my Roman and Chinese games, in the process you end up getting so much out of the game that the good experiences greatly outweigh the bad. My players and I may have been saddened at how those two campaigns ended, but they will never forget how excellent those campaigns were for the first 90% of their lifespans. The moments of intense character development, the lengthy plot arcs, the NPCs, the moments of utter glory that PCs had when ambitions they'd been playing through for years and years of the campaign came to pass, all of that makes these games great successes, despite how they ended.

With a long-term campaign you simply have the opportunity to do so much more in terms of developing the characters, and the world, and the backstory and the history in actual play; so that the campaign develops a kind of emulation and the players develop a level of immersion that is utterly impossible in a shorter game.

My current Amber campaign has been going for about 20 sessions now, and is truly at that "sweet spot" where the game, and the setting, and the characters, have taken on lives of their own. Secrets that were established at the very beginning of the campaign are just now starting to be revealed. The Big Bad of the campaign is just now beginning to be truly understood. In yesterday's session, Alejo's character found out who his father was, after 20 sessions of not knowing. Cristian's character built up through a series of conflicts and errors to where he has been exiled from Amber. Jong's character is only really beginning to understand his father, and is finally beginning to receive the training in a power that he'd been seeking pretty much the entire campaign. Facets of the NPCs are revealing themselves in new ways. Every session is spectacular, and my players often comment on how much they "can't wait" for the next session to come along.

Of course, I hope this Amber campaign (and my Legion campaign which is on its 3rd year now, and my Pendragon campaign which is finishing its 2nd year) will end on a high note. But if it doesn't, if it "fails" to end well, every one of these campaigns will still be a resounding success, far more satisfying than if I'd spent the last year or two years or three years playing a bunch of short little campaigns in a row.

The long term game is always worth it.


Currently Smoking: Neerup poker + Gawith's Winter Flake

(Originally posted March 29, 2009)

1 comment:

  1. I'd be curious to hear more about why some campaigns die, assuming its issues internal to the campaign and not just the usual folks moving away or getting tired of RPGs or lack of time.