The past. It is something that some people try to forget. Others spend far too much time thinking about it. While the past is what has made each of us who we are today, it can be beneficial to look at it again. Especially when you are a creator. That is the topic of this month’s RPG Blog Carnival. Campaign Mastery has asked that we go back to something we have done before. An old topic, an old post, an old way of doing things. Whatever it is you look at, compare it to now and look at what has changed. For me this is the perfect opportunity to go back and look at where I started only two and a half years ago. I could have sworn it was three….how time flies, eh? Anyways, my first ever blog article was titled Goldfish Campaigns and you can still find it over here. Just go easy on me, I rambled worse back then than I do now!
The too long, didn’t read of this article was that I rambled on a bit about why players were forced to make so many characters. In particular, my players. I made the argument that GMs can suffer from too many ideas and wanting to do too many things. The result would be too many campaigns that never got anywhere and players having many characters that didn’t get anywhere. Since then I have learned a lot about myself, my GMing, and playing RPGs in general. In fact I’ve learned more since June 15, 2015 than I did in the other 20 years I was playing D&D and similar games. Today I want to reassess my original idea and, instead of making a plea to players to go easy on distracted GMs, I am going to make a plea to GMs to slow down and try some different approaches to the urges to play different things.
The problem that my original post centers around is not one that has gone away, not really. There is still a constant stream of new games, new ideas, and new takes on old things coming into view. I know this is true for me and have seen plenty of other folks who see all kinds of things that they want to try, but just don’t have time for. To think that it is restricted to GMs was a bit silly of me, especially as someone who acts as a player so rarely and as frequently as I want if we include video games. Even for those, there isn’t the time to try out all the ideas you might have as a player. How much time do you have to go through Skyrim with 5 different builds? Its a difficult task! So, as I am sure many will agree, the variety of things we want to do at the table can still pose a problem but that problem comes on both sides of the screen. The deeper problem is how that one is handled. Don’t get me wrong I stand by some of my original sentiment. It is tough being the only GM and keeping yourself having fun might be difficult. Let’s be honest though, it isn’t just the constant influx of inspiration that makes a GM start campaign after campaign. No there are a few issues there and that is what I want to get into now.
Why A Campaign?
I think, very often, as a GM there is this idea of campaign as something grandiose and years-consuming. Certainly there are cases when this is true, and those are great, but is it really what you want to do. With so many ideas out there why restrict yourself to staying within one story or world? You certainly don’t have to. The problem might not wholly be the desire to play so many things but in the response to that desire. Instead of starting campaigns that you hope last for a long time, start by trying different things out. One shots, short adventures. Different worlds, different systems. I’ve learned that a campaign is about more than commitment to a world. You also have to find the world you want to commit to. Beyond that there is no reason not to take breaks. Play a random game one night. Do something different after a crazy story arc. Don’t force a campaign and certainly don’t try to turn every game or adventure into one.
Why Start Fresh?
Okay, so maybe your whole group really wants to dedicate themselves to one campaign. They want to feel what it is like to have characters that last through dozens of sessions and years of play. How do you go about getting that experience? I’ve found that if everyone wants to go back to something, you can. Been a few months? Compile notes and hand wave what you need to. Pick that old game back up with as many of the original people and characters possible. Hand wave a few years in game if you have to for a clean start. On the other side of it, if you feel the need to try a new character then talk to your GM and group. Take a break from one and play the other for a little while. If you’re the GM and really want to try something new, I am sure there is a way you can make it fit. Get creative and work those ideas into the game, especially if it is going well and your players fear abandoning it. I mean, I have three D&D characters who are suddenly different races and part of Starfleet right now. Things are weird, but it is working great and the story is awesome.
Okay here is the big, explicit thing I want to talk about that I didn’t originally. New campaigns are a group decision. First off, yes, the GM has to do work and it should be fun for them too. Maybe they are turned off by the current situation and that isn’t ideal. But that doesn’t mean the GM should up and start a new game for the group. Talk to the group about it and figure out what to do. Maybe you can play more often or play a second campaign. Alternate weeks with a different person GMing or with a different campaign. Plan a one shot or figure out how to add elements you would like to see together. Yes, as GM you want to have fun to, but this is a group activity and, as such, these things should be group decisions.
Other Reasons Campaigns Fail
I think one of the major reasons I wrote the original article was because I had experienced the start to so many campaigns. I ran almost all of those campaigns. I also had all kinds of ideas to start them too. My problems wasn’t really the ideas though, they just inspired me to do things and gave me excuses to try playing more. You see, one of the biggest real problems of keeping a campaign together is time. As adults, especially as multiple individual adults, time is a tough thing to come by. Time that all happens at once and regularly. It can be a gift. My groups changed nights, people, and regularity as much as it changed ideas and systems. More so for a long time. There were at least two players who were part of 90% of those and they were, obviously, the more frustrated with not sticking to something. I don’t blame them. Eventually though, things settle down into better patterns and things can become campaigns. For over two years we had a regular Pathfinder game alongside the insanity of trying to fit other games in when some of us had plenty of time. Nevertheless, all campaigns come to an end eventually.
What To Do?
The big takeaway I want to convey is have patience. With your players, with your GM, with time and schedules, with yourself. There are a dozen reasons games don’t turn into campaigns, but many of them can be solved with patience. Chances are your campaign won’t go start to finish in one, clean, epic arc many years in the making. Chances are you’ll play for 14 sessions and someone will get a new job. Or have a kid. Or move. Maybe it lasts less time, and you don’t all like it. Maybe it lasts longer but it just kind of….stops. That was our Pathfinder game. It persevered for years but then it was over. It happened quickly, just ended, and in the middle of things. But it also happened slowly as little problems of all kinds got in the way. Just how it goes. One day we will revisit that campaign. Some players might even be the same. My point is don’t focus on making them all campaigns and let them go when its time.
GMs. Learn your style. Figure out the kind of games you want to run. Don’t tell your players you have a new campaign idea if it will last only a handful of sessions. Don’t get attached to any one concept or idea of campaign. Don’t let that word shackle you down and don’t shackle it. Find ways to bring balance to working between games, play times, campaigns, and what ever else happens for whatever reason. As. A. Group.
Maybe this article should have started Dear Me From 2015…..either way I think I’ve regressed a bit in my rambling control. But maybe not.