D&D 5E A campaign that lasts an entire (in-game) lifetime... what would this look like?

BookTenTiger

He / Him
I've been playing around with some longterm downtime activities that last for years instead of weeks, and it's getting me thinking about how I would run a campaign that lasts, in-game, for decades (if not longer).

But I'm having trouble picturing how this would actually work! Adventurers tend to be so driven that it's difficult for me to imagine scenarios in which they spend years not adventuring.

On the other hand, that's what I call a design challenge!

So how would you design a campaign that lasts for 50+ in-game years?

...

Peaceful Realm: The campaign could take place in a setting that is, in general, peaceful and bucolic. There's not really a big need to go out adventuring. However, every once in a while, something happens that threatens the peace! A dragon appears. It rains blood. A hag is gathering an army of fey. Those who can take up arms and head out on an adventure, defeating the threat... until a new one shows up after a number of years have passed!

Growing Kingdom: The adventurers could be protecting a small settlement that grows and grows over the years and decades, eventually forming a large city or kingdom. In between adventures, the characters are helping the settlement grow- patrolling the wilderness, running businesses, leading worship... Then, when threats arrive, they head out on the next adventure!

What are your ideas?
 

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We did a generational game twice, once in 2e and once in 3.5 (technically 3 times cause we did it in WoD too once)

you need to enforce downtime being real downtime... not "Oh on day 1 i want to do X, on day 7 I want to do Y"

and you need a good social encounter group... the abilitiy to 'hold court' as an adventure day.

I would most likely go with brutal rests... 8hours for a short and a week for long, but I'm not sure that is needed.
 



some of the highlights

2e a psionicist and a wizard rescued a baby dragon... 3 sessions (9 months) later they found a woman who would become the party patron. over the next year (only about 3 sessions) the psion and woman fell in love... but she was an older woman, the grand mother of the baby dragon. By then the party also had a ranger with species enemy dragon that wanted to kill her.
the ranger got his hands on an artifact that allowed him to terriform miles of space around him in only a month... he went to the dessert to start making it green, but found a dessert druid/rogue who taught him that useing it to change ecosystems was wrong... at this point though the now 5 PCs (psi, Wizard, Ranger, druid/thief, and Fighter had found a map to a ancient lost temple in the dessert... so after about 15 sessions taking up 4 years. we then spent almost as long (10+ sessions) just exploreing the ruins taking less then a month of game time

3.5 was very different our Warblade and Warmage opened a school together and our Ninja (shadow dancer)started a spy ring. But our cleric and multiclass monstrosity never found anything other then tagging along with the other 2...
 

BookTenTiger

He / Him
the longevity differences between some character races really would have to be considered...
The thread on longevity got me thinking about it, actually! It would be interesting to do smaller time jumps between adventures in the beginning (5 or 10 years), then start increasing the gaps (20 years... 50 years... 100 years...). The elves, dwarves, and gnomes might still be playing the same characters, but the humans and halflings and orcs would be playing later generations, or students, etc.
 

BookTenTiger

He / Him
This would be an interesting way to do a "points of light" campaign. The world is recovering from a long period of darkness. Much of the wilderness is literally too dangerous to travel, even for adventurers. As the years pass, though, more of the world opens up (through the efforts of the adventurers, of course).

Characters might spend years of downtime in new settlements, helping them get established. Or they might be in the main city, running guilds and academies. Or patrolling the wilderness, trying to keep the eternal threats at bay!

A new adventure starts when a distant community reaches out for help, a large threat makes an appearance, or someone discovers a valuable resource hidden in the wild.
 

BookTenTiger

He / Him
Another approach would be to lean into the generational aspect... Maybe there is one great adventure each generation. 25 to 50 years pass between adventures. Players can keep the same stats and treasure, but play as the children, students, or worshippers of their precious characters.
 

DND_Reborn

The High Aldwin
Growing Kingdom: The adventurers could be protecting a small settlement that grows and grows over the years and decades, eventually forming a large city or kingdom. In between adventures, the characters are helping the settlement grow- patrolling the wilderness, running businesses, leading worship... Then, when threats arrive, they head out on the next adventure!
This was (more or less) what my group back in Arizona from 2001-2006. The PCs lived and eventually passes away, with their children picking up the torch (literally LOL).
 

Mannahnin

Scion of Murgen (He/Him)
I'm playing in a generational game right now- The Great Pendragon Campaign.

The whole concept is that the game starts several years prior to Arthur's birth, and your first generation of characters are knights in service to Earl Roderick, who in turn serves Uthur. The campaign is intended to last through Uther's death, the interregnum of chaos until Arthur ascends the throne, and all through his reign until his death.

Play is divided into game years. Sometimes we play through a year in a session; busier years might take two or three sessions.

Each year the GM tells us what events are happening. Some more or less require our participation (though often you CAN bail out/make excuses), like our liege lord mustering his knights to war against the Saxons, or Christmas court. Other periods less is going on and we can pursue our own interests. Sometimes Merlin might recruit us for an errand or quest. In Winter we make a series of rolls to see how prosperous our lands/households are, against the GM rolling on behalf of the winter. Our horses can die, we can have kids if we're married or petition our lord for permission to marry if we're not, etc. Some kind of family event will happen. And after our characters reach a certain age they'll have to make aging rolls and gradually become decrepit, assuming they don't die in battle younger. And our heirs are the intended next generation of PCs. Two of our three PC knights in our first generation HAVE recently (less than ten years into the game) died in battle against an evil Fae giant. One of the new PCs is the recently-knighted squire of one of the deceased knights, and the other is the younger brother of my former character.

Pendragon has mechanics for feasts and for battles as well as for the winter/estate-management phase.

A significant plot thread for my original PC Sir Gwydion was that he managed to marry a wealthy widow with several estates, but I never improved my Stewardship skill, so I was reliant on hers, and then on that of a skilled steward who I specifically went out to recruit after a few harsh winters/bad rolls on my part. And then I had EVEN WORSE rolls with that guy despite his very high skill, which the GM explained as drunkenness and carelessness on the steward's part. After the first couple of failures and a dead warhorse over a winter my character sat him down for a very "shape up or you're dead" conversation, and then when he failed AGAIN, he went on the lam with a bunch of stolen silver and one of my best horses! Hunting him down was quite a fun side adventure, which was prompted by the winter phase mechanics, growing organically from play. :)

As far as how you would implement something like this in D&D, I do think you're going to want some sort of extended downtime mechanics like you're working on for winter and so forth, and feast/social activity ones would be good too.

In terms of regular play, you can just establish with the players that the pace of adventure is simply different in this game than a regular D&D campaign. The land is perhaps more peaceful, and monsters more rare, and the PCs have responsibilities of some kind which prevent them from just wandering off the map into the wilderness in search of treasure.

Framing play around the year and the seasons, I think, is really good. Like in Diplomacy- Spring, Summer, and Fall turns, with Winter being a time when adventure normally can't be had and PCs need to focus on survival and keeping the homestead whole. If you plan for each season to be when one "thing" (event or adventure) happens, then you get a max of three adventures/major activities per year, and time can pass at a page less breakneck than seems common for D&D.
 
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Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
I run each Dungeon + Realm action as taking a season (so max 3 per year with Winter being the rest season).

Building things from huts to castles to entire cities is a good wy to use Downtime, especially if one of your PCs is an engineer who wants to play out repairing walls and hunting the goblins in the sewers (I use value/labour/skill = seasons to build eg a Sailing ship 10000gp assign 50 workers and roll skill 15 - 10000/50/15 = 13 seasons (4 years))

imc I’ve had PCs start as as survivors of a gnoll raid on their village, who then are tasked to gather the remaining survivors and get them to the old fort. They must then restore and defend the fort, establish a new settlement and begin their rise as leaders.

another time the PCs were settlers on a new island, except there was an indigenous population of gnomes who the PCs riled up after they tresspassed on the gnomes sacred mounds and also a swarm of insectile goblins in the deep valley who worshiped the Fly god. Due to lack of resources on the island the PCs had to travel to other islands for trade and thus made contact with an expanding cannibal empire who became a major threat in the setting.
 
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Cruentus

Adventurer
This would be an interesting way to do a "points of light" campaign. The world is recovering from a long period of darkness. Much of the wilderness is literally too dangerous to travel, even for adventurers. As the years pass, though, more of the world opens up (through the efforts of the adventurers, of course).

Characters might spend years of downtime in new settlements, helping them get established. Or they might be in the main city, running guilds and academies. Or patrolling the wilderness, trying to keep the eternal threats at bay!

A new adventure starts when a distant community reaches out for help, a large threat makes an appearance, or someone discovers a valuable resource hidden in the wild.
Similar would be the "frontier" of a kingdom just recovering from war (or in a lull). Travel times, even by horse would be slow, when winter sets in, everyone settles in and not much happens (so downtime that lasts 3 or 4 months every year). Of course, something could come up requiring the attentions of the characters during the winter, but it would be hard going, and would have to be short.

Pendragon does something similar, where every "adventure" is a year of time (counting winter downtime). So as you adventure, you age. You also start as the oldest in your noble family, with siblings, so if you were to die, your sibling would take over (or an uncle or another family member). Also as you played, you got married, had children, and then you would die of old age and you played your kids. So it was built and designed to be generational.

For DnD, you'd have to accomodate longer lived races, what that would mean to the game world, effects/monsters that age you, travelling to Faerie or somewhere where time moves differently, etc. It would certainly have a different feel to it than traditional adventuring where you go from level 1-20 in 14 in-game weeks, and you're still 18 years old!

I think a big part would be making the world interesting outside of adventures and dungeons. I'm working on something more slow burn, and one character and his retinue (4th level) just spent a month simple travelling from one city to another. He has about a month to complete his current "mission" before winter sets in, then a new year rolls around.
 

I've been playing around with some longterm downtime activities that last for years instead of weeks, and it's getting me thinking about how I would run a campaign that lasts, in-game, for decades (if not longer).

But I'm having trouble picturing how this would actually work! Adventurers tend to be so driven that it's difficult for me to imagine scenarios in which they spend years not adventuring.

On the other hand, that's what I call a design challenge!

So how would you design a campaign that lasts for 50+ in-game years?

The One Ring does this by simply suggesting that there should be long gaps between adventures, so each of those adventures is super meaningful (a bit like Bilbo dining out on his one big excursion for his entire life, basically). So you just establish that the characters have lives that aren't entirely about adventuring—adventuring being a deeply insane and unrelatable thing for someone to want to do every day of their lives, anyway—and have years pass here and there.

But mechanically the game also has rules for descendants, whether that's an actual child or just someone your current character is mentoring or sponsoring. You can basically give them resources and XP (iirc) from your own spoils, that give them a headstart when it's time to switch characters.

It's a cool approach, that maybe doesn't work perfectly for D&D's level-based progression and focus, but definitely has a slightly more "realistic" feel.
 

The thread on longevity got me thinking about it, actually! It would be interesting to do smaller time jumps between adventures in the beginning (5 or 10 years), then start increasing the gaps (20 years... 50 years... 100 years...). The elves, dwarves, and gnomes might still be playing the same characters, but the humans and halflings and orcs would be playing later generations, or students, etc.
yeah in the 2e game we ended with the psion's grandson (now half dragon) the elf wizard (orginal) and other descendants
 

NotAYakk

Legend
I'd start with gritty rests. So 1 week in safety for a long rest, a night's sleep for a short rest.

Usual patches
1. Magical healing requires expending a HD, and the HD is added to the healing.
2. You roll HD you had expended before the short rest to recover them. Any even roll 4 or greater is recovered.
3. You can expend 1 HD to recover a level of exhaustion, or roll it to recover max HP (does not recover HP) in a short rest.
4. Spells with a duration of 1 hour or more last 5x as long.
5. Repeated spellcasting must be done 1/week for a year, and the last casting uses 300x components.
6. You can do downtime activities during long rests, include casting a spell/day. You only recover resources missing at the start of the long rest, however.

That, by itself, extends L 1 to 20 to about 2 years.

Next, some real downtime rules, because you want it to be fun. It has to support week/month/year/decade scales somehow.

Next, plot-based leveling. Not encounter-XP based. While you might be able to reach level 5 by practice, you don't become a demigod by practice. I mean, maybe elves can do it over 1000+ years, but even they need to cheat.

So you have "milestone" based leveling, and those milestones are objective facts about the world that justify a power increase. Like, there are demons showing up, and being there when a demon dies infuses you with power. And maybe also your descendants.

What happens "between adventures" now becomes about downtime mechanics, because you ain't gaining levels. The adventures come to the PCs. PCs can research how to find a milestone MacGuffin, but that could take decades.

This places a bunch of pacing control tools into the hands of the DM.

The downtime rules have to be, as noted, beefy. Like, you have to be able to handle as a downtime mechanic "I rule a nation, and try to expand its empire", without pulling out the 5e combat rules or whatever. Interesting things and failures can happen in downtime.

Aging rules are gonna be needed. You'll want next generation rules after the 20 year old barbarian hero PC becomes a 40 year old king, without making the elf (who is still in the prime of their life) boring or overpowered. These next generation heros need a way to justify being at some reasonable power level, without making old heroes feel disposable.

I might want a character building game to justify gaining levels? Like, explicit power sources? And those power sources cap the level the character can reach (and maybe act like attuned magic items). So new PCs introduced have power sources pre-attached to them; they are things that justify with the PC is a level 10 character (story-wise) that isn't "I spent a bunch of time killing goblins in caves. What have you been up to you lazy bones?" (see above; downtime can't generate XP, so gaining levels requires milestones; if we abstract that to power sources, then level = access to power source for potential, plus XP to refine it.)

This rotates back to stuff like Warlocks and Clerics. You could imagine a Warlock being granted a level 5 power source pact to start with. In order to pass level 5, they need another power source; possibly the patron would offer one for ... additional services. Or maybe the warlock seeks a seperate power source (kill a demon lord? Everyone get a 1 level power source!) and not be obligated further to their master.

Classes without built-in masters would have to find their own power sources in adventuring or their background. And "child of a demon slayer" is a decent power source.
 

The CRPG Wildermyth does this pretty well. Essentially the characters have a campaign to vanquish a specific threat, then experience "years of peace" before another threat emerges. In later campaigns the older characters are joined by younger, less experienced characters who will become the veterans when the original characters retire. It is a pretty cool game and I have been interested in running this concept in a TTRPG since I played it.

I think the key here is to make sure the PC's aren't "adventurers" i.e., they are not vagrants constantly wandering around looking for stuff to fight. The PC's would prefer to be tending their farms, running their temples, etc. and just go on adventures when given an important reason to leave their homes and risk their lives.
 

BookTenTiger

He / Him
The CRPG Wildermyth does this pretty well. Essentially the characters have a campaign to vanquish a specific threat, then experience "years of peace" before another threat emerges. In later campaigns the older characters are joined by younger, less experienced characters who will become the veterans when the original characters retire. It is a pretty cool game and I have been interested in running this concept in a TTRPG since I played it.

I think the key here is to make sure the PC's aren't "adventurers" i.e., they are not vagrants constantly wandering around looking for stuff to fight. The PC's would prefer to be tending their farms, running their temples, etc. and just go on adventures when given an important reason to leave their homes and risk their lives.
I love Wildermyth and it's definitely an inspiration. I think you have a good point that the characters should have identities separate from just being adventurers. I wonder if this kind of campaign would benefit from some Level 0 sessions just to get a feel for daily life in the setting.
 

BookTenTiger

He / Him
I'd start with gritty rests. So 1 week in safety for a long rest, a night's sleep for a short rest.

Usual patches
1. Magical healing requires expending a HD, and the HD is added to the healing.
2. You roll HD you had expended before the short rest to recover them. Any even roll 4 or greater is recovered.
3. You can expend 1 HD to recover a level of exhaustion, or roll it to recover max HP (does not recover HP) in a short rest.
4. Spells with a duration of 1 hour or more last 5x as long.
5. Repeated spellcasting must be done 1/week for a year, and the last casting uses 300x components.
6. You can do downtime activities during long rests, include casting a spell/day. You only recover resources missing at the start of the long rest, however.

That, by itself, extends L 1 to 20 to about 2 years.

Next, some real downtime rules, because you want it to be fun. It has to support week/month/year/decade scales somehow.

Next, plot-based leveling. Not encounter-XP based. While you might be able to reach level 5 by practice, you don't become a demigod by practice. I mean, maybe elves can do it over 1000+ years, but even they need to cheat.

So you have "milestone" based leveling, and those milestones are objective facts about the world that justify a power increase. Like, there are demons showing up, and being there when a demon dies infuses you with power. And maybe also your descendants.

What happens "between adventures" now becomes about downtime mechanics, because you ain't gaining levels. The adventures come to the PCs. PCs can research how to find a milestone MacGuffin, but that could take decades.

This places a bunch of pacing control tools into the hands of the DM.

The downtime rules have to be, as noted, beefy. Like, you have to be able to handle as a downtime mechanic "I rule a nation, and try to expand its empire", without pulling out the 5e combat rules or whatever. Interesting things and failures can happen in downtime.

Aging rules are gonna be needed. You'll want next generation rules after the 20 year old barbarian hero PC becomes a 40 year old king, without making the elf (who is still in the prime of their life) boring or overpowered. These next generation heros need a way to justify being at some reasonable power level, without making old heroes feel disposable.

I might want a character building game to justify gaining levels? Like, explicit power sources? And those power sources cap the level the character can reach (and maybe act like attuned magic items). So new PCs introduced have power sources pre-attached to them; they are things that justify with the PC is a level 10 character (story-wise) that isn't "I spent a bunch of time killing goblins in caves. What have you been up to you lazy bones?" (see above; downtime can't generate XP, so gaining levels requires milestones; if we abstract that to power sources, then level = access to power source for potential, plus XP to refine it.)

This rotates back to stuff like Warlocks and Clerics. You could imagine a Warlock being granted a level 5 power source pact to start with. In order to pass level 5, they need another power source; possibly the patron would offer one for ... additional services. Or maybe the warlock seeks a seperate power source (kill a demon lord? Everyone get a 1 level power source!) and not be obligated further to their master.

Classes without built-in masters would have to find their own power sources in adventuring or their background. And "child of a demon slayer" is a decent power source.
These are really cool ideas! I really like the idea of tying milestone leveling into something tied to the campaign setting.
 

I love Wildermyth and it's definitely an inspiration. I think you have a good point that the characters should have identities separate from just being adventurers. I wonder if this kind of campaign would benefit from some Level 0 sessions just to get a feel for daily life in the setting.
family and outside goals

those are the things I have found that help
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
Easy, there aren't "adventurers". There's a certain infrastructure of ruins and dungeons, hostile humanoids, feral creatures and dangerous abominations that makes being a very deadly career worthwhile.

Remove it.

Instead have some people, perhaps all marked by fate or destiny, that are reluctant heroes. Over time they grow to have lives, families, businesses, and those who rely on them. Yet when the dread comet hangs in the sky, these are the ones the Goddess of Wyrd has indicated can solve it.

So start them as teens, do a 1st level adventure. Have them grow to understand a bit about their destiny. Then do a montage about the good times for the next five years, with everyone adding after your foundation and weaving their characters into it.

Then once again the omen hangs overhead, and as 3rd level characters they are off to deal with things, weighed down with some generous gear the village has granted them.

The next downtime tell of how they had parades, how people start to listen to their word. Spend more time with them about the next time of peace. Or use a system like Microscope to work out what happens as a minigame within the campaign. Then once again the omen hangs. Perhaps it's not as clear this time, and while they start at 5th it's months and they end at 7th or 8th.

Continue the cycle until it near the end of their lives. Powerful, but ready to move on. But what the omen warns of of this time? It sounds impossible. For the final battle give them rules for martyrdom where they can shine very brightly, but for only a very short time. And balance the challenges so they will need it.

And those that do, get accepted as demigods into the pantheon alongside the Goddess of Wyrd, while the others get to finally retire, the mark of destiny gone from their flesh, but their mark on history secure and on the future still to come.
 

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