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Campaign Master: Finish Existing Campaigns

In a previous article, I discussed running long term campaigns. A lot of interesting discussion was generated. What I want to focus on in this article is what got me started in running a long term campaign: the willingness to finish existing campaigns.

In a previous article, I discussed running long term campaigns. A lot of interesting discussion was generated. What I want to focus on in this article is what got me started in running a long term campaign: the willingness to finish existing campaigns.

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Picture courtesy of Pixabay

I used to suffer from what one of my players called shiny object syndrome. The new RPG hotness would come out and I’d want to stop a campaign, sometimes right in the middle of an adventure, and start this new thing.

This annoys players. They work hard on developing their player character. I’ve also found that many players want to spend way less on RPGs than most GMs. A new RPG costs money and takes shelf or pixel space. And it is hard to continue to hone your skills as a GM if you constantly derail your own work.

First Step: Find Something Besides Shiny Objects

If you tend to bounce from RPG to RPG I’d advise spending that energy on another hobby that interests you. For me this turned out to be writing.

My first step, and this works for me but not for everyone, was to start freelance writing about RPGs and for RPGs. Now I write about the new interesting RPG and occasionally create something for RPGs. This allows me to exercise my creativity without putting undue stress on my fellow gamers.

Second Step: Keep a Small Commitment

When I ran Age of Sigmar - Soulbound, I committed to a campaign focused on the city of Brightspear. I explained that the campaign might expand to another city after the campaign ended, but I was only committing to this first arc. We played that campaign and I found what I was looking for just in that first arc and wrapped the campaign after finishing the arc.

However, I finished the arc. I didn’t get distracted or give up. I had a rough plan ahead of time and had options to work in whatever schemes the players came up with.

Third Step: Keep Another Small Commitment

Next up was our Alien campaign. This one was complex, with agree upon options for betrayal by fellow PCs being a real possibility. Again I mentioned that we’d play one arc with others being an option. Keeping this one going was easy and fun sometimes and a bit grueling at other times due to everything going on. But I was committed and I stuck with it. In this case, we finished with a terrible battle against inhuman opponents and with a PC betrayal. It was intense and the majority of the group wanted a break. We might come back for a second arc at some point however.

Fourth Step: More Commitment and Try a Second Arc

After that was our current The One Ring campaign. I knew right away this one was different and special. The inclusion of landmarks, small self-contained mini-locations, allowed me to run a variety of encounters in one geographic area. Once we finished exploring Lake Evendim, I had the idea of running a full-fledged adventure which involved a type of travel to the First Age. And the second arc was kicked off. This arc is all about the three wizards in western Middle-earth. And I already know of a third and fourth arc that could possibly follow.

Ongoing Steps: Keep Going and Finish Campaigns

If you can force yourself to break the cycle of stopping a campaign only to start up a new one, you can keep this momentum going. Start small, with an arc of only six adventures even. But finish it and let the players tie up the loose ends for their characters.

There are other complexities I don’t have time to cover here. There is player turnover which I may cover in another article. There is the skill of having GM generated content to keep things going but being willing and able to combine that with PC driven adventures. Having a set game night and sticking to it. And more. I’d love to hear your experiences and some of the things you’d like to talk about when running campaigns as a GM.
 

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Charles Dunwoody

Charles Dunwoody


delericho

Legend
These days I try really hard not to just abandon a campaign - they'll either go out in a TPK or they'll come to an end. That's not necessarily the end we might have foreseen back at the start (which may well include an expected top level) - if I feel the campaign is flagging then I may start to look for a 'clean' way to bring it to a conclusion.

My general view is that a calendar year is "about right" for a campaign, almost independent of session length or how often the group meet. Which therefore might mean 5 levels, or 10, or more. (And having said that, I've just brought both my campaigns to their ends, one as planned and one not, after 2 and 3 years.)
 

Yora

Legend
I had a campaign going in D&D 5th edition that I originally planned to open up into exploring a giant island, but I wasn't really having fun with the system, and so I made the enemy commander in the first big base close to the beach the leader of the enemy faction. Defeating him accomplished the goal and was victory for the players, without them learning of various other strongholds all over the island and the original big boss and his lair.

This was the only campaign I've ever been involved with that actually had any kind of conclusion.
 

This was the only campaign I've ever been involved with that actually had any kind of conclusion.

You point out something interesting about many RPGs. Quite a few don't explain how the game ends. Several have directions on how to start a campaign (but not all) but the majority I've read don't cover ending the game. Which is actually a bit weird, for a game.
 


Sir Brennen

Legend
I definitely have the New Shiny Object problem, but also hate the feeling of leaving something incomplete. The challenge then becomes finishing the campaign I'm GMing when my own interest it has flagged somewhat.

This is especially true when the campaign is from published material, where the ending is pretty much laid out, and it's difficult to find a stopping point shy of the written one or allow the players to resolve things in another way. Probably my most satisfying ending of a campaign within the last 10 years was one which I developed the campaign myself, but I still tend to gravitate to published adventures as a time saving measure, as adulting limits homebrew time.

My compromise for the near term, after closing out a 2 1/2-year campaign just this past weekend, is to run rules-lite games for a while as one shots, as sort of a palate cleanser for myself and the rest of the group. Then let the players decide if they want to turn any of the one-shots into a short campaign, or pick up one of the two previous campaigns we've played.

One of those campaigns was the one that came to a satisfying conclusion, but definitely could have a new arc or "season" with existing characters. The other is 5E Princes of the Apocalypse setting, which we took a break from because the true dungeon-slog of the latter half of the adventure was becoming apparent, despite everyone having fun with their characters and some really memorable moments earlier in the game.

I also think going forward, should the players pick any option besides PotA, is to make the game more sandbox-y, with a combination of published short adventures and my own material, to allow story arcs to evolve a little more naturally (I love turning player musings/conspiracy theories into actual plot, adding twists as needed).
 

I do both: 1) test out shiny objects, while 2) keeping the campaign going.

I test out different rules systems (5e, Heroes & Monsters, and my own Freeform LARP, & Sixfold Unity systems), yet I keep it all in the same setting—I place all the adventures somewhere on our ever expanding Shared Lands campaign map. And folks are welcome to freely convert their characters back and forth between the systems.

Granted, we haven’t done straight Middle-earth or Alien; but we did have an Isle of Dread / Star Trek crossover.

Still, I do sense that some of the players hold some hesitancy about switching around systems, despite the stable continuity.
 

Mezuka

Hero
In 41 years of rpgs I finished only one campaign properly. At level 10, after they killed the BBEG they had known about since level 1, I declared the auguries said realm would be safe for 100 years. The PCs were retired.

The other few campaigns that didn't end catastrophically (TPK or group implosion), stopped with an open ending. We could resume if players wanted it. But it never happened.
 

The other few campaigns that didn't end catastrophically (TPK or group implosion), stopped with an open ending. We could resume if players wanted it. But it never happened.

That has been my experience as well.

Of course, a lot of this ending campaigns seems to fall almost completely on the GM's shoulders. Which makes no sense since the campaign itself is driven forward by player choice and action.

Just as there are mechanics for character improvement there seems there should be mechanics for the group ending a campaign. I know some RPGs have this (Shadow of the Demon Lord for example) but I don't think the majority do.

Lots to think about further here.
 

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