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Failed Campaigns

Reynard

Legend
I think we have all had them: campaign ideas that seemed like they would be great experiences, that just plain fizzled. Sometimes, they lasta couple sessions before sinking under their own weight. Sometimes they don't get past Session 0 because the group falls apart before the first die is cast. Some die on the vine and never see the table at all. What is your "favorite" premature campaign death?

For me, back when or recently after I was writing for Exalted 1E, I had big plans for an X-Men inspired Exalted campaign. I drew all the connecting line between classic X-Men characters and storylines to Exalted's lore and had players choose X-Men they wanted to emulate so I could build them PCs to fit. We played exactly one session, and that was enough to show myself and the group (of like 8 players!) that the system was just way too heavy to create the experience I wanted, especially since almost no one else had ever encountered it before.
 

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Marc_C

Solo Role Playing
Star Frontiers. I wanted to do a psy-hunter campaign. The PCs were all psy-hunters. During the first adventure I tell two of the PCs they slowly discover they are psychics... that didn't go well. We played a board game for the rest of the session. That was the end of it. Don't do bait & switch. 🙃
 

Retreater

Legend
Hmm. Let's see. Recently attempted to run The Enemy Within for WFRP, but had a player move away after the first session. With an already small group, that meant the end of the campaign. This is a bucket list campaign that I would love to run one day.
 

Marc_C

Solo Role Playing
I think we have all had them: campaign ideas that seemed like they would be great experiences, that just plain fizzled. Sometimes, they lasta couple sessions before sinking under their own weight. Sometimes they don't get past Session 0 because the group falls apart before the first die is cast. Some die on the vine and never see the table at all. What is your "favorite" premature campaign death?

For me, back when or recently after I was writing for Exalted 1E, I had big plans for an X-Men inspired Exalted campaign. I drew all the connecting line between classic X-Men characters and storylines to Exalted's lore and had players choose X-Men they wanted to emulate so I could build them PCs to fit. We played exactly one session, and that was enough to show myself and the group (of like 8 players!) that the system was just way too heavy to create the experience I wanted, especially since almost no one else had ever encountered it before.
Isn't that more a system failure than a campaign failure? You could run it with another system.
 


Reynard

Legend
Isn't that more a system failure than a campaign failure? You could run it with another system.
The "X-Men using Exalted" campaign failed. Maybe the "X-Men using HERO in the world of Exalted" campaign would have succeeded, but that's not the one I tried to run. I'm not sure what else to say.
 

TheAlkaizer

Game Designer
For a about a year or two after having discovered D&D, I was solely a player (that was a long time ago). Then I thought "Hey, I already draw tons of maps, kingdoms and invent characters. I could be a DM, it'd be fun!" so I convinced several of my friends to give a try and let me introduce them to D&D. I was probably around 15 at that time.

Then I spent all my summer preparing the campaign like a madman. But I made the fatal mistake that many DM do at one point. I literally created an encyclopedia or characters, how they dress, what they like, what they eat, their personality. Same with locations, history. I created several naming languages, refused to use real animals or plants, everything had to come from my creative genius. The level of detail was out of control.

This stuff is very fun. But in my experience, very, very few people can turn that into a successful novel, comic, movie or D&D campaign. It's not that interesting to other people. So September comes, we have our first session and two things happen. First, I absolutely bombard them with facts. Every moment is an opportunity for me to share something. "Oh, I'd like to order food with the innkeeper", "He presents to you a menu with a dozen recipes, here they are, and let me explain what these animals and plants are". My players were really overwhelmed, and about an hour in, it was obvious that they were not having fun. The second thing that happened, is that in the moment, as I had to improvise, it was hell to try and be coherent and consistent with everything I had written. I couldn't remember all I had written on my characters and well, I wasn't (and am) not much of an actor, so it fell very flat and felt formulaic.

All my friends found excuses not to play the next session, and I was crushed. I stopped playing for about a year. And then I a one-shot as a player at a local game store. And there was a much older and experienced DM that really blew me away. I told him my story, and he taught me the lesson that I hadn't learn yet from my mistake. I was severely overprepared, I put too much effort on stuff that's only exciting to me, and I didn't see a campaign as it should be: a freeform story that has a will of its own.

I'm very happy to have learned that lesson when I was young! I still see some DM my age do the same thing nowadays.
 


Marc_C

Solo Role Playing
The "X-Men using Exalted" campaign failed. Maybe the "X-Men using HERO in the world of Exalted" campaign would have succeeded, but that's not the one I tried to run. I'm not sure what else to say.
You're supposed to say: "You know what, now that you mention it, you are correct Marc_C." :D
 
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I tried to run an Underdark campaign multiple times, starting back in 2e, and it always fizzled out. Maybe because it was just too alien, too far-removed from standard fantasy. The one time, it assuredly because it was late and we were all tired and unable to muster the appropriate verve. Finally got to do an Underdark campaign in full when Out of the Abyss came out...

Recently I've been in a couple failed campaigns. Two of my friends both decided last year that with the pandemic and not being able to go anywhere that they should run games online. One started The Sunless Citadel, one Descent into Avernus. Both of them overestimated the amount of effort it takes to run a weekly game (and to be fair, they were both busy enough with other things) and both campaigns fizzled far before completion. I almost never get to play, so I was bummed.
 


Grendel_Khan

Adventurer
In high school I was very promiscuous with GURPS. Used it to try out all kinds of ill-advised or shortsighted campaigns that were essentially one- or two-night stands. That's one of the things I loved about it, at the time--you could gamify whatever comic (Hard-Boiled) or movie franchise (Aliens) you were currently obsessed with. None of these campaigns set in established settings worked for me, though. I'd lose interest after a session or two. The definition of failed campaigns.

What's interesting to me is seeing how well some of the more recent games capture the tone and themes of established settings without making you feel like the world is bounded by those movies/books/comics, or like you're an extra in some NPC's grand story. The One Ring and the Alien RPGs, for example, do a great job of that. Compare those to MERP or the first, little-known and less-played Aliens-set RPG, and I think you see how far game design has come. If those games had been out when I was a compulsively-GM-ing teen I might have still dropped them quickly, but I have a feeling those campaigns would have lasted at least a few more sessions.
 

Marc_C

Solo Role Playing
Curse of Strand 5e. The DM tried really hard. He had props and cool models and a perfect Eastern Europe accent. We just didn't buy into it. We stopped after two sessions.
 

Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
My best campaign ever was a supers game using HERO set in the Space:1889 world + other appropriate sources, circa 1900. I ran that for 3 years.

Many years later, I tried to run an updated version of the campaign in a different city for a different group. I used M&M 2nd because it was closest to that group’s system preferences. It was a flop for many reasons- I made mistakes, players didn’t grasp the setting, the system itself had some unpopular mechanics. It only made a half dozen sessions or so.
 

This happened very recently actually. In fact is kinda still in the process of happening.

I'm running Conan 2d20 for a few friends of mine on the opposite coast. We all gave it a look and liked what we saw. The problems are all on my end.

-It's a brand new system for everyone involved. And it's kinda fiddly and weird in places. Which I could work with except...
-Almost all of my experience in running anything is D&D, so everything is new.
-All of that experience is from at least four years ago, most of it much, much farther back, so I'm extremely rusty.
-I have practically no experience with running games online.

All of that together makes a pretty stressful situation for me. Though we're two sessions in, and everyone else seems to be having fun. I could keep it going, except for the one big one looming over everything...I start a new job Monday, which is when we played, which is throwing everything off as far as group availability. We'll see if we can work it out, but I'm not super confident. If I do something like this in the future, I might start with a system I'm more familiar with like D&D, or something much, much simpler, like Vaesen perhaps. And maybe get some practice running for my home group. It was just the combination of all those factors, all at once, that was just anxiety-inducing.
 

Reynard

Legend
This happened very recently actually. In fact is kinda still in the process of happening.

I'm running Conan 2d20 for a few friends of mine on the opposite coast. We all gave it a look and liked what we saw. The problems are all on my end.

-It's a brand new system for everyone involved. And it's kinda fiddly and weird in places. Which I could work with except...
-Almost all of my experience in running anything is D&D, so everything is new.
-All of that experience is from at least four years ago, most of it much, much farther back, so I'm extremely rusty.
-I have practically no experience with running games online.

All of that together makes a pretty stressful situation for me. Though we're two sessions in, and everyone else seems to be having fun. I could keep it going, except for the one big one looming over everything...I start a new job Monday, which is when we played, which is throwing everything off as far as group availability. We'll see if we can work it out, but I'm not super confident. If I do something like this in the future, I might start with a system I'm more familiar with like D&D, or something much, much simpler, like Vaesen perhaps. And maybe get some practice running for my home group. It was just the combination of all those factors, all at once, that was just anxiety-inducing.
That sucks. Sorry. One piece of general advice: when learning to run a game that is totally new, ease in. You don't have to allow all options or try and engage every sub system right off the bat. 2d20 is a great game, but Conan is probably the crunchiest iteration. Maybe run a short John Carter game first to get a handle on the core mechanics, then try Conan? Modiphius' quickstart guides are really good and free so it shouldn't cost you anything.

Good luck!
 

Grendel_Khan

Adventurer
That sucks. Sorry. One piece of general advice: when learning to run a game that is totally new, ease in. You don't have to allow all options or try and engage every sub system right off the bat. 2d20 is a great game, but Conan is probably the crunchiest iteration. Maybe run a short John Carter game first to get a handle on the core mechanics, then try Conan? Modiphius' quickstart guides are really good and free so it shouldn't cost you anything.

Good luck!
@Einar Stormcrow Only thing I'd add to @Reynard 's excellent advice is to keep in mind that, at its heart, 2d20 is designed to be very flexible, especially in service of pulpy settings like Conan and John Carter. So maybe discuss with everyone that it's ok to not worry about strict rules-as-written stuff. Hell, you can burn a point of Fortune to "introduce a fact or add a detail to the current scene." It's practically begging you to not sweat the details.
 

Ath-kethin

Elder Thing
Dunno if it counts as a failed campaign, but I was running an adventure in a Basic D&D game wherein the goal was to find an Apparatus of Kwalish. I decided fairly quickly that the module itself was not ideal for accomplishing this goal and just told the group at the start of the next session that they'd searched that temple top to bottom and found only a journal entry that led them to an ancient temple in the middle of nowhere (which conveniently was the site of the adventure I'd decided to run instead).

Then we decided as a group to take a side trek and play a a bit of Dungeon Crawl Classics, and that's been so enjoyable/popular that we've found little enthusiasm for resuming the search for the Apparatus.
 

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