Poor DM/ Game Advice

jgsugden

Adventurer
D&D is an RPG. Role playing game. Characters play a role in a story.

When the story has run to completion, you have several choices - a sequel story that uses the same characters, starting a new story that is entirely different, using a new story but have it cross over with the old story characters, etc...

My preference, as a DM, is to plan a 'Babylon 5' campaign, as I call it. Babylon 5 is a classic Scifi show that essentially pioneered the American modern serial drama that broke from standalone episodes that did not impact each other. Instead, the design is that each episode can stand alone, but most episodes also play int continuing storylines that themselves contribute to a greater story. In my games, I am for each session to have a climax, for each session to contribute to longer storylines,and for several of these longer storylines to time together into 1, 2 or 3 overarching storylines that will culminate in climaxes around 15th, 17th and 20th levels.

The trick is writing these story lines loosely enough that players can impact them earlier, or that they might be allowed to come to a dark fruition if the PCs ignore them. That takes a while to figure out.

Regardless, if you use this style, the game is going to naturally want to flow from a start at low levels to a completion in the highest levels. If you listen to Critical Role, you'll see that Matt Mercer uses this same style of game to keep players interested in their characters for an entire campaign length.
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
So I'm in an odd place, simply because we let a finished campaign open back up. And founder.

We finished a campaign. 1-7, ran about 2 years. Very satisfying conclusion. People liked their characters a lot. One player near the end had an important competing commitment for our regular game night so we started alternating that main campaign and a filler game.

After the campaign ended, the DM started a new campaign. But it started at 3rd and several players grumbled some that they wanted to play higher levels.

One player asked if he could run a one shot for the characters of the finished campaign. It turned into several adventures, but had a rather different feel. He only wanted to run a bit, he'd much rather run. During that time he was free with XP and the group just hit 9th.

So ... the original DM has gotten it in his head that we wanted to run those characters. He won't run two campaigns at once so he put the new campaign on permanent hiatus, and took back up the continuing adventures of the first group. Which had completed the campaign arcs (the Dragon War and the refounding of the lost kingdom) that had interested them.

One player didn't want to continue her character, so she was making another. And then others started wanting to try new ones. And then it got to be most of the group, and a few hold-outs no longer wanted to play their old character transplanted into a new group. So at the end, there's only one original character plus one occasional "guest star" original character (a player who only occasionally can make it).

So now we have this campaign, that's not the growth of the current crop of characters, but we have to deal with the fallout. Starting 9th. Okay, not bad. But we closed down a campaign that was going well with fun characters to do it simply because it got in people's heads to continue, but we're not really continuing either.

It feels unnecessary - I much would have continued the existing new campaign then resurrect a satisfyingly finished campaign, but not really.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
So I'm in an odd place, simply because we let a finished campaign open back up. And founder.

We finished a campaign. 1-7, ran about 2 years. Very satisfying conclusion. People liked their characters a lot. One player near the end had an important competing commitment for our regular game night so we started alternating that main campaign and a filler game.

After the campaign ended, the DM started a new campaign. But it started at 3rd and several players grumbled some that they wanted to play higher levels.

One player asked if he could run a one shot for the characters of the finished campaign. It turned into several adventures, but had a rather different feel. He only wanted to run a bit, he'd much rather run. During that time he was free with XP and the group just hit 9th.

So ... the original DM has gotten it in his head that we wanted to run those characters. He won't run two campaigns at once so he put the new campaign on permanent hiatus, and took back up the continuing adventures of the first group. Which had completed the campaign arcs (the Dragon War and the refounding of the lost kingdom) that had interested them.

One player didn't want to continue her character, so she was making another. And then others started wanting to try new ones. And then it got to be most of the group, and a few hold-outs no longer wanted to play their old character transplanted into a new group. So at the end, there's only one original character plus one occasional "guest star" original character (a player who only occasionally can make it).

So now we have this campaign, that's not the growth of the current crop of characters, but we have to deal with the fallout. Starting 9th. Okay, not bad. But we closed down a campaign that was going well with fun characters to do it simply because it got in people's heads to continue, but we're not really continuing either.

It feels unnecessary - I much would have continued the existing new campaign then resurrect a satisfyingly finished campaign, but not really.
Sounds more like an issue with your DMs than the campaign itself.

On the other hand ... long term campaigns aren't everybody's cup of tea. Which is fine, I always tell players that if they want to swap out new PCs they just need to let me know so we can try to work it into the narrative. I think I've had 2, maybe 3 people take me up on this over the years (I've been doing this a long time). PCs are more likely to die than fade out.

Not that either one of our experiences is necessarily indicative of a broader trend, just an observation.
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
Sounds more like an issue with your DMs than the campaign itself.

On the other hand ... long term campaigns aren't everybody's cup of tea. Which is fine, I always tell players that if they want to swap out new PCs they just need to let me know so we can try to work it into the narrative. I think I've had 2, maybe 3 people take me up on this over the years (I've been doing this a long time). PCs are more likely to die than fade out.

Not that either one of our experiences is necessarily indicative of a broader trend, just an observation.
We're fine with long term campaigns. This one ran for over 2 years. The last three campaigns I ran (various systems) were 4.5, 7, and 5 years long. In the most recent one I had a play swap out their character 3 times - while no one else did - because he wanted to try different things. Neither of those is a factor in the poor fit the resurrected campaign left us.

This feels like it was raised as undead, mostly because of grumbling from some players that they wanted to play higher levels than the new campaign. The DM liked the new campaign more. With one exception it doesn't look like the players wanted to continue the old campaign because they made new characters. It's just a cluster.

Sure, this isn't a standard experience. Just discussing how forcing a campaign to go on past a satisfying conclusion can be significantly worse than just starting a new campaign at high level.
 

merwins

Explorer
Setting aside game killers that are uncontrollable, what is it that stops games at 5th level?
What is causing groups to retire at 12th? etc
I went back and read the OP. This was the main question.

There's probably a LOT of reasons. I'll toss out a few in sketch-mode, some of which may have already been covered. Keep in mind I'm bouncing between GM and player mindsets.

1) There's a lot of shiny stuff out there. New adventures, new splatbooks, new systems. If you're stuck in one campaign, you don't get to try them. And a lot of the new stuff is for lower levels.
2) There's a lot of shiny stuff slipping through your hands. Different personalities you want to try, different classes you want to experiment with. If you're a player in a campaign, you have to "settle" for the character you've got.
3) There's a lot of competition for your attention outside of gaming (TV, RL, shiny stuff). Campaigns require a little bit of time to plan out, at some point. Less time than learning a new system, but time, nonetheless. Playing a game is far less of an investment than GM-ing.
4) Like any other invested activity, campaigns require discipline. I don't mean to say that a GM who can't maintain a campaign is undisciplined, but then again, based on my own experience in the past, I do. It's easy to think that the grass is greener elsewhere.
5) Sometimes you have to push through a scenario you don't like to get through one that feels worthwhile. Or you have to find the good parts of every session.
 

Jd Smith1

Explorer
In my personal experience, Real Life gets in the way of every campaign eventually.
I've been running much the same group for 17 years (in a few weeks, 18). IME life only gets in the way if you let it. One of my players was a bachelor when he started with me, and a marriage and four kids later, he still makes every game every week (holidays excepted, of course).
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
Out of curiosity (and this is not a criticism), what happens when the campaign isn't designed?

If it's just, you know, a series of events that the adventurers do, with no particular connected plot, no BBEG. The story just being whatever the party ends up doing?
I don't think that's a campaign. Not in an elitist point of view, but there's a continuity to a campaign that purely episodic adventures don't seem to give. It does have the same characters, but if there's nothing recurring, no past, no foreshadowing, no connection, then it's a bunch of adventures, not a campaign. Which there's nothing wrong with - this isn't judging style. A campaign has a history that informs the present and future at the least, and common has thematic and meta elements as well.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
You sure about that? I mean ... I'm not sure I qualify as sentient part first thing in the morning before I get some caffeine. :sleep:
Me neither, but as I'm not usually trying to either play or DM at that time it's all good. :)
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I agree, except for the last sentence. I think people can care about what happens when the campaign is taken as a whole, and still not design it from the beginning.

In other words, sometimes you just get a series of unconnected modules, and it's a lot like life; you know, no real plot other than what you make of it. Kind of the old school style of play.

But sometimes, there is an emergent theme that comes through, driven by the players through the interaction with the campaign setting the micro choices of the DM.
Or, and I've had this happen myself, while looking back and-or reading the game logs later a pattern suddenly emerges that nobody realized was there - and I-as-DM can mine that pattern and then say "yep, planned that all along!" with my fingers crossed firmly behind my back as absolutely no planning went into it at all! :)
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I don't think that's a campaign. Not in an elitist point of view, but there's a continuity to a campaign that purely episodic adventures don't seem to give. It does have the same characters, but if there's nothing recurring, no past, no foreshadowing, no connection, then it's a bunch of adventures, not a campaign. Which there's nothing wrong with - this isn't judging style. A campaign has a history that informs the present and future at the least, and common has thematic and meta elements as well.
I disagree a bit with your definition of a campaign.

For me, if it's the same characters (or same party) under the same DM in the same consistent setting, it's a campaign; and I'm not even completely married to the "same characters" part of that and could maybe be talked out of it. Doesn't matter if what they do adventure-wise is completely episodic or disconnected in the fiction.

Consider a sports team. They play x number of discrete games (episodic adventures) during a season (campaign) but it's still the same identifyable team (party) all the way through even if some of the individual players (characters) change out or get traded or whatever.
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
I disagree a bit with your definition of a campaign.

For me, if it's the same characters (or same party) under the same DM in the same consistent setting, it's a campaign; and I'm not even completely married to the "same characters" part of that and could maybe be talked out of it. Doesn't matter if what they do adventure-wise is completely episodic or disconnected in the fiction.
From the DMG (pg 25)

CREATING A CAMPAIGN
The world you create is the stage for the adventures you set in it. You don't have to give more thought to it than that. You can run adventures in an episodic format, with the characters as the only common element, and also weave themes throughout those adventures to build a greater saga of the characters' achievements in the world.
This looks like you need a setting, common characters, and recurring themes even if episodic.

But later it contradicts itself, under Continuing or Episodic Campaigns (pg 36), where each adventure can be completely self-contained without any reference back or forward, fitting your definition well.

I see where you are coming from, and the DMG does back you up. To me it doesn't feel like a campaign if there isn't something tying it together, but that may just be me. Your definition is good.
 

Shiroiken

Adventurer
Out of curiosity (and this is not a criticism), what happens when the campaign isn't designed?

If it's just, you know, a series of events that the adventurers do, with no particular connected plot, no BBEG. The story just being whatever the party ends up doing?
Nothing wrong with this at all. As you probably know, most early D&D and AD&D games were done this way (I ran quite a few that way myself). However, the OP was referring to the advice of ending a campaign after finishing its story, implying that there is one to begin with. If there isn't a planned story, then the campaign just continues until life gets in the way or the players/DM decide they want to do something else.
 

lowkey13

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
I don't think that's a campaign. Not in an elitist point of view, but there's a continuity to a campaign that purely episodic adventures don't seem to give. It does have the same characters, but if there's nothing recurring, no past, no foreshadowing, no connection, then it's a bunch of adventures, not a campaign. Which there's nothing wrong with - this isn't judging style. A campaign has a history that informs the present and future at the least, and common has thematic and meta elements as well.
So you added this in a later post -

But later it contradicts itself, under Continuing or Episodic Campaigns (pg 36), where each adventure can be completely self-contained without any reference back or forward, fitting your definition well.

I see where you are coming from, and the DMG does back you up. To me it doesn't feel like a campaign if there isn't something tying it together, but that may just be me. Your definition is good.
So I think part of the issue is the different idea of what a campaign is. The concept that you have used (and that you first quote from 5e) is very different from the original conception of a campaign; if you look to the 1e DMG, you will see Gygax expound at length upon the concept of the "ongoing campaign" (which he refers to at times in a personal capacity as his Greyhawk campaign); for him, and for some other early players, a campaign was not a single, zero-to-hero, set piece with a big bad at the end, similar to a miniseries on television.

Instead, it was a living world run by one (or more than one) DMs, that various PCs would come into and leave at different times; a concept different than, say, some other DM's campaign. Players (and their PCs) might go from one campaign to another, and players might run different PCs over a course of years (or even decades) within that campaign.

This is what I was curious about; it's a very different style of play in many ways. I appreciated what @Umbran wrote, but I don't think he fully understood what I was saying (plus, I don't think we are really disagreeing, not to mention he was missing the whole Repo Man aspect of what I was saying ...). That said, he did have an excellent analogy earlier about free jazz. I think he started to miss it when he used the written modules as an example in his second post.

So when people discuss meta-plots and ultimate villains and arcs and so on, a lot of the time I wonder about the amount of DM scripting that is going on (or, for that matter, the use of the AP). One of the advantages of the older conception of a campaign is that themes only happened through emergent play; the interaction of players and the DM over time, intermediated via die roll and player actions. There is no overriding big bad, or maybe the players end up creating one through their own goals and actions.

Then again, the disadvantage can seem clear- without engaged players (and time), it can just be a random set of encounters. There is no there, there. I would contrast that with the more intentional or scripted campaign (the "AP" model) which is can be more engaging, and more heroic, but always runs the danger of being overly scripted and forcing the players into a position of running through plot points (with more or less lee way) as opposed to creating the plot themselves.

I don't have much of a view on this; to be honest, as my time constraints increase, I am loathe to have a completely free-world, free range campaign.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
I don't think that's a campaign. Not in an elitist point of view, but there's a continuity to a campaign that purely episodic adventures don't seem to give.
So... Original Star Trek and ST: TNG would not be campaigns, in your mind?
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
So... Original Star Trek and ST: TNG would not be campaigns, in your mind?
So hard to make the analogy work because there are many differences between a season of a show and an RPG, even when they are both episodic or serial/continuing. I'm picturing if what we watched was the results of an RPG to try to bridge that.

ST:TNG has recurring themes and villains over time, such as Q. A history that informs future episodes. If that had come out of an RPG I'd call it a campaign, even if there are a good number of episodic sessions.

The original series wouldn't be a campaign. It doesn't even matter what order the episodes are being aired in, it's pretty much convention slots with the same pre-gens. That's not to say it wouldn't be a lot of fun - it would be a blast - but there's no progression, and with very few exceptions no history that builds on itself. Now, the original series movies would be a different deal - that could definitely be a campaign.
 

jasper

Rotten DM
A campaign begins when the DM starts designing his world. A campaign ends with the death of the DM. A DM may have many story lines and players during the life time of the campaign. Understand what I am saying?
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest
This looks like you need a setting, common characters, and recurring themes even if episodic.

But later it contradicts itself, under Continuing or Episodic Campaigns (pg 36), where each adventure can be completely self-contained without any reference back or forward, fitting your definition well.

I see where you are coming from, and the DMG does back you up. To me it doesn't feel like a campaign if there isn't something tying it together, but that may just be me. Your definition is good.
Need is really not necessary, as far as recurring themes. It says can. Ultimately, any form of continuity should be fine - continuity of setting/history seems most paramount to me and that wouldn't necessarily mean same world if the campaign involves dimension-hopping. You wouldn't need the same GM, same players, same characters - just a sense that everything is happening within the same narrative continuity and that events of previous parties, run by previous players, and run by previous GMs are part of that setting/campaign's history.

Other people, of course, may define a campaign as an encapsulated story line or theme, with the same players/PCs (with some allowance for attrition/replacement), same GM, etc.

"Campaign" really is a very flexible term.
 

merwins

Explorer
A campaign begins when the DM starts designing his world. A campaign ends with the death of the DM. A DM may have many story lines and players during the life time of the campaign. Understand what I am saying?
I have a nebulous idea of what you're trying to say, because you've used the word you're trying to define as a part of it's definition.

Or maybe this is just a way to justify proactively beating your DM to death for creating a horrible campaign in which multiple stories and players are brutalized.

If I switch game systems, am I still running the same campaign? I'm not talking 1E>5E, but even 3E>TWERPS or anything in between.

If I run a series of connected worlds or adventures and don't tell my players they're connected, can I reasonably say that I'm running a campaign, but my players aren't playing in a campaign?

As far as ST: TNG and ST: TOS go... as a GM, I'd consider them both to be part of the same campaign. Same shared world, just different time periods. World has a life of it's own. The overriding philosophy, social structures and moral guidance (prime directive) would be recurring themes that connected everything together. Yeah, go ahead and toss in Enterprise and DS9 while you're at it. Each character's/player's perspective of the campaign will be different, but that doesn't change the fact that it's all one campaign. Why else would be people care about "continuity"?
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
Ultimately, any form of continuity should be fine - continuity of setting/history seems most paramount to me and that wouldn't necessarily mean same world if the campaign involves dimension-hopping. You wouldn't need the same GM, same players, same characters - just a sense that everything is happening within the same narrative continuity and that events of previous parties, run by previous players, and run by previous GMs are part of that setting/campaign's history.
1. I ran two separate campaigns in the same world, with the second one taking place 80 years after the first one ended. They had very different feels, characters, goals, NPCs, and for the most part geographic area. Just because there was a continuity of history from the first campaign, you cannot convince me, the DM, it was only a single campaign. It wasn't.

2. I am in a game where the DM was previously a player in a homebrew world, and adopted it as his own. As a player in that game, there is no difference if something done in history was written by the DM or done by a PC. We are not playing the same campaign even though we share the same setting.

3. When I was in my teens, our DM ran like 6 days a week, some D&D and some Champions. In both cases it was the same world but multiple groups. We never considered ourselves part of the other campaign. In the superhero there would even be a big yearly crossover event - but it was so special because it was a cross-over and we got to meet all these heroes from other campaigns.

To me "different players, different DM, different characters but a shared continuity" does not make automatically it the same campaign. It could, but does not have to.
 

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