#RPGaDAY Day 14: Which RPG do you prefer for open-ended campaign play?

It’s August and that means that the annual #RPGaDAY ‘question a day’ is here to celebrate “everything cool, memorable and amazing about our hobby.” This year we’ve decided to join in the fun and will be canvassing answers from the ENWorld crew, columnists and friends in the industry to bring you some of our answers. We hope you’ll join in, in the comments section, and share your thoughts with us too… So, without further ado, here’s Day 14 of #RPGaDAY 2017!

#RPGaDAY Question 14: Which RPG do you prefer for open-ended campaign play?

Michael J Tresca: I'm now using D&D 5E for my ten-year-old son's Gamma World hexcrawl game, The Exterior. Despite D&D's hexcrawl roots, there's a surprising lack of rules to support that kind of play -- and by that, I mean mimicking Minecraft's exploration and resource allocation. So I've created a massive Gamma World random event chart from the original rules, created my own crafting/exploration system, we make liberal use of tokens, and it's worked really well. One session is one game day, so it's really easy to play too.

Darryl Mott: Shadowrun. The world is deep and varied enough that you can shift tone with the same group, there’s no “top limit” to character growth through experience, and no matter how awesome the team ends up, it’s a world where there’s still always someone bigger and badder out there.

Angus Abranson: For long running ‘open ended’ campaign plays I prefer systems where ‘in-game’ character progression is reasonably slow. I don’t want a game where my character can go from ‘peasant’ to ‘demi-God’ in a few quick strides if it’s a long haul game. I want my character to get lots of ‘character progression’ – adding elements to his or her backstory, behaviours, relationships, stories they can tell, phobias, injokes, etc – but I don’t want something that will give them quick skill and stat progression. Let them live their lives and grow steadily. I’ve even been in games where we’re “reset” our characters partway through when they were becoming that little bit too powerful. We just dropped a bunch of XP, lost a few abilities and powers we’d picked up along the way, and carried on. I think we actually all decided not to spend XP we gained for a while either unless it was for something that ‘really made sense’ for the characters at the time. As to which specific game… I’m not sure. I think it’s more down to the group and the stories told than a specific game. Certainly some games work better for open-ended play than others, but like all things – the group and story makes or breaks it.

Morrus: All these "which rpg do you prefer for short/long/open ended/early morning/on Tuesdays" questions are really hard to answer. I just don't have a pile of categorised game preferences like that!

Shannon Appelcline (Designers & Dragons; RPGnet): Ars Magica is one of my favorites for open-ended campaign play, but that's not necessarily due to the game itself, but instead due to the style of GMing it suggests: troupe-style roleplay. The idea is that each player has a few different characters to play and that they also take turns being the gamemaster. This creates an ever-changing dynamic where one player's plotlines are enriched by the storylines created by another. It's the ultimate in cooperative storytelling, and it really shines for an "open-ended" campaign.

Stephanie McAlea (Stygian Fox Publishing, The Things We Leave Behind): D&D 5e

Mike Lafferty (BAMF Podcast; Fainting Goat Games): Have you read Ben Robbins’ posts about running a sandbox West Marches style campaign? If I were in (or running) an open-ended campaign, this is how I’d want to do it.

Simon Brake (Stygian Fox): I’ve yet to find a game where this really happened – most games I’ve played in have had a definite campaign framework or story arc. But I’d love to run either an ongoing game of either Unknown Armies, where the player characters are slowly exposed to the Occult Underground, or SLA Industries, where operatives are slowly exposed to The Truth.

Uli Lindner (Space: 1889; Clockwork Publishing): Mostly classical fantasy games with at least some crunch in the rules. I like weirder or rules-light games for one or two session plays, but not for regular campaign play. Currently my favorites in this regard are Splittermond (a German fantasy game) and Pathfinder, but I want to have a look into D&D5 soon.

Federico Sohns (Nibiru RPG): I'd always recommend Nibiru, of course, due to how the PCs grow over time (that is, in a very meaningful and interesting way). With regards to open ended campaigns, I'd always go for games that either have a really rich setting (like Warhammer, either Fantasy or 40k, or games like A Song of Ice and Fire) or games that give great tools for coming up with open-ended campaigns (I really enjoy New World of Darkness in this regard, particularly wanting to mention the celebrated supplement Damnation City, which is plain awesome when it comes to world-building resources).

Simon Burley (Golden Heroes, The Super Hack): It's still Dungeons and Dragons. Make a character with no real idea of where they're going and just keep playing them. My preference is for 1st Edition A,D&D but the principle is the same for just about all iterations. The game unfolds and changes and reveals more options the more you play. It's still the grand-daddy of them all.

Garry Harper (Modiphius Entertainment; The Role Play Haven): A Song of Ice and Fire by Green Ronin.

Ken Spencer (Rocket Age; Why Not Games): Any system calling itself an RPG should be capable of open-ended campaign play. I do not like scripted campaigns with forced story-arcs and plots. Mostly, I present a situation and let the players take it from there. There might be call backs to earlier events, reoccurring friends and foes, that sort of thing, but at its heart RPGs should all be open ended campaigns. If a game does not support this style of play, I have no interest in playing it. Even if, like the Great Pendragon Campaign there is a lot of plot written into the game, I ignore that at my leisure. This might sound odd coming from a game designer, but the game is not what is in the book, the game is at the table. All I do as a writer and publisher is enable that play, I do not create it, I am not in charge of it, and I want you to go places I do not foresee.

Darren Pearce (EN Publishing; Savage Mojo): For open-ended campaign play I’d have to say Savage Worlds, by the way of Suzerain.

Marc Langworthy (Modiphius; Red Scar): There are so many I haven’t tried that I’m sure also deserve a mention here. It depends on setting or system also though. Again, hoping to not come across as biased, but the 2d20 system is great for open-ended campaigns.

Originally created by Dave Chapman (Doctor Who: Adventures in Time & Space; Conspiracy X) #RPGaDAY os now being caretakered by the crew over at RPGBrigade. We hope you’ll join in, in the comments section, and share your thoughts with us too!

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Ars Magica is a good choice for troupe style play, but Traveller can also do the same trick.

Simply create a large spacecraft, and have players design multiple characters at differing tiers of experience and authority to crew it out. The setting is literally universal, so you can travel through any variety of planetary adventure, whilst also having plenty of soap opera style drama or even intrigue on the craft itself.

Jay Verkuilen

Grand Master of Artificial Flowers
For long running campaigns, I can't beat my houseruled-to-heck 2E. I'm still running a game I started in summer 1999, with roots in something I worked out in 1995, albeit with some notable gaps in play due to life circumstances. The game has a lot of planar travel, though it's not Planescape or Spelljammer. It's essentially post-apocalyptic in that the gods are dead (or is it just mostly dead?) and there have been massive changes all throughout. Slowly another group of powers seems to be invading, and the PCs have been wrestling with this off and on the whole time. We've introduced some innovations from later editions, such as attacks of opportunity, but the basic chassis is 2E. I'm not really sure that the game system is the reason though, a lot is the configuration of players (small group) and characters, but the fact that I feel that we all know 2E inside and out helps.


The genre it is emulating has continuous characters that run for decades. The system being universal, point based, and effects based give pretty much unlimited opportunity for growth and expansion of characters.

I've either played in or GMed games that lasted 10 years or more.


Any decent super hero RPG without an excessive metaplot. Supers is the ultimate long term play genre, alternating between serial and episodic and back again and able to veer off into other subgenres when you need a "break" that isn't really a break. These days I prefer M&M 2nd Edition just based on familiarity.

Tony Vargas

You want character advancement - and a genre - that doesn't go for closed story arcs.

D&D, for instance, the fantasy genre tends ultimately towards some sort of ending, each edition tends to have some end-point, too level-limits or apotheosis or something, and advancement can be relatively fast and dramatic '0 to hero.'

Traveller, OTOH, no advancement, and exploring the universe can be open-ended - but your characters just get old and die.

Champions! seems ideal. Characters start realized superheroes and advancement is slow so you can game for years without them falling off any kind of cliff, and the genre tends to endlessly new & even re-booting/repeating story arcs rather than final 'endings.'


Victoria Rules
AD&D 1e with some minor modifications and no x.p. for g.p. can go on every bit as long as you want/need it to and still have legs for more. Chances are you'll run out of stories and plots long before you run out of game.


Marvel Superheroes (FASERIP) for supers and Rolemaster or HARP for fantasy.
I say MSH because it holds a special place in my heart for the years of gaming my childhood friends and I had playing this game. It was a campaign that happened over 4 or 5 years. There were some great times.
I say Rolemaster or HARP for fantasy because I have run several long term campaigns in those systems since 1990.

Traveller, OTOH, no advancement, and exploring the universe can be open-ended - but your characters just get old and die.
Common misconception. Traveller has a mass of advancement to be had on a personal level, and characters do not just get old and die. Characters advance economically through the accumulation of Credits. With Credits characters can upgrade their ships, their skills, their political contacts and their available technology. With technology characters can implant new skills, enhance characteristics and prolong their life, indefinitely.

Traveller has plenty of long term advancements to keep players engaged. An artificial 'experience system' is totally superfluous to the game's structure.

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