What campaigns have you started that didn't work out (and not for bait & switch-issues)

Ulfgeir

Explorer
I started the planning for a campaign in Daring Comics rpg well before the 2016 US presidential election, and some of the choices I made, unfortunately did not work out that well for different reasons, which I will explain later.

The choices I made was the following:
  • The characters would be starting characters, and since everyone uses New York, I settled for Miami.
  • The team would operate as vigilantes, and not have official support.
  • I made it so that super-heroes were relatively rare, and the previous team in Miami were not around. (1)
  • I made Miami super corrupt, and full of drug-smugglers and different gangs. Think Miami Vice + The Shield.
  • Lots of racial/ethnic tensions.
  • I envisioned that Trump won the 2016 presidential election, and that that would lead to lots of international conflicts and internal ones.. (2) So most other heroes were buzy either protecting Washington or serving in foreign conflicts (of which there was a number). This meant that no outside heroes would come down and fix the situation in Miami.

Now for explanations (and problems):
1: in the previous team, there had been problems, as he leader (a very powerful blaster), and his second-in command (a guy in power-armour) was corrupt, and did not care if they commited lots of collateral damage. A white-supremacy group performed a terrorist action, and the previous team tracked them down to a base in an old castle in part of Eastern Europe. In the showdown that happened there, the most idealistic person in the group (Red Gazelle), a speedster with near Wolverine-levels of regenerative powers got in the way of the attacks by the leader and his second-in command. She died from this, and the groups gadgeteer got injured and is now in a wheelchair. When the group came home, the gadgeteer, the Brick, and his wife who was doing archery accused the other two of doing it intentionally. So the group split apart. (they did not get to retrieve Red Gazelle's body, which is important...)

Later, the former leader and his second-in command would go in when a young supers driven to end of his sanity by being falsely accused of a crime, took the persons working in the Crime-lab hostages. Half of the persons there, and the young supers died in that battle. Those two were now hunted by the police. Someone put enough explosives in the leaders car, to vaporize him, and he guys in the power-armour was found in a motel-room with underage girls. He is now in solitary confinement for life. The Archer is retired as she got pregnant, and her husband is missing in action. The gadgeteer is out of the hero-business, and now works for a shady corporation that has a public image that they are the best thing since sliced bread and that they are building a better tomorrow. Someone has started to take control of all the criminal elements in the city. This someone is Red Gazelle, who has come back as a vampires (and she still has her powers). The castle was a prison for an ancient vampire lord, who found her when her regenerative powers had kicked in enough so that she was alive again. She is now a complete villainess, and is very ruthless, but operates in the shadows). She was the one that took care of her killers.

2: I did not expect some of the egregious stuff that has happened since he took office, The problems with this choice is that some things work MUCH better as fiction than reality. Same with having hackers in fiction is fine, but when you get things like Stuxnet and ransomware in real life, not so fine. That is all I will say about politics.

3: Super-hero games are by default REACTIVE. The heroes wait for the villains to do things...


So what campaigns did you start that didn't work out and why?
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
So what campaigns did you start that didn't work out and why?
I have, thank goodness, never had (or been in) a campaign that failed for rules or campaign design issues.

Once, I played in a game that ran for some time, but ultimately failed when the GM apparently could not take the fact that folks noticed his personal thoughtlessness.

The rest of the time... we have just basic issues of getting modern adults who don't live next door to each other together on a regular schedule for any length of time. Scheduling is just such a pain.
 

Nagol

Unimportant
Dozens, at least.

A list of reasons off the top of my head:
  • intra-player discord
  • change is real-life situation for myself or key players
  • lack of my enthusiasm or time competition
  • lack of player enthusiasm or attention/time slot competition
  • TPKs (I invariably roll in the open and don't pull punches; some systems are more forgiving than others)
  • miscommunication about campaign themes or style
  • disgust with the rule set that looked OK on paper, but played poorly
  • longer term creative block
 
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I once ran a horror campaign that was too stressful for the players, so they all quit. To be fair, i did say it was going to be like "Drowning in their own blood," before we started the campaign.
 

monsmord

Explorer
I built a world and a significantly extended ruleset for D&D 1e (this was a few years before 2e) with new playable races and classes, all that. The first adventure was to give each character a special magic item tailored to them, carefully hidden in a room off a deep well (fifty feet below the lip and not visible from the top), and that well was at the center of a maze. They got to the center refusing to take any of the interesting bait left, saw the well, and immediately decided to climb down for reasons never fully explained. Thus armed, they left the way they came, never exploring 80% of the complex.

Outside they came upon a "royal honeymoon wagon" that was on its way from one kingdom to another, escorted by representatives from two other kingdoms, all part of a peace pact. The wagon was to be attacked by another force and the players help defend it, and the campaign was to be about how this other power was trying to destabilize the whole region and gain control. But upon seeing the wagon, and without asking anything about it, my players attacked it themselves, killing everyone, just to see what these cool new magic items could do.

I've never been a good DM, least of all in the summer after high school. In retrospect the whole thing was insipid, typical cartoonish high school fare, but a better DM might have been able to control it, salvage it, spin it, something. Not me, though. A couple hundred hours hand-writing manuals in notebook paper, drawing and painting maps, etc., and these chuckleheads didn't want to "play right." I burned it down, never DM'd them again. The dumbest thing on my part may have been expecting otherwise - I had played with these guys for a while, and should have seen all it coming.

It became a running joke until I finally abandoned the group (embarrassingly late in life) because IRL most remained some degree of irredeemable a-hole.
 

Ralif Redhammer

Adventurer
The two that come to mind:

In 2e, I tried to do an Underdark campaign, but we were all teenagers and our interests just wandered elsewhere.

My first 5e campaign was punishingly difficult (totally my fault). But also I was trying to do an intrigue, high society campaign with a bunch of players with one setting: murderhobo.
 

John Dallman

Explorer
An In Nomine campaign where I didn't have a good enough handle on where adventures would come from and how the characters would get involved with them. IN is kind of demanding on that front, and I hadn't realised, being too concerned with the cosmology and not enough with the flow of events.
 

pogre

Adventurer
Most of my campaign fails have come from the group not embracing the rules set. This happened with WFRP 3e and Basic Fantasy Roleplaying Game - players just did not enjoy the rules.
 

Blue

Orcus on a bad hair day
Hmm, campaigns that didn't finish.

I've been in a fair share of campaigns that petered out due to real life. Or back in college due to summer starting.

The second highest number would be the DM got burned out.

I was recently in a highly narrative game with homebrew rules that the DM cancelled after a few months as it wasn't jelling for the group. But he cancelled it for something else that's about to start and I think we're all excited for.

I was in an online 4e game where the characters reached a level (mid-paragon) where combats would take over a full session each. (Though to be told, we had one player who was very slow with chosing their character's powers and we would often be down one player or another and the DM would have someone run their character and it always took a bit to get up to speed on their abilities, plus we were using MapTools that had no mechanical support.) We tried to change to 5e but several people were adamant that we keep our current characters, and trying to work out those existing high level end-of-4e-lots-of-splatbook characters in the new 5e system just wasn't working for some, like the shifter runepriest.

I left a game because of issues with the DM's style, and a few months later everyone else in the group did the same all together so the game died. (Same issue just writ larger.)

Oh, and had a campaign end due to TPK.

On the other hand, I've been in and run many campaigns that came to a conclusion successfully.
 

Retreater

Adventurer
This is a pretty good exercise to reflect back on my past campaigns.
First, I will say that the vast majority of my campaigns did not play out to their narrative/planned conclusions. Sometimes those goals were too lofty ("reach 20th level"), or sometimes simple ("let's finish this adventure module.") In 30+ years of GMing, I think I've had maybe three campaigns that reached a satisfying end.
Here are the most common reasons for premature campaign endings:
  • TPKs. I'm just bad at judging difficulty, I guess. One bad battle, and that's it for the campaign.
  • Too much intrigue. Layers of labyrinthine plots, high level challenges in the background - these are all frustrating to players.
  • Loss of players. Jobs, schedules, interest levels, etc., all take away players. When the quorum can no longer meet or when the loss is so devastating (such as a real world player/spouse death) it's hard to continue the campaign.
  • People don't like the rules system. I am pretty open to trying new systems and seeing how they work. Some of my players, not so much.
 

Dannyalcatraz

Moderator
Staff member
I had one Mutants & Masterminds campaign that failed for a few reasons, one of the key ones being the way the game handled iterative attacks- the speedster and the guy with the gun didn’t like it.

I had a few that simply fizzled due to disinterest.

And personally, I think I lost a little of my mojo.
 

Ruin Explorer

Adventurer
I actually don't think I've ever had a full-on superhero game last more than a few sessions, but I think there are two sets of reasons for that.

First off, a lot of supers rules-sets, especially older ones, do not work well with the fiction. It's all very well going for a Silver Age style thing and creating appropriate heroes, on paper, but if the rules make it gritty and brutal, or make stunts and swashbuckling a bad idea, or are just tedious, you're dead in the water. The worst offender, for us, was the FUZION based Champions: The New Era game, wherein a 4 vs 6 supers/villains battle, which took under three minutes of in-game time took 5+ hours to actually run (Marvel FASERIP would have done it in about 45 minutes, tops), because of the sheer complexity of the systems, analysis paralysis and multiple actions. So after the players had all made great PCs with cool backstories, we foreswore that system forever by mutual agreement.

Second off, my experience is that my players love playing supers for a session or three, but after that, they are satiated with the concept and there's often some "That was cool but when are we going to play [insert usual RPG] again?". Such was the fate of the otherwise-excellent MSHAG - the card-based Marvel Superheroes Action Game. Three great sessions but I think the lack of real advancement or loot made people feel less attached. And I think, again, a lot of supers systems have XP/advancement that feels very slow compared to stuff like D&D, which is fine but contributes to this.

There have been a lot of unfinished campaigns in many systems over the years but that's usually due to people not being able to make the time and us switching games instead of officially ending the campaign and then never going back.
 

aramis erak

Explorer
Space Gypsies in Traveller... Fail point? Let's see, Players: B¹, C, K, S, B²; C&K broke up 3 weeks in, K left so C could stay. C then was Dating B¹ for a bit. S was always late due to work, B¹ got rescheduled to work on that night, B² moved to middle of nowhere for work, and C both broke up with B¹ and didn't want to be there alone with just me; she didn't drive, so that would have been about an hour 'til S got there.
 

Shiroiken

Adventurer
I've had, and seen as a player, many campaigns fail to work out for various reasons. The funniest/sadist one I was a player in ended before the end of the first session. There were 2 power-gamers in the group, and they competed aggressively against each other all the time. To attempt to head this off in a 3E D&D game, the DM had everyone roll in secret, with only him knowing the results, so that no one would know how powerful the other characters were. During the first session, one of the power-gamers was annoyed at how much better the other one was doing, and snuck a peek at his sheet while getting up for a drink. He pitched an epic fit, called the DM a cheater and helping out the other guy, because he'd rolled 18 twice, and got a third with a 17 and a racial bonus. It's important to note that I only game with 1 player from the group anymore (neither power gamer or DM).


My own epic failure of a campaign was so bad it ended friendships. There were 3 players who were very good friends, and they tended to stick together whenever there was tension in the group (two of these were from the group above). The campaign's focus was on a sword that had the spirit of a demon trapped within it, which bonded to a character. The demon could influence the bonded character, but PC caliber characters could resist most of the effects. Before the character could die, they had to pass the sword off to a new bearer. They knew that if the sword ever fell into the hands of an evil person or a weak person, it would take them over and bring forth a prophesied apocalypse, so they kept transferring it among the PCs.

The goal of the campaign was to find a way to kill the demon within the sword, and they eventually learned that 5 NPCs representing the 5 Elements (normal four plus Void) would need to be brought together to do it. The first NPC, however, was immediately disliked by most of the group, including 2 of the 3 players mentioned (the 3rd was the bonded character). Because of this dislike, and betrayal and treachery being a common aspect in the game, the distrusting players began investigating the NPC, including using divination magic. They discovered that she planned to release the demon during the ritual... but their questions never asked why.

They informed the bonded character of their discovery, who was now in a romantic relationship with the NPC. The bonded character immediately went to talk with the NPC alone, because he knew that at this point everyone else would be hostile, and from everything he'd seen, he didn't believe it was true. She admitted it was true, but only because the demon had to be freed before it could be slain. She decided to avoid the party until the group had gathered the other four NPCs, because she didn't want to create animosity. When the bonded character returned and explained everything, they didn't believe any of it, convinced she had an ulterior motive. The discussions became heated, which continued even away from the session since the 3 got together regularly.

They almost came to blows over it, and I simply called the campaign over in an attempt to smooth things over. I didn't want to continue discussing it, but was eventually pressed on the issue. I admitted that yes, the demon did need to be freed to kill it, and yes there was a traitor among the 5 NPCs... but it wasn't the one they'd met (remember, they'd only gotten to ONE of the five NPCs at this point). The 4th NPC was going to turn against the party once it was freed in order to serve the demon, but that was WAY in the future of the campaign. Instead of accepting this, both sides assumed they were correct (the distrustful ones thought I lied to keep the peace, which TBH, I would have done) and the friendships died. They'd still game together, but as no one was willing to back down, they were never close again. They no longer game together, but it's still a sore topic for all three, even though this took place over a decade ago.
 

werecorpse

Explorer
Apart from life issues the main reasons for a campaign fizzling have been either it was too sandbox and the players didn’t know what they were meant to do, so got confused about what, if any, story they were participating in or too railroad and the players didn’t care about why they were being made to do what they did.

More the former than the latter.

The balance is important - & swinging back and forth from one to the other isn’t the solution imo.
 

RobShanti

Explorer
World of Darkness's Wraith the Oblivion warned, in the back of the book, about the "Wraith curse." I didn't believe it....until I lived it. I have never had a Wraith campaign that lasted more than a few sessions, and not for lack of trying. I loved Wraith -- it was my favorite of the WOD games. I started Wraith campaigns whenever I had a willing audience. And I've run some good one-shots or two-shots in Wraith. But the long campaign never worked, because of the "Wraith curse." I think the game does touch on some real visceral issues for people. It's hard to psychologically commit to a game about death.

One campaign in which I was actually a player, not the GM, was about a group of people who died on an airplane. After our first session, an actual airplane crash happened and was broadcast all over the news. We didn't have the heart to continue the game.

In another game I was running, we were off to a good start. The PCs started out alive, but eventually, one-by-one, died, and had to deal with the transition between their former lives and the new phase of their existence. One player lost a relative after about our sixth game or so, and didn't have the heart to continue playing, so the game ended.

Heed ye the "Wraith curse." It is real.
 

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