The Ghosts of Campaigns Past
I started looking back over campaigns that I have run, or attempted to run, since I got back into gaming in “recent” years. I was interested to see how many actually ended, and how many just kind of faded away. I really liked the advice given in Odyssey about making sure that even when you have to end a game for “real life” reasons, that you do so on an up note. I haven’t always done that, so let’s look at the triumphs and despair (hey, I’m about to run Edge of the Empire again).
I’m only going back to about 2002, because I had a bit of a gap from my early days of playing.
Star*Drive (Alternity): Seriously loved the system and the setting, and I really wanted to get back into roleplaying in general, and into this game specifically. But this game never got past the character creation stage. It was an all around fail, and not much I could have changed. Still wish I could have gotten some play time with this system.
Dungeons and Dragons 3.0 Forgotten Realms Mistledale Campaign (Transitioned to 3.5): This one lasted years, the group grew from 3 to 7 players, went on a brief hiatus, and we all got back together for one big wrap up session that tied up most of the loose ends of the campaign, with the player characters topped out at about 13th level. We’ll call that one a win.
Dungeons and Dragons 3.5 Forgotten Realms Thistledale Campaign : This one didn’t last as long as the first game, but we did manage to get some nice closure with the party taking on a psychotic priest of Cyric that liked to bathe in Leira’s blood and fight naked. With the 4th edition Realms looming, I didn’t feel much like sticking around in the setting, but we had a nice exit. The group ended up topping out at 7th level. We’ll call this one a win as well.
Pathfinder Beta Rules Rise of the Runelords Campaign: We had a lot of fun with this one. I had a bit more of a headache than I though converting it to the changing Beta rules and trying to meaningfully test the rules as well. When the party TPK’d at 4th level in the Skinsaw Murders, due to some colossally bad player decision making, we ended the game because I was getting burned out on running and converting games. We’ll call this one a tie, since, well, a TPK is a kind of closure, I guess.
Star Wars Saga Edition Legacy Era Campaign: I really wanted to keep the Rise of the Runelords group together, so I jumped into getting this campaign started before I was ready. I had players that weren’t that keep on d20 games, or Star Wars in general, and I didn’t have a firm grasp of the game I wanted to run. The game crashed and burned after one session, totally my fault. This is a loss in the record books.
Pathfinder Council of Thieves Campaign: This one was fun. For a while. The roleplaying was good. There was a brief pause for a few months, but we picked back up again. The group managed to reach 8th level, which was about the time that I realized that even mid level Pathfinder was more work than I wanted to put into the “fiddly bits” of a game these days. The party beat the boss at the end of the Infernal Syndrome, and we called it. Not the most satisfying ending, because we all knew there were more conspiracies and the like going down. I’ll call this one a loss. It just felt like there was too much that either needed to be modified or was intentionally “do it yourself,” but that’s on me.
Star Wars Saga Old Republic Era Campaign: Lots of fun in this campaign. Lots of great characters. It went on for a while, the characters got up to 10th level, but a lot of personal issues started getting in the way of doing prep work on the game. Also, 10th level got to be some work for Saga when it comes to making brand new NPCs, and using existing NPCs from the book, you could never keep up with the options from the new splatbooks. At least WOTC is consistent. I’ll call this one a loss on my part, because I should have found a way to make it work or create some closure. The game was too good not to wrap up better than I did.
Hellfrost Savage Worlds Campaign: This fell apart quick. I didn’t have a great grasp on what I wanted to do, the players weren’t sure what we were doing other than “fantasy,” and we had at least one player that didn’t mesh well with my GM style. Things fell apart after three session, and I floundered trying to figure out another Savage Worlds game, and that never materialized. Weird circumstances, but mainly a fail on my part.
DC Adventures Campaign: This was a blast, ran for over a year, and the story arc more or less ran the whole gamut of what I wanted to do along with a few side trips based on tangents that the players created with their actions. I did mess up the ending a bit, in part because I had a hard time making one big bad villain by themselves big and bad, but that’s more a matter of system proficiency than a lack of closure. This one was a big win in my book.
Rogue Trader Campaign: This one ran about five or six sessions. Almost everything in the campaign was working really well. The main problem had to do with real life issues. I wish it had been otherwise. I’ll call it a loss.
Marvel Heroic Breakout Event: I ran this online, and expanded it from two acts to three, and it went great. You can still find it on YouTube, and we brought it to nice conclusion in seven sessions. Very pleased with how this worked out. Definitely a win.
Star Wars Edge of the Empire Beta Campaign: I took this one over from another GM, and tried to fit a few custom made fan items (species, ships) into the game. I wanted to make it higher powered to test the system out a bit, but I misjudged what “higher powered” meant in the system. As I understand it now, I probably wanted the PCs to get about 250 to 300 XP to advance their characters. I gave them over 1000. Still, it was a lot of fun, but it did start to feel like a Beta test game instead of a campaign, as I was constantly thinking about theoreticals and how to put game mechanics through their paces. We ended the game until the full rules came out. It’s a loss for me. Should have come up with at least a better ending for the players, who were a lot of fun.
Dungeon Crawl Classics “Modules” Campaign: The first DCC game I ran was a series of published adventures strung together to form a campaign. The party actually had quite a few sessions under their belts, but due to a lot of death, the campaign ended at 3rd level with a TPK in the Doom of Savage Kings, with one of the PCs becoming the new Hound of Hirot. It’s DCC, so a TPK ending is pretty much par for the course. We’ll call it a draw.
Dungeon Crawl Classics “Original” Campaign: Written 100% by me and tailored to feel a little more “Conan” or “Fafhrd and Mouser” than free for all fantasy, the game wrapped up with the party defeating the elves (think Elric) with a horde of orcs, and bringing down civilization, at around 4th level. We’ll call this one a win.
Marvel Heroic Civil War Event: Currently ongoing, online game (again, on YouTube), we’ve gotten through Act One of three, and as far as I know, going strong. Really enjoying it. Can’t call it one way or the other at the moment.
Star Wars Edge of the Empire Interconnected Campaign: This one hasn’t started yet. It’s ambitious. I hope I pull it off well. The game is running every Thursday, with two separate groups working for the same character in the same setting. It’s set up to be a “season” of around 12 sessions.
So, I’ve got something like five fails, a couple of draws, and five wins under my belt for my “recent” adventures in GMing. I’m hoping to get a better record. Here’s what looking over this list as taught me:
- Have a good idea of what the game is about and what I want to do with it before I start running the campaign.
- Try to avoid games that get too fiddly, because I get burned out on the fiddle.
- Don’t force a game if I’m not ready to run it, either because of rules or concept. Keeping the group together is great, but sometimes you can’t keep it together from the same seat. Look for someone to hand off to and wait until everything lines up properly again.
- Whenever a game has been going well, try to come up with some way to make that last game session feel like it has some closure, even if you can’t avoid ending the campaign. The players deserve to know how their heroes end up, and what they have been working towards.
- If at all possible, if you have an idea of where you want the campaign to end, or where it could end, let the players know. Even if you provide closure, if you never warn the players that there may be an end, they may not expect it, even after the BBEG has been put down.