Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Long Term Commitment

I am liking my new apartment.

I'll be honest, it took me a few days, nearly a week really, to feel this way. The place needs some things, it has some quirks, and it took Delilah (my dog) quite a bit of time to get used it. If she isn't comfortable or happy, neither am I. Luckily, we've both warmed up to the new digs.

Posting should be a bit more frequent, work schedule prevailing.


What constitutes a campaign these days?

In a recent conversation with my good friend Dan, we both touted how much we are looking forward to being part of a new, long term RPG campaign. Something played often, say once a week, and with regularity. Sure, there might be an occasional need to skip, but it would be nice if we knew that every Friday night [let's say], barring hell or high water, we would be meeting at his place at 7 pm to run or play X.

While we agreed on that wholeheartedly, how long that would go on for was the subject of some friendly debate.

For Dan, a campaign should go on for no more than 6 months or so, with each session firing on all cylinders and all the fat cut off. He wants a game that's lean, mean, and which ends with a satisfactory conclusion.

I see campaigns differently (big surprise - I tend to have a skewed perspective on many subjects. Welcome to being me).

I want a campaign without a predetermined endgame; one that lasts as long as it needs to in order to tell a story. Not just a meta-plot story, but also to explore the individual stories of each of the PCs. I want it to go on and on until...until it doesn't. When all the participants decide we're done, that's when we're done. 

I feel like it's hard for me to 'cut out the fat', because frankly, the fat adds flavor. Really, what is the 'fat' in this case? Don't get me wrong, I don't want to waste valuable game time, but who determines value? To put a finer point on it, I don't want twenty-four sessions of action and adventure with no character development. I don't want twelve with character development, and twelve with action either. I want the adventures to flow organically, the way the best of my adventures do. If the players feel the need to get into a fight they can [and they will]. If they'd prefer to emote and role-play out a deep philosophical discussion, I have no problem with that. More power to them.

What I'm saying is, the whole idea of a pre-set number of adventures, running for a pre-set number of hours, while all well and good, is not really what I want to do. I have done it of course, specifically designing short campaigns or 'mini-series' that feature somewhat specific timetables, yet that isn't my core preference.

I want my next great campaign to be like my current Traveller campaign in that the PCs the players have created exist in this universe we've developed as living, breathing entities. Stuff should take as long as long as the players find what they are doing entertaining.

Some years back (and I know I've mentioned it on this blog before) a friend of mine named Lee had the idea that a game session should only last four hours or so. Around the same time, Zak Smith and some other bloggers made mention that their sessions lasted about that long as well.

Then, as now, I would have to ask HOW? How is that even possible? I'd even go so far as to ask why is it so even if it is possible?

My first thought is that it takes me about forty-five minutes to get to my Traveller games now that we run them at one of the player's homes. Round trip I'm spending $5.50 and it's taking me an hour and a half to travel time to and from (45 minutes each way). If I'm not getting at least six or seven good hours of gaming out of the that, I'm staying home.

Also, while I will tell the gang to 'get back on track' if we veer too far into out-of-game conversations or references for too long, I rarely put a time limit on in-game conversations unless there is something particularly pressing going on (i.e: the PCs are being chased, they are chasing someone, a time bomb, or some other proverbial clock is ticking, etc.). I like to let the players (through their PCs) explore the setting, the plot, and their relationships with each other free of some scheduled agenda looming over their heads (even if there is one behind the scenes). PCs should experience the consequences and ramifications of their actions in a way that feels natural to the story and setting, not 'cause we need to wrap up soon.

Yes, sometimes I'm running The Muppet Show and there needs to be a more directed, well-timed, and carefully thought out sequencing to the session so that it's A) funny and B) feels like an episode of the show. Likewise, a Star Trek game where sessions are designed to be concluded in a single get together are very much designed and run with that criteria in mind. That said, as noted above, I can usually do that given 6-8 hours.

What I want however, is a real deal, full on, no-holds-barred, long term campaign. I want the characters to eat, drink, and sleep in that universe. I want the kind of character depth that comes after 60+, 8 hour sessions. I want time taken up by seemingly mundane activities like talking to the local blacksmith, repairing the starship's phase regulating stabilizer coils, and arguments over whether young vigilante Lady Blue is a criminal or a misguided hero. Then I was battles, exploration, mystery solving, and more conversation. 

I've rambled on long enough. In the end, I would be happy to run or play in a six month, action-packed adventure series that hits that target for all of its twenty-four sessions. But...if it doesn't...and I don't see how any campaign can hit the nail on the head perfectly every time your group gets together...if it doesn't I'm going to be really bummed we didn't give it another forty sessions with twenty-four great ones and a whole lot of good ones.

Barking Alien


  1. Glad to read that you're getting used to it.

    1. Thanks Ivy. If this keeps up I may feel like a normal Human being again. species equivalent at least. ;)

    2. In other words, you want a regular series while your friend proposes a limited maxiseries (comic language works great to define RPG campaigns). They are very, very different in feel. I do prefer "regular" campaigns because otherwise I get impatient to get to the end of the story (say, in a Pathfinder Adventure Path) and sometimes miss the enjoyment of the trip. Yet I myself usually run "miniseries" campaigns of less than 10 adventures (not sessions), so they don't interfere with our other campaigns and because I always want to try other games. Circumstances are very important when choosing one type or the other.

      By the way, my sessions last about 4 hours, too. But it is not a decission, it is what comes naturally from our disponibilities.

  2. I agree with you completely about campaign length when running. My last two completed campaigns ran 5 and 7 years of bi-weekly play. I like having lots of things happening that the players may or may not focus on, but what will be the end of the campaign is always a mystery when I start it.

    Funny as a player I don't always feel the same way. When we spend seven sessions doing a sideplot that ends up to be a red herring, I get annoyed. When we do a side foray that will contain a couple of fantastic sessions resolving one characters backstory arc, but the side foray gets padded and ends up taking 8 months of real time without advancing the main plot the characters are trying to resolve that's too much.

    One thing I noticed about "fat" as a player. When I was playing a game and we were still firming out our characters and we wanted to spend a session on chasing down a mystery in a small town and searching on minor merchant's house for clue in another session, it was good. When the same characters have had plenty of time to develop and are on a vital and time-sensitive quest to save the world, the same two sessions trying to question commoners and search a guy's house for clues feels wasted and destroys the pacing.

    Early on it was us firming up our personalities, having a chance to show off where we can shine doing that sort of thing, find some nice inter-party drama, etc. Later it was just a drag that 80% could have been reduced to a montage, some plans, and some skill checks, leaving us more than a session and a half more time for "meaty stuff".

  3. Oh, I didn't mention that I play weeknights, so 3 hours is an average session length, sometimes up to 3:30 but also sometimes delayed some by RL. With work and kids (both mine and most of my players) we no longer can schedule a regularly occurring weekend games, and with work thrown in as well we need regularly scheduled vs. play-it-by-ear. I drive 1:15 round trip (30 minutes from work to host's house, 45 minutes from host's house back home) and wish it was less. Another group of friends I game with couldn't manage commute times and we just switched to playing online. It isn't as good as face to face, but it's a lot better than you worry it could be. But I would only recommend that for a game where most players are engaged most of the time since it's so easy to wander off onto the web.