Time passes as you reside in your recently completed stronghold overlooking the beautiful, picturesque Sanitoba Valley where most of your kingdom falls upon. Thoughts fill your mind of past adventures and close calls that should have been your end, but through luck, skill, and your wits, you have achieved your dream of reigning over your now peaceful homeland. Yet, each passing day, as you gaze out across the green meadows and forests that dot across the valley, you feel a sense of emptiness that you can’t quite put your finger on the cause of it…until one day. Despite your gift of leading a people into a golden era, you were and always shall be an adventurer. To hell with your age! You oil your sword and armor, pack your old gear onto the young stallion that carries on the lineage of your late, trusty warhorse, Smoke, and you ride through the castle gates in search of the adventure that feeds your blood.
One particular issue I see frequently when either playing in or running an RPG is Continued Motivation. That concept may not be necessary for the lucky group who lands players who are completely invested into their characters (not just interested in them because they are new) and a GM who has endless creative ideas for stories. Especially for me who has been mostly a GM for over 20 years now, it can become more challenging to come up with story ideas that don’t feel old and overused. The players may be brand new to RPGs, and their excitement about a plot involving a kidnapped princess in a wizard’s tower may match how excited you were when you first discovered the game. It takes more than just enthusiastic players to keep a campaign from ending prematurely.
It’s not easy to run a campaign. Unless you have absolutely nothing else to do every day that would interfere with your work, you have to find time to sit down and jot some notes, maybe sketch a map, draw out some handout visuals, paint some miniatures, etc., all while carrying out your normal daily routine. Every week/month. It can become taxing on anyone’s mind and creativity. Some people are gifted at coming up with brilliant ideas, day after day, while others struggle after a certain time on thinking of “what next?”
First, once the outline of the campaign has been laid out, try making one-page one-shot adventures. Keep them loose and simple with a general story arc for the plot, a few main NPCs, and perhaps a background. Whenever you come up with a general idea or great concept, make a note on your phone or notepad or computer for later. When you have time, sit down and type up the one-page, make a template if you wish for better organization, and file it away for a rainy day. Continue building your archive. These will be used when you are running dry later on in the campaign and you need a week or two “off” to rethink the main campaign. Nearly everyone can write one page, which is why we keep these simple adventures that length.
Once we have built up a dozen or so mini-adventures, we can focus on the campaign itself once again. Most notably mini-campaigns. Comic books are typically the best place for the story-arc mini-campaign concept. Few comic books have stories that continuously go on for more than a few dozen issues (yes, there are exceptions like Green Lantern’s War of Light trilogy). The shorter arcs are easier to keep people’s attention, provide fresh plots more frequently, and allows for new readers to jump into a series without having to wait very long. The same principle applies to roleplaying game campaigns. By eliminating the mega marathon campaign and implementing smaller, 3-4 session campaigns, players may find themselves more attached and interested in the game for longer periods of time. Despite the exceptions, many of us have shorter and shorter attention spans as the world moves faster and faster with improved technologies. Keeping things fresh by rebooting the story every month or two will revitalize the energy of the game.
For those meeting frequently enough, rotating GMs may be another solution. Some groups are capable of remembering and keeping track of more than one story as long as there is enough contrast between the two. Don’t try running two fantasy RPGs. Keep the genres apart. As a GM, it is more critical with this method to have a recap before each session. Chris Perkins, co-creating of Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition (and an excellent GM) will always start his sessions like a TV series by saying, “Previously on —.” He has stated in his blog that it almost always gets everyone’s attention and brings focus to him immediately. Either provide key notes for the players or encourage them to take their own notes by providing each with small notebooks or pads. Unless they are just completely irresponsible, they will always have the pad along with their dice and character sheets. I have tried putting together small binders to each player that holds pencils, a spiral notebook, their character sheet in a plastic sleeve, and all handouts.
Another issue that can hurt a campaign is gaps between sessions. This is one of the, if not the most, common reason for a group to fail. We have lives outside of our game, and they often interfere with our nights especially when the sessions go for weeks or months. Generally this happens more frequently if the group is larger than 4 or 5. I know it’s tough to say no to your friends when you announce the beginning of a campaign, but having 8 players is only going to lead to disaster. It’s inevitable. Eight people cannot possibly keep the same open night every week for months at a time. Keep the group small, and have each person look back in their calendars and find a day of the week they really don’t have anything ever going on. Few kid’s rehearsals/games, no favorite TV shows, no late nights at the office, no chores, nothing. And that right there says a lot. We are busier than we realize until we try to find a day when we never have anything to do. However, the decision should not be taken lightly. Yes you look like you will be free for the next 3 weeks on Wednesday, but remember your favorite sport is about to start in 2 months that often plays Wednesday nights? Keep an eye on the big picture to avoid any late-running scheduling issues.
Decide up front on how many people the group accepts to be absent before the game has to be canceled that night. This applies to moments in the game that are critical (i.e. dragon battles). Decide as a group how to handle moments like that. Avoid having to miss a week because the next week another person may suddenly be busy, and now you’re looking at a 3 week delay between sessions. When these moments occur, immediately get together where you all can talk at the same time (at the very least emailing as a group), and choose the next possibly night everyone is free. There’s no difference in doing this than someone asking you if you’re free to go see the new movie this Friday. Don’t be afraid to temporarily change your game night to make sure the sessions continue without gaps. The only time a gap may be necessary is in between the mini-campaigns to prepare for another series. Perhaps take this time to go out as a group and socialize together at a restaurant or a movie.
Participating in a campaign takes dedication just as if you picked up karate, yoga, tennis, or the piano. Treat it as important as any other activity in your life because it affects other people.
Until next time, lie about your dice roll as much as you can get away with. Thanks for stopping by.