Monday, August 03, 2009

Lessons from a Campaign Ended

I ended Is This Foul? on Friday. The gang still got together and hung out, we just played Apples to Apples and 1000 Blank White Cards instead. (Note to those interested: Captain Kirk makes any 1000 Blank White Cards game 243% more awesome. Especially when people start thinking up cool ways to steal him.) We've got plans to get together next week, and I'll probably run a little megadungeon. But that campaign wasn't working.

The exact reasons behind that are probably beyond my powers of analysis. Mostly, it just never quite clicked. But I learned a couple things from it that I'm pretty sure will improve my chances with future campaigns. At the very least, it can't hurt.

Don't overload a short campaign. In a game with an indefinite time-span, sure, I can throw in as many plot threads as I want. The players will pick up on some, ignore others, and invent their own. They've got time. But in a game like this, with a definite end-date? My attempts at giving the players "choice" just ended up bogging them down with option-overload. They had too much stuff to get done, and too many looming loose ends. A short game doesn't need a whole lot of choice, because it's short. There's not as much chance of people getting bored, and they can get their self-determination kicks from figuring out how to handled whatever handful of problems I do present to them.

Don't mix old characters with new. This is an issue that's pretty specific to sequel games, and maybe even specific to the structure of this game in general. (More on that in a minute.) In hindsight, I should have had them all make new characters, and kept the old guard around as helpful-but-distant NPCs. Instead, I was running a party that included three well-connected, politically powerful masters-of-the-city with a lot of shared history, and a couple of people who had just kind of shown up. The latter two had their own reasons for being in the game, and interesting stuff to do on their own, but they didn't have a whole lot of reason to hang around or help out the first three. That caused a few problems.

Don't run two vastly different but interconnected parties. The idea of having one group of high-level city leaders and ambassadors, and another of their mid-level children and minions, sounded cool on paper. In practice, it created situations where one character would suddenly stop talking because his player's other, much more important character had just entered the room, and generally caused a lot of "who's talking now?" type confusion. Add to that the massive player/character knowledge problems that started when people's characters started to align themselves on opposite political sides (Which, I'll add, my players handled masterfully, but it's still something that's better to avoid when you can.) and this idea was just a whole lot more trouble than it's worth.

Don't run a game that I'm not completely sure I want to run. I'd mentioned the idea, and thought it sounded kind of cool. My players loved the last campaign, and were way excited about the idea of another like it, which is always awesome. I knew there were some neat political shenanigans I could try, and it'd be an opportunity to play around with some ideas I hadn't used before. But I wasn't sure I could handle the system. I worried that it wouldn't measure up to the last campaign. And I didn't know if this was really the game that I wanted to run. DMing is hard enough even when it's a game that I am consistently, 100% committed to. This campaign couldn't quite make that standard.

Edited the last paragraph for clarity.


  1. I think I'd take that last lesson with a grain of salt. Most of the fun things worth doing are at least on the bleeding edge of uncertain. (Both of the games I'm running now have ventured out into uncertain territory. Yes, they come back to the tried-and-true, often, but only as "rest stops" before heading back out into the unknown.)

  2. That's very true, and for that reason, among others, I'm glad I did run this game. But there's a difference -- at least for me -- between "I don't know if this'll work, but I'm going to give it a shot" and "I don't know if I really want to run this game, but the players seem into it so maybe it'll work out." What I meant in that last paragraph was that the enthusiasm wasn't there.

  3. Ah, ok, yeah. If you're not passionate about it from the get-go, that's not a good sign. Enthusiasm waxes and wanes, true, but if it's not there from the beginning, it's a lot less likely to show up later.