Instead of applying tropes to characters or adventures, why not explore a few tropes that could apply to the actual structure of a campaign?
As I’m pondering about my last campaign, I decided that I would spare you the analysis and discuss the key lesson I learned from it here.
You see, my campaigns have almost always crashed before we concluded them (the last one nearly did).
There are always multiple reasons for them but mostly, I think it’s because they run longer than the writer’s capacity to fuel them, and by writer, I meant me, the DM.
Then I started to think of my campaigns as a TV series. I started comparing just how much they tended to resemble long-running American TV series.
Very much like these shows, Seasonal rot often set in our campaigs. (That’s when a series takes a bad turn in terms of plot choices and ends up leading to a bad season, think Battlestar Galactica Season 3)
Then, this year, I discovered the joys of British Brevity with Life on Mars and Spaced. In such shows, seasons last just 6-8 episodes and then we’re done. I also recalled Tommi’s Burning Vikings campaign…
…and I had an epiphany!
I always have been making my campaign based on long plotlines. TV Tropes calls this..
A story arc (a contraction of “over-arcing storyline”) is a sequence of episodes that puts characters through their paces in response to a single impetus; basically, an ongoing storyline. This can be a few episodes, an entire season, or even the focus of the entire series.
However, while I tend to spring for Myth Arc (i.e. really long story arcs), I find myself stuck with limited time to prep and occasional bouts of the White Page syndrome.
In such cases, I often have to hunt down pre-published adventures with no link to the story arc (or a tenuous one at best). While I sometimes can hack them to fit into the storyline, more often than not it jars with campaign continuity.
I also often end up taking a series of questionable decisions, like adding strange sourcebooks and merging genres and mechanics in the campaign. I do this without thinking about the consequences and I invariably find myself struggling with a campaign so complex and full of loose threads that I become discouraged with it and just feel like abandoning it…
This in turns affects my enthusiasm and makes the game less fun than it could be.
Memo to Self… you also tend to do that with your jobs Phil.
Oh shut up Freud, I’m writing here!
Anyhow, as I sat there watching Life on Mars, I pondered:
Why not make shorter campaigns around a specific Story Arc? Let’s say 5 to 6 four hours game sessions based around a core idea I can describe in 10 words of less. (See my guest post on that at Johnn Four’s Roleplaying Tips).
With such a short span, my core idea will remain to the front and not be derailed by a random adventure or me adding things… I could now afford to wait a few weeks to add new material in the next mini campaign.
Also, if I decide to take a published adventure, I can make the adventure the actual story arc without having to worry about long term plots and such.
So basically this would make my campaigns modeled after British TV series.
At the same time, why not allow players to choose if they want to play a new character or keep the same one in the next campaign?
This would basically make each campaign a “season” of the series.
Characters would progress in their power level from campaign to campiagn, each new character being at the same levels as the others in the party.
Then at the end of our gaming year, we decide if we continue with that model, Keep the structure but start at the bottom of the power tree again or abandon it and purchase/play a classic adventure path.
Yeah… that could work.
What I really like about this approach is that I can let time pass between those mini campaigns and allow players to decide what it is their characters (retired or not) did during that time.
This would allow marriages to be had, children to be born, treaties to be negotiated, businesses to be run. If a player decides that a character should retire, so be it… he will be until he/she decides to call upon him in a later campaign.
Then when we all agree to a timeline to start the action once anew, the characters become heroes again. Others can also rise to the challenge: nephews, sisters, spouses and friends of ex PCs. Alternatively, new heroes could join the returning heroes.
I feel a lot of possibilities.
From a more gamist D&D 4e perspective (how’s that for an oxymoron?) , such a model would allow players to experiment new characters and get to use new sourcebooks as they become available.
This would allow the gaming group to infuse newness in the game without waiting for the end of a long season (or a character’s death) to switch.
I feel that such a campaign model would be ideal for our upcoming D&D 4e games. I’m not too concerned with continuity as those who long for it can keep the same character over a long time.
That being said, nothing prevents the DM from doing a little bit of Arc Welding and tacking on a Myth Arc to the emerging stories that results from these short adventure… Much like reader MAK proposed in my little characterization tips contest (still a few days to participate!).
So am I onto something good or am I missing something… are there disadvantages I fail to see that can bite us with such a model?
Let me know!