My wife and I were talking about our favorite campaigns the other day and I noticed something interesting.Â Out of all the campaigns I’d run for her, I hadn’t finished most of them. Still, she remembered them all fondly and had no regrets playing in them. I had a lot of fun running them too, and we laughed over some of our favorite moments. It got me thinking on a grander scale and I realized something.
I’d never finished most of my campaigns.
In baseball, batting .300 is considered doing well. One way of looking at it is that when a good baseball player steps up to the plate, he will only get a hit 30% of the time. And yet I’ve seen many Game Masters, myself included, beat ourselves up for our inability to finish campaigns when, in fact, “batting .300” is pretty good from behind the screen.
Just because you don’t finish most of your campaigns doesn’t mean that you’re a bad GM. There are many reasons why a campaign fails, and most of them don’t have anything to do with the quality of your GM-ing.
To list just a few:
- Real-life Inconvenience – sometimes real life gets in the way; changing schedules, players moving, a change in lifestyle, etc. can all tank an otherwise thriving campaign.
- Excitement for something new – sure the players have been enjoying that D&D game you’ve been running but many of them have been reading the Star Wars books and want to play Jedi for a while.
- Burn-out – maybe you had to put the campaign on hold and just never got back to it. In the meantime, the group has been having fun in other campaigns.
- Loss of interest – you had fun running the campaign when the PCs were relatively low-powered, but now that they’re demi-gods it just wasn’t as much fun for you any more.
- Derailment – the PCs’ ingenuity or just dumb luck altered the course of the campaign so much that it fell apart.
- Rules Nightmare – For whatever reason, the rules system that you were using was inhibiting the fun for all involved.
It’s important to remember that players show up for the journey, not the destination. Sure they’re interested in how the campaign ends (presuming you were running a closed campaign), but that’s not nearly as important as having fun along the way. The playersÂ gather to have fun, not just to push things along so that the campaignÂ can reach the endpoint.
If there’s anything worse than not finishing a campaign, it’s wasting several sessions dragging the group through an unfun campaign just to end it properly. Remember that next time you step up to the plate.
My batting average is ummm… .000. I don’t think I’ve actually finished a campaign, and I’ve only ever been a player in one finished campaign.
That hasn’t affected me (or my players) in the slightest. For me, the journey is the destination — a campaign doesn’t have to officially end for me (and anyone else I’ve gamed with) to have fun. That said, I’m hoping to improve my batting average situation shortly, but we shall see! As always, my emphasis will always be on making sure people have fun, not finishing.
If you don’t count the attempts that only lasted for a session or two – and I’ve had enough of those that I can’t remember them all – then I’m batting .750 over a nearly twenty-eight year career.
Six of the eight D&D campaigns I’ve begun have reached their intended conclusions. Three of those were short-format campaigns designed to be knocked out in a hurry, but the other three were long enough that I feel justified in bragging about it a little. 😛
I’ve dabbled in running other RPGs, but never run a full-on campaign. And I don’t think I’ve ever -played- in someone else’s campaign that’s ended “properly.”
Only 2 campaigns I didn’t finish, and that’s counting campaigns that went on for at least a year. However I don’t think GMing has everything to do with that – having a group of friends that has been gaming together for a long time and is willing to work with each other on scheduling has more to do with that.
This is one of the things I really like about having a GMing community. If we consider the goal of my campaigns to be “reach point X” I’m pretty sure my average is near .000, but if we consider it “Haveing fun and playing a handful of sessions, I’m closer to that .300. It’s nice to know I’m not the only one with great gobs of unfinished games sitting on my mental back burners.
I don’t think I’ve ever finished the long epic campaigns that I started running in my GMing youth. Things always changed, people moved away and new games and settings came out that intrigued my group. Eventually I started running campaigns with a guaranteed ending point in mind. Here is the story. Here is beginning, here is X end point and here are elements that might happen along the way. After that I’ve finished most of them and then moved on to other fun games to play. Every so often we’ll return to a campaign and play a second act of it set a few years past the ending point of the first campaign. I’d say may batting average is about .450, but I’ve run a lot of short campaigns.
I wouldn’t even be able to guess what my average is over my 14 years of gaming, but I suppose I would guess it’s .500 over the last 5 years or so.
Part of the problem for me is definitional: what exactly qualifies as a “campaign”? A lot of my games are serials, where I’ll run 6 – 10 sessions with one set of characters, and then a few months or a year later, will come back to those characters and run another. Do those count as separate campaigns, or are they one ongoing game?
Also, for a while, I experimented with the sandbox form a lot. If there’s no overarching plot framework to begin with and the game gets derailed, does that count?
Also, I run a fair number of one-shots, or experimental sessions, to try out a new rule-set to see if it fits. I’ve bought a fair number of small-press or indie RPGs in the last two years, some of which have never been run for more than a few sessions.
I tend to feel that if your last game ends on a note of closure, then you’ve finished it, regardless of whether you had bigger plans.
Now, my long-term Mage game which is about 1/3 of the way through the main plot, well, that’s a special circumstance: that one’s just on-hold (going on 6 months now), not derailed.
I’d add to the list, “Didn’t plan on an ending point.” I think many campaigns are never “finished” because they were never planned to have an ending.
Does a campaign need an ending point? I think not. Sure, it’s great if you have a series of campaign arcs, all progressing upward to a killer climax, but it’s not necessary to the game.
(And no, I’m nowhere near .300.)
I like the analogy
In the decade that I’ve been rping, not counting one-shots, I’ve DMed three campaigns that have gone all the way to a conclusion. As a player, I’ve played in two campaigns that have made it to a conclusion. That makes my average somewhere around .500
Now, just because I reached a conclusion doesn’t mean we played until the campaign was “finished”. Mostly, I lose interest in a particular campaign when I DM. I want to play some new idea that I’ve gotten, or play in some other system. One of those games, we lost 4 of 6 players, and me and the other remaining player hobbled on to the game’s end.
I guess since I’m still running my 28 year old D&D game I’m batting.000
I’ve only ended two campaigns. One wasn’t a very satisfying ending (the rules frustrated one player, the inadvertent bait-and-switch of the premise bugged another), but the other went very well.
One reason it went well is that, like Kurt suggests, I intended an ending. We were playing 3.5 D&D and began in 2006. It was pretty clearly going to be the last significant 3E game any of us were going to play, so I wanted to have a memorable finish. I also wanted it to be in some way true to D&D, so I had decided that, if I could control things, it would end when the PCs had done something pretty epic at 20th level.
Something I picked up from another GM in our group was that it’s a great thing to have a finale in mind for whatever segment of the game you’re in. I picked it up from his Stargate game. The previous “season,” in which I hadn’t played, ended on a cliff-hanger. The second season in which I was a player wrapped up those threads nicely but opened up more possibilities. It would been easy to continue, but if it remains in retirement, the campaign was ended in a comfortable way.
My other campaigns never had clean endings for three reasons. The first was the real-life hangups, like people not being able to make it for a few weeks. Too much of that and the campaign just fades. The next was excitement for other stuff. I still spend too much time looking at new stuff, but back then I’d bring several books from different games to sessions and the interest would drift. The third reason is that I never had endings in mind.
My most recent game had three arcs. The first was a struggle against the mind flayers, the second against fiends, and the third a struggle to rise to supremacy. I feel that if the game had ended on the envisioned moments (not specific outcomes) before the third arc, it would have still been satisfying.
You and me both, man. 1983, and still going strong.
What is this strange idea of finishing campaigns?
it is a mystery……..
I’ve never been a part of a campaign, as a player or a GM, that ended for reasons other than “we all moved away” or “everyone’s schedule got insane.”
Unless your entire campaign is about one overarching plot, or the final session is so mind-blowingly fun you can’t even talk for a week after it happens, I feel like the ending is no more important than any other session. So I don’t count any campaign a failure if it lasts more than two sessions, and those two sessions are fun.
I haven’t finished many campaigns, but a few did have some kind of closure. For me, it’s how the last session ends– is it a nagging incompleteness, or is it at least a good session that leaves everyone with a feeling of success/completion?
One of my most irritating experiences as a player was with a GM who refused to let a campaign just die until he dragged us to his “climax.” Fun was not an ingredient.
I tend to be a fan of scenarios ending – an episode of varying lengths – but the campaign continuing as long as everyone is enjoying themselves.
Easy enough to walk away from a campaign & set of characters for a while, leaving the door open for a return somewhere down the road.