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What’s the Longest Campaign You’ve Ever Run?

The “standard” model of the neverending campaign is a lot less standard these days — it’s enviable, but gets harder and harder to pull off the older you get. Multiply moving, having kids and other responsibilities by the number of players in your group, and it quickly gets tough to keep a game running for that long.

There are groups out there doing it, though (including at least a couple of TT members I can think of), but more and more often lately I see, hear about and participate in shorter-term campaigns.

Personally, the longest campaign I’ve ever GMed lasted somewhere between three and four years (1989 to 1991 or ’92, which is why I’m a bit fuzzy on the details). How about you?

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#1 Comment By drow On March 16, 2007 @ 8:37 am

i have pretty good records of my group’s campaigns…

alpha – AD&D 2e, dec 1994 – apr 1997, PCs retired
staff of seven parts – AD&D 2e, apr 1997 – feb 1998, TPK
year zero – AD&D 2e, feb 1998 – jun 1999, TPK
dragons – AD&D 2e, jul 1999 – jun 2002, PCs retired
janketh – D&D 3.0, jul 2002 – nov 2003, DM burned out
azroth – D&D 3.0, jan 2003 – dec 2003, TPK
debris – D&D 3.5, jan 2004 – dec 2005, PCs retired
book of the covenant – GURPS, jan 2006 – jan 2007, PCs retired
eberron – D&D 3.5, jan 2007 …

so, anywhere from one to three years. i don’t think that there’s any specific correlation between the length of the campaign and how much fun it was, though the dragons campaign was my favorite so far. i’m working to exceed it with my current eberron campaign, though; which i’m thinking might go one or two years at most.

#2 Comment By Walt C On March 16, 2007 @ 8:39 am

I’m a bit fuzzy, too.

My first AD&D “campaign” probably lasted about 4 years (1982-1986), but that was with rotating GMs. I actually played through four generations of a single family line.

A Superhero campaign (started with Champions, moved through V&V, a homebrew, and finally, MSH (FASERIP) probably lasted about as long, within about the same timeframe (and with rotating GMs).

Recently, a Witchcraft campaign lasted about 3 years (2001-2003). A sequel campaign lasted half as long (beginning of 2005 till about mid 2006). I’d consider these my longest campaigns, as I GMed both the entire time.

Walt

#3 Comment By Telas On March 16, 2007 @ 8:49 am

If you can call high school gaming a “campaign”, we had a three year run with generally the same players.

Currently, I’m still running a campaign that started in the summer of 2004, so “three years and counting”.

Telas

#4 Comment By Stephen Ward On March 16, 2007 @ 9:28 am

Unfortunately, I’ve never managed to keep a single campaign together for much longer than a year. Don’t get me wrong; the groups I play with usually stick together. It’s just that, after characters attain a certain level, the thrill seems to go out of playing or GMing them. It becomes apparent as interest in the campaign begins to wane, at which point we just roll new characters and start from scratch.

#5 Comment By mypetrock On March 16, 2007 @ 10:42 am

My gaming group has had two long running campaigns. The first was a 3-4 year run through the 3.0 adventure path. Recently we just wrapped a 2.5 year slog through Return to Temple of Elemental Evil.

mypetrock

#6 Comment By Brown On March 16, 2007 @ 11:03 am

Three months — Yes, we’re all noobs!

A few of us played a session or two back in the AD&D 2nd Edition days, but this is the first campaign that anyone in my group has been in, and the first campaign I’ve ever run (TT has been an amazingly helpful resource, BTW).

#7 Comment By DNAphil On March 16, 2007 @ 11:34 am

My longest running game was a 2 year long Conspiracy X campaign, that I ran weekly, in the mid to late 90’s After that my next longest was a 1.5 year Vampire game that I ran bi-weekly, after ConX was over.

My current Iron Heroes campaign will hit the 1.5 mark but is tri-weekly. I see that I am slowing down in my old age.

#8 Comment By Sarlax On March 16, 2007 @ 12:41 pm

From 1995 to 1998 I ran a weekly+ game of 2E AD&D Planescape. Sessions typically ran from 4:00 PM to 3:00 AM. Once I moved out of the state, we kept the game going through email.

Whenever I took a trip back to visit those guys, we would pick up right where we’d left off. The last such trip was in 2003.

As a GM I don’t have a problem keeping my own interest up in a game. I find that my games have ended because of player fatigue or an unstable line-up of the group’s members. My Planescape game lasted so long in part because we were all friends first in a small town and in middle school and high school together. No one ran off to get married then or had a full-time job.

#9 Comment By VV_GM On March 16, 2007 @ 1:35 pm

My longest campaign was about three years. Part of the problem is that I was running a system that used levels for character advancement. This actually puts a cap on how long the campaign can run in my opinion because once the characters reach the upper levels then the challenges available are fewer for the GM to choose from. Plus the players evetually want to start from scratch and try a new character anyhow.

#10 Comment By JasonA On March 16, 2007 @ 1:52 pm

My longest campaign ran for two and a half years (around 130 sessions). Ironically it had only intended to run for a “school year” with 20-odd sessions, but circumstances changed and we were able to play it a lot more. It was a great game (modern day combining Dark Conspiracy and Millennium’s End), although I went a bit OTT towards the end (a common problem I have with my games).

#11 Comment By longcoat000 On March 16, 2007 @ 3:01 pm

I believe my longest campaign was a Vampire: the Masquerade game that lasted somewhere around two or three years.

#12 Comment By 1of3 On March 16, 2007 @ 3:21 pm

12 sessions Mage: The Ascension, I think.

Not that we had problems with (we were pupils after all), but – you know – there are so many interesting games out there.

#13 Comment By ScottM On March 16, 2007 @ 3:28 pm

My longest campaign clocked in just under 3 years, back in high school. Since then, I’ve played in a number of 18-24 month campaigns, and several that didn’t make it quite that far, but nothing much longer than two years. (I think the D&D campaign we just finished was one of the longest I’ve played in recently: 26 months or so, total.)

#14 Comment By Victor Lane On March 16, 2007 @ 3:40 pm

I just tied my record with an incredible three sessions! This is the second long running game I’ve tried to start. The first one fizzled and died. Then I ran some one-shots and played in other peoples games for a while. Nothing long running though.

–Victor

#15 Comment By Martin On March 16, 2007 @ 7:38 pm

Wow. With 16 GMs so far (counting myself), the top of the scale is four years — that’s amazing!

I expected to see at least a couple responses from folks who are running endless campaigns, and I definitely didn’t expect the cap to be four years.

This is actually a pretty big deal, because IMO most RPGs don’t really tell you how to run shorter games. I think many RPGs still assume that most groups are playing one game for years.

D&D 3.x is a big exception, of course, since WotC’s market research showed that the average campaign lasted 18 months, and the game is structured accordingly (if you use standard XP and level progression, etc.). But even with D&D, there’s not a whole lot of practical advice about a) how to find your group’s sweet spot for campaign length or b) how to plan your game for that 18-month endpoint, if you so desire.

That’s a big omission.

#16 Comment By Ben On March 16, 2007 @ 9:00 pm

“Wow. With 16 GMs so far (counting myself), the top of the scale is four years — that’s amazing!

I expected to see at least a couple responses from folks who are running endless campaigns, and I definitely didn’t expect the cap to be four years.”

We can’t have that can we. Same game world for 14 years, first campaign ran 5 years but some characters from the first continued into the second campaign and played the whole run. There was about a two year break in the middle, so I’d really call it 12 years.

The downside of a campaign that long is that you don’t get to try new things — you eventually warp the world concept to accommodate your new ideas. My last few campaigns have intentionally been limited to around 2 years for that reason.

Another good friend of mine has been running the same game world for about 18 years, but with different groups of players as he moved around.

#17 Comment By drow On March 16, 2007 @ 9:43 pm

i’ve far too many interesting ideas to run a single campaign forever. =) although some of my campaigns end up connected via setting or NPCs.

#18 Comment By cadia134 On March 17, 2007 @ 5:59 am

I played in a 5 year supers game. One GM and the same 5 players. We only missed 2 weeks durring the entire run, and one was because the GMs grandma passed away.

#19 Comment By Frost On March 17, 2007 @ 9:43 am

With my current gaming group, the longest has been an Eberron campaign that with once/week sessions that ran for 2 years. After factoring the occasional canceled session, it was closer to about 22 months.

Other than my on-going campaigns, other DMs in the group run weekend one shots, or short, accelerated mini-campaigns that go from levels 6-10 in as few as four to six sessions.

I started a new weekly Eberron campaign that’s been going for 4 months, but character development has been going really strong. I imagine this one will continue past the two year mark.

#20 Comment By David Michael On March 17, 2007 @ 12:21 pm

The longest campaign for me ran from 1996 through 1998, so just over 2 years. That was a homebrew system in a homebrew world. I used the same system and world for a couple of short-lived campaigns over the next year, so maybe that brings the total up to 3 years. I considered those different campaigns, though, because there was 100% player turnover after 1998 and I had to rebuild the group. But I see that other GM’s would count that as 1 3-year campaign…maybe we need to agree on terms? 😉

Since D&D 3e came out in 2000, I’ve had three 10-12 months campaigns (usually based on published material), plus a few shorter runs of 3-6 months.

I’ve never played in a campaign that went longer than 6 months or so.

-David

#21 Comment By BlackHeart On March 17, 2007 @ 5:34 pm

I DMed a D&D 3rd edition game that ran for 4-5 years. We levelled with XP sparingly, so the characters were 18th level when the campaign ended. They started at 1st level.

#22 Comment By Dan Shiro On March 17, 2007 @ 7:43 pm

I can´t think of the longest…

but I surely remember the “campaign/adventure” in ravenloft that we could manage to play overnight… we didn´t stop even to EAT!!! we ate while we played…

We played for 13 hours straight!!!! overnight!!! I didn´t sleep afterwards… I fainted!

#23 Comment By Russell On March 18, 2007 @ 6:58 pm

My current D&D game is almost 4 years old, and is the longest running game I’ve GMed. (I started playing/GMing around 1978). We are planning to end the game this summer, because many of the players are having career/location changes then. I’m also playing in a D&D game that is in its 7th year, but there are no original players left (I started about 3 sessions into the campaign).

I still occasionally play in a game that’s been pretty much going on since before 1980. At least one player (the GM’s husband) has been there throughout, but the other players vary. There is high turnover with characters (high mortality and most retire at a certain level) but the same setting. Total party kills aren’t considered campaign ends. They just shake things up a bit.

#24 Comment By Ben Quant On March 19, 2007 @ 8:27 am

I think my longest is my current one, a Pendragon campaign which has so far lasted 15 months. I had until 2-3 years ago not gamed for about 15 years. Coming back into gaming I discovered Pendragon, which I suspect lends itself neatly to long campaigns, especially using Greg Stafford’s ‘Great Pendragon Campaign’ which I can’t enthuse about enough… Certainly our adventures show no sign of running out of steam.

#25 Comment By Frank Filz On March 19, 2007 @ 9:14 am

I know the very long campaigns do exist, however, I’m not sure it’s really all that bad that very few people reach that ideal. I also question how many of them really are a single long campaign with significant continuity of PCs. If the same campaign setting is used, but the PCs completely change, I would call that separate campaigns. Now it’s true that even if the PCs are changing, if the setting continues, and the majority of the players continue, or at least there is significant overlap, then a depth of detail of the campaign setting can be developed and actually be used (as opposed to when such settings are then published, and the detail actually becomes a hindrance – because ultimately the detail in a setting needs to be relevant to the actual play of the group that is playing, not some author’s personal set of players). Look at how many books and movies become long term serials. Tons of books and movies are one-shots, a handful become short term serials (2-4 books or movies over the course of a few years), and a very few stand the test of time and are seemingly endlessly serialized (but many of those turn out to actually be pretty shallow). And books and movies, since they come out about once a year at best (with perhaps a few exceptions), don’t get stale as easily as a weekly game (of course a better comparison would be TV serials, but them how many of those last more than a season, how many last more than 4-5 years).

Frank

#26 Comment By Martin On March 19, 2007 @ 11:10 am

(longcoat000) I think that most of us who run in the 1 – 2 year range (which would be most of us, based on the comments thus far) are actually just running single stories, rather than an actual campaign.

…but I don’t think that I’ve ever seen a post on breaking through the single-story ceiling and into an actual campaign.

What distinction are you drawing here, longcoat? Isn’t a campaign a single large story composed of many smaller elements/stories?

I feel like I’m on the edge of getting what you mean, but not quite there. And I want to get it, because I suspect there’s a great “GMing fundamentals” topic in there.

#27 Comment By Frank Filz On March 19, 2007 @ 12:36 pm

Longcoat, I would hesitate to re-define “campaign” since the “linked series of adventures, usually with a central theme or storyline that ties them together” definition pretty much matches how the word has been used from the dawn of gaming. But something to consider, a single adventure IS a story.

But my comment about wondering how many of these 15 year campaigns really were a single campaign was somewhat of an aside.

My main point was: So what? Why is it so desireable to have a 15 year campaign? Sure, they sound cool, and I’m sure at least some of the players really enjoy them. But what’s wrong with some variety.

And then I made a reference to books and movies to point out that there’s quite a variety there, and in fact, some of the drawn out series are pointed out as examples of milking dead cows.

Frank

#28 Comment By longcoat000 On March 19, 2007 @ 3:48 pm

I’m apologizing for the length ahead of time. Yes, it’s a long one.

Frank, I read the first part of your post and it got me thinking and writing before I did more than give the rest of it a cursory skim (Damn you for starting with an engrossing idea! 😉 ). There’s absolutely nothing wrong with variety, and I actually think that 15-year campaigns are actually a very small minority. Personally, I’ve never played in a campaign long enough for the characters to become so engrossing that I could play them for 15 years without being bored to tears.

But I also think there’s nothing wrong with playing the same game for 15 years if everyone is having fun. If no one is having fun, then playing becomes a chore, and that’s when the game turns into work. Kinda’ like the difference between having a job and a career.

Hopefully, I’ll be able to expand upon my idea of “campaign vs. story” while answering Martin’s question.

The first RPG book that really explained (to me) how to run a game is the old Vampire: the Masquerade game. Basically, it broke games down into parts of a movie or book, which is how I’ll explain the differences between adventures, stories, and campaigns.

The basic “unit of measure” in-game is the scene. Basically, a scene is where exciting stuff happens and players pay attention. When you read a book or watch a movie, you don’t get into the details of watching the heroes get up, eat breakfast, get their morning paper, and drive to the secret bunker to get that morning’s assignment from The Chief (unless you’re playing Mission: Impossible style, where the cool briefing you get while getting your morning cup of Joe is a stylistic element). You get the briefing, you get the car chase, you get Luke and Leia swinging over the chasm in the Death Star, you get the John Woo twin guns blazing leap-of-DOOM over the acid tank filled with sharks with laser beams duct-taped to their noggins. In a dungeon crawl, you could consider each room a different scene, because each has its own unique elements that make it different enough from the others to stand out.

A great example of this can be found in the movie, The Empire Strikes Back. The “Hoth” portion of the movie can be broken down into several key scenes. There’s Luke getting whacked by the Whompa. The probe droid landing on the planet. Han and Chewie taking the probe droid out with an ambush. Everyone figuring out that Luke’s missing and Han’s desperate search to find him. The Imperial attack on Hoth, and the final escape of the Rebels.

When you string a bunch of related scenes together, you get an adventure. Now, an adventure isn’t necessarily the whole book or movie, but more like a couple of chapters in a book or major story points in a movie. I’d consider the whole “Hoth” portion of Empire to be one adventure. Sure, there a lot more that happened in the movie after the Rebels escaped, but their escape provides a nice, handy ending point. Everything that happened afterward was a RESULT OF the Hoth adventure, but wasn’t a part of the ACTUAL Hoth adventure. Once they got off the planet, they were pretty much done with it.

Now, let’s pull back and take Empire Strikes Back as a whole. There’s Hoth, there’s the stuff at Dagobah, and there’s everything that happens at Cloud City. That’s three adventures right there (or possibly four, if you split the Cloud City stuff into two parts). Looking at each adventure individually, there’s not a whole lot in each one to suggest a common thread (be patient. I said individually). You’ve got the Big Bad taking out the hometown, the kid paying for training by being some little mutant thing’s manservant, and the GM screwing with the players by inserting stuff from their character’s histories. Each adventure has its own rewards and punishments for success and failure. Each has its own climax and resolution. In each, we either learn more about the characters or the characters learn more about themselves. But if you string these adventures together, you suddenly have the complete story of how the Empire tracked down the leaders of the Rebellion and made them pay for what they did previously in A New Hope.

Now, this same pattern was repeated in A New Hope and Return of the Jedi. Each of those movies was a story on its own, which could stand alone if need be (not very satisfyingly, but they could). But if you pull back and take a wider view of everything, you can see that those three stories all have a common thread, and together make up one large, over-arcing storyline. This storyline is what I would consider a campaign. Related scenes make up adventures, related adventures form stories, and related stories form a campaign.

Stories aren’t limited to one, three, or five adventures, and campaigns aren’t just limited to three, five, or five hundred stories. Some are plotted with definite endings, and others (like Louis L’amore books) just keep going and going. You could consider the whole Star Wars series two separate campaigns (1 – 3 and 4 – 6), or you could pull back more and consider all six episodes to be one huge campaign stretching over several generations. The whole issue of adventure vs. story vs. campaign becomes an issue of self-containment. Which scenes can be logically grouped together to form an adventure? When can the dangling plot threads and adventures be called one coherent story, with a definite beginning, middle, and end? How do these stories relate to each other, and what is the overall goal that they all seem to be driving towards (if any)?

#29 Comment By longcoat000 On March 19, 2007 @ 4:19 pm

Garp. I should have probably added that this may also be an issue of semantics, because the definitions of story and campaign can be used interchangeably. A group of related adventures can be called a campaign, and several related campaigns can be called a story, or you can call related adventures stories and and related stories a campaign. There was nothing in the TT glossary really bridging the concept between single adventure and epic, world-transforming campaign, so I used the term story.

#30 Comment By Marc On March 21, 2007 @ 5:53 am

The longest game I’ve played in was a Vampire: the Masquerade game that started in 1996 and ended last year. That’s a ten year campaign. We played about a full day a month due to time and traveling constraints. The trick our DM used was to ‘change the rules’ every few years. By that I mean that he opened and closed options to us a couple of times. For example, gathering influence, running projects, setling in new territory etc. There were a few story archs he used to tie it all together, but left enough room for us to develop our own projects and ideas.

I’ve run several long campaigns myself. The usually strech from somewhere between 4 and 6 years. But again, that’s mostly because we only have a limited time to play, so we only squeze like a dozen sessions into a year.

#31 Comment By Martin On March 23, 2007 @ 7:17 am

(longcoat000) Now, let’s pull back and take Empire Strikes Back as a whole. There’s Hoth, there’s the stuff at Dagobah, and there’s everything that happens at Cloud City. That’s three adventures right there (or possibly four, if you split the Cloud City stuff into two parts). Looking at each adventure individually, there’s not a whole lot in each one to suggest a common thread (be patient. I said individually).

Got it — this was the bit that made your point click for me.

I’ve definitely never seen any GMing advice on running a campaign that follows that kind of structure (multiple stories that turn out to be related, assuming I’m understanding you correctly now), and I’ve never run a game like that myself. It sounds like a daunting task, actually — probably a lot of fun, but tough.

I don’t feel qualified to write that post, but if anyone else wants to step up to the plate I’ll be happy to link to your post, or feature it as a guest post here.

#32 Comment By Crazy Jerome On March 23, 2007 @ 2:50 pm

My longest “campaign” was circa 1994 to 2000. Call it 6 years. It was a Fantasy Hero campaign, set in the Forgotten Realms, and featured a minimum of 3 characters per players. (The “parties” varied, and we switched back and forth. So it wasn’t simply 3 parties.) The whole thing was so episodic, that I hesitate to call it a campaign. Furthermore, we morphed rules substantially at least twice, ending with a hybrid that was not full FH.

Our typical campaigns are from 2 to 3 years, with each year including about 12-14 sessions.

“I’ve definitely never seen any GMing advice on running a campaign that follows that kind of structure (multiple stories that turn out to be related, assuming I’m understanding you correctly now), and I’ve never run a game like that myself. It sounds like a daunting task, actually — probably a lot of fun, but tough.”

It’s not hard at all for a GM that prefers to set up locations and characters, with some default situation to keep things moving, and then has the NPCs react to whatever the players do. Think Soap Opera, where you keep using the same places (or similar places) and recurring NPCs. Or put another way, the locations and characters are such that being affected in any way can’t help but have ramifications.

If you have that, you only need one more ingredient: Make the players have more than one character (and I don’t mean Bob 1, Bob 2, etc). To continue the Star Wars example, assume that in a game, Han and Lando were played by the same person. Everything else flows naturally from there. When three PCs A, B, and C steal the scepter from the king–not only are they now sneaking around trying to figure out how to safely fence it, but every other character is putting up with the inconvenience of the increased guard patrols, being questioned about suspicious activities, etc.