Does size matter?

Most of us have no doubt heard at one point or another the witty retort that it is not the size of the wand, but rather the skill of the magician that determines effectiveness. While a discussion on this could likely give rise to numerous probing insights into the minds of gamers everywhere, I would like to stimulate conversation on a particular zone and keep it firmly focused there.

How does the length, girth, and texture of your campaign compare to the next person’s – and does it matter?

What is the average length of a campaign?
When my first group and I started out a campaign lasted until most or all of the original characters were slain. The campaign arc was the lifetime of the characters in it. The themes were those we came to care about as we played. At this time more than any other we used modules and official settings, and the events of the campaign were often little more than a series of the classic titles from the early days of D&D. These campaigns ran for years, with no end in sight.

Now, I envision probable arcs with clear stages of development and a set of elements which will bring about an endgame and closure. I hope the story will come to life on its own, but if the group’s alchemy fails to spark that life, we always have the art and craft of storytelling to fall back on. With all of this, the idea is still to have an ongoing experience which will run for a year, or more if possible. If the campaign merely moves through scenes in predictable and plotted fashion, I find a satisfying length is three to five months of regular play… perhaps 12 to 20 sessions. Good role play is always entertaining, but it is not always capable of breaking free of the group’s conscious manipulation of events.

If the game can free itself, and become a wild thing that grows in blazes of discovery and revelation, no duration is long enough. When the game ceases to be about emulating stories, and expands into discovering them, I never want it to end.

What is the average girth of a campaign?
How much is too much? I imagine that most people will say that somewhere between the width of a rail and the breadth of a sandbox lies the perfect dimension for a campaign, but in the sweaty reality of our rolling, how much latitude do we actually want?

How often does ‘go anywhere, try anything’  transform into players waiting for the GM to tease them with a tempting ride? How often does the GM’s promise of showing you the world’s wonders turn into just another night getting into trouble with a stranger in a bar? Does more actually run the risk of producing less in this case? Does a healthy campaign need a narrow focus and some words of guidance to really pop?

With games with such broad palettes to draw from as Call of Cthulhu, Palladium Fantasy, and the World of Darkness, the temptation to use it all can be overwhelming. In my experience, though, it is rarely as satisfying or as successful as the games where you had to work with a limited set of choices, against an equally well-defined opposition.

Having stood on both sides of this question over the years, I tend to think that limitations tend to spawn creativity and character. You can make anything work, given the right tools, connection, talent, and group chemistry… but that is a lot of ‘givens.’

How textured is the average campaign?
Star Wars fans know the value of the ‘lived in future’ which brought alien worlds, races, and lifestyles home to us in ways that its uniformed and white plastic predecessors had failed to do…but in its final iterations ended up caricaturing itself painfully and luridly on the screen. How much texture, how much friction will lead to sparks but not to burn out?

How do players in your campaigns come to know the setting? In the old days, I remember DMs lugging binders everywhere filled with loose-leaf notes on their own personal game worlds…. holidays, fashions, food items, famous people, shoelace styles, etc. It seems to me now that was both a badge of honour (for the effort) and failure (for never really getting to run them with invested players).  What is the boundary between pleasure and overload? When do details begin to form a wall between the players and playing? When does information begin to crush the GM under its weight?

These days, I like to work my way into a campaign slowly, and add in details which lead naturally to others, but have yet to escape the need for exposition and front loading some primary concepts. Depending on the group, this takes varying degrees of information. Some lap up the details as if from a font, while others can’t even recall the names of their own characters. Nameless encounters can be fun, but have a way of blending together into a barely memorable morass of impressions. That might be fine for some, but it leaves me wanting more.

Turn your head and cough
So how do your campaigns, measure up? Are they presented in a short and tidy package for quick and easy consumption, or must their layers be peeled away slowly? What structure and level of freedom works best for you and your group? How deeply do you find that you immerse yourself in the world and its myriad details?

Enquiring minds want to know~

Speak your piece~

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  • Revelations of Glaaki

  • Invocation

    Do not summon up that which you cannot also put down:

    runescastshadows at the intersection of Google and Mail.

    Find us on Google+

  • Role-Playing Stack Exchange

%d bloggers like this: