Thursday, 25 July 2013

The Short Campaign Model (Part One)

This is material I originally presented as a workshop at the local university gaming club, WARP. 

There is an anecdote I tell sometimes that illustrates the way gaming has changed over the course of my lifetime. It begins with a recounting of the summer, early in my gaming career, when I played through the classic Against the Giants / Queen of the Demonweb Pits saga for Advanced D&D. We're talking about months of epic gaming, culminating in a battle against an evil demon-goddess. Good times.

When D&D 3rd Edition came out, and I jumped back on the bandwagon after years of turning my back on the 300 lb. gorilla of the RPG industry, when I was thinking about what to run as a campaign my mind immediately went back to that campaign. I would take my players on the same epic journey, with the same cosmically-high stakes in the third act. An adventure they would always remember.

Except it didn't work out that way in practice. Although I took pains to slowly paint in the war against the giants that would take the body of the campaign, I took so much time building up to it that the players never got to that stuff. They had other things going on. We had good times with that game, just not the good times I'd planned. When I retired the campaign, the players had still never faced a single giant.

Part of this is the difference in gaming as a child or teen (or even a university student) versus gaming as an adult. There are constant demands on the adult gamer, and sessions are neither as frequent or as long as you'd like, in order to accommodate those long, long campaigns we treasured back in the day. As a ten-year-old, it wasn't uncommon to spend whole days playing D&D, either on weekends or whenever we could get the gang together in the summer. In university, we'd often game through the night and hike through the snow to go for a big breakfast at the local diner before returning to our beds. Halcyon days of Coke and polyhedrons. Sigh.

The end of this game convinced me that I needed to adjust my style of play so that I got the most out of our limited game time from that moment forward. I needed to find ways to jam as much awesome as possible into a smaller space. Incidentally, I wanted to find a way to tell a more complete story, with a beginning, middle, and ending -- something that would give players that satisfying feeling of "roundness" to the story and closure when it ended.

That led me to create what I call the Short Campaign Model, which I hoped would deliver tighter, more focused games full of content and drama with minimal downtime.

To be continued...

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