Monday, January 28, 2013

The End of the Campaign: Lessons Learned and New Beginnings

Well, I just wrapped up my Saturday campaign last week. I am so thankful that I got to play it to the end. I started with a vague storyline in mind, and over a year and a half of weekly play the campaign built to a fantastic finale in Gloomwraught, complete with a large scale battle, gargoyle mounts, grell galore, and a psychotic deva. I learned a lot of lessons, and many of the ideas on my blog were partly developed through running the campaign. As many of you out there have no doubt experienced, finishing up a long term game kind of leaves you a little sad, but also excited about what comes next.

Anyway, here are the main lessons I learned, or re-learned:

-Never railroad if you can help it. I rolled with every spontaneous idea that my players had, and what they wanted to do was inevitably better than what I had planned.

-Provide closure for each character; this felt a lot like the end of Animal House, where it says what each character did in the future. Tie this to their backstories; the players really loved this.

-Pick your battles. Not every encounter needs to be a big set-piece blowout. This is true for all editions.

-Use inherent bonuses if you are running 4e.

-Get to the good stuff. You never know how long a campaign will last, so don't save your "good stuff". Bust it out asap.

I plan on enjoying a few Saturdays off from running games, but I will not be able to withstand the call for very long. I am having a hard time deciding what to run though. I already do the B/X thing on Fridays; one of those games will switch to Call of Cthulhu shortly, when they finish the adventure. I am leaning towards a 1e game, perhaps starting with Gygax's Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth, just since I never got to play or run that back in the day, and I think it is arguably the best 1e adventure. But then I feel pulled this way and that; an OD&D game that is just a straight-up random and organic hex crawl, the 1e or 4e Baba Yaga's Dancing Hut adventures, a B1 one-shot since it has come up so many times recently, a Ravenloft campaign (gotta put all those box sets to use someday!), a Hollow World campaign, Night Below, Dragon Mtn, one of the billion homebrew world ideas I have bouncing around, arggghhh! There are truly so many options, all of them good. Still, when you think about all of the work and effort you will be putting into running something, it makes the choice very important.

So how about you? If you were starting a new campaign today, what system would you use? Would you use a published setting? Published adventures?


  1. Sounds like an epic end to the campaign! I started a campaign a while back completely set in Gloomwrought - never finished it due to real-life circumstances, but it's a fantastic setting.

    Some great advice there too, especially that last point! I'm tying up a big campaign soon, and I'll be thinking of these points.

    For me, for my next campaign I'm going 5E - need to get my head around the new rules. Got an idea for a new campaign world, so no published adventures (though I am tempted to play the original Temple of Elemental Evil, which I picked up the other day from dndclassics).

    1. I am a HUGE fan of ToEE, and I am running it with the Labyrinth Lord ruleset for a group of new players. I highly recommend it. If you do run it, there are some awesome resources on Dragonsfoot:

      Also just fyi, the new "Shattered Keeps" map pack for 4e has a full-scale reproduction of the main floor of the moathouse.

      I have been playing in a few 5e playtests, but it isn't quite "done" enough yet for me to consider running a campaign with it. I will keep participating in one-shots and see how it develops.

      Thanks for the post Will!

    2. Great links, Frothsof - thanks for these!

  2. Hi frothsof - re closure, can you expand on how you did this? Did you read out a couple lines per PC like the Animal House text? How did you decide what each PCs' closure was? I like the idea of this and it ought to tie in well to the 4e Epic Destinies' Immortality, but I've never done it before and I'm a bit nervous about it, eg not tying in enough with the player's vision of the PC.

    Re new campaigns - I'm on a big 4e kick this year, I just started a Punjar Saga campaign for novice players two weeks ago, second session on Tuesday, using the Goodman Games 4e Dungeon Crawl Classics. They have a swords & sorcery vibe and mostly urban setting which contrasts with my rural,long term Forgotten Realms Loudwater campaign. Also Loudwater is nearly 11th level after 18 months of play, it's nice to be GMing at 1st level again.
    After that I'm planning to either run Paizo's Curse of the Crimson Throne converted to 4e, or else a Nentir Vale campaign centred on the Markelhays of Fallcrest.

    1. "Can you expand on how you did this? Did you read out a couple lines per PC like the Animal House text? How did you decide what each PCs' closure was?"

      Yeah I basically gave a little paragraph summary; some was based on how their original motivations changed, or how their goals were reached; in other cases, events from the campaign influenced how it ended. For example, I had one player who played a valiant Paladin. He was very kind to some street kids in one adventure and as a result I gave him a permanent bonus to Diplomacy when dealing with children. At the end of the campaign, several of the street kids he had been kind to came and knelt and pledged loyalty to him, and I left it that he basically started a new order and they were the first members.

      The best advice would be just to think about what they were/what they wanted when the campaign started, whether that has changed/been achieved, what happened to them during the campaign, and how does it tie together with the ending. If you spend a few minutes thinking about it, ideas will come to you.

    2. Thanks - thinking about it, I do quite often do this when PCs retire in an ongoing campaign; but not usually at the end of a campaign. This won't likely come up soon in Loudwater, which just reached 11th, as I plan to run it to 30th, ca February 2017 (assuming 4-5 fortnightly sessions per level, that's 5 levels/year, 2 years/Tier, 4 years for 20 levels). But I'll also be running shorter Heroic Tier campaigns on the alternate weeks (currently Punjar Saga), and I think closing those out satisfactorily will be important.

  3. BTW here are my guidelines for starting PC wealth in an Inherent Bonuses campaign:

    New PC Starting Wealth
    1 Item of Level -2, 1 Item of Level -5, 1 Item of Level -7.
    Level 1-10: 100gp
    Level 11-20: 1,000gp
    Level 21-30: 10,000gp

    This seems to work well and gives a good feel IME.

    1. Interesting. The way I am doing it, they do not start with any items regardless of level. They get their levelx100 in starting gold. So for example, a level 2 has 200gp, level 14 has 1400gp, level 24 has 2400gp.

    2. That seems like a reasonable approach too. :) I wanted to emphasise the Tier-breaks in my set up; you might be Strider the veteran Ranger at 10th; Lord Aragorn leader of the Rangers of Arnor at 11th, King Aragorn at 21st.

  4. Glad to hear your campaign was epic. I finally got some groups going again and have been having a blast GMing. The weekly group is running Shadowrun 4e which is turning out to be a really interesting experience. Outside of that we've been exploring the FATE system and getting ready for Fantasy Flight's new Star Wars RPG. Good stuff. I think most GM's will find that your tips and lessons learned end up coming true most of the time. The railroading part is especially tough to grasp. It's frustrating sometimes to prepare a metric shit-ton of story and then watch the players glide right by it, but that's part of the gig if the table is rolling with an idea and have a certain story to tell.

    Hope all is well. Cheers.