There is a truth out there that seems to be valid for most gaming groups I talk to. It certainly is for us. And that is the fact that we rarely actually play a Role Playing Campaign to the end. THE END.
In fact for me personally I think I’ve actually “ended” maybe two campaigns in my life. (Not counting the one or two that ended with TPK’s and every one just gave up after that, because to be honest that is also usually a question of staying power.)
Think about it for a second. I’ve been playing Role Playing Games for 30-some years… and I’ve only ever actually gone all the way to the finish line TWICE! That has to be around <1% or so…
Why does this happen? Is it good or bad that it does? Do we want to / have the capacity for change? That is what this post is about.
We’re all “Nostalgic Utopians” when it comes to gaming.
A big factor here is that we all long for the, usually over rated, past. That gaming-high you got the first few times you were involved in a deep campaign. The bliss you felt when you were 16 and could play for 46 hours straight if you felt like it. And you DID feel like it. Frequently. This is part nostalgia and part trying to go back to something that was probably never really there the way you now remember it… I don’t know if that makes sense.
What I’m trying to say is that we now think of that time in our life as a Utopia of gaming. and we want to go back to that place when we play. But the fact of the matter is that time probably has erased all the negatives of that reality, and we are now different people caring about different things, so even the idea of reaching that same place is a Utopia in itself.
Example: One of our players has always talked about Greg Stafford’s – Pendragon RPG as the best RPG system of all times. There was no reason to the amount of praise he had for it. He loved it to bits and more or less declared all other RPG redundant because this was the best ever and even trying to make another RPG was a waste of time. Perfection was already there to be had.
So when we started up a Pendragon Campaign, he was on that like white on rice. We all were. We were excited. We were frothing at the mouth to get into this legendary game that was supposedly so awesome that… We might get back there, that feeling… that grail of gaming we all seek. It might just be here…
We played it on and off for almost a year. But it only took us one or two sessions to go: “What?” and “+30 Bonus? Well Greg was never big on maths I guess… ” etc. etc. And the person loving this game to bits soon started making different noises: “This game SUCKS!”
In a way I think that the major gaming experiences you have during your adolescence will shape the rest of your gaming life. Just like other experiences you have during that time will shape you. Music, ideology, people you look up to, clothes you wear. etc. etc. Why should games be any different?
So this whole nostalgia will in the end cause disappointment and you will never reach the Utopia you are hoping for. I don’t know if there is a way around this problem. I mean it’s easy to say we should look to the future instead or focus on the now or any such nonsense. Nonsense because it’s easy to say but hard to do.
Signal to Noise ratio.
This is something I struggle with. Let’s say I have a gaming group of 6 people. I would not want to play RPG’s, continuing on the Campaign if not at least 4 of us were present… preferably this would also be the same 4 people that showed up last time.
This is harder than it looks. We have a steady gaming group. We’ve been gaming ever Thursday night, with exceptions of course, but quite frequently I would say, for the last… 10 or so years.
Yet it seems like mission impossible to keep the story cohesive. Either only 3 show up, in which case we play Board Games instead, or I get 4 people but only 2 of them were her last time, and the other two have missed the last 2 sessions… Bring out the Board Games!
See where I’m going with this?
If an adventure that I was estimating, should take about 3 weeks to complete is still not complete after 10 weeks, because people can’t get their shit together to be persistent. I (as a GM) will start to lose interest, and so will my players.
RPG are about STORY! And for there to be any story at all, the people playing have to participate, they have to care, get involved, and above all; Remember the story!
If the last time you played was 4 weeks ago and you have missed 2 sessions in between, then chances are you’d rather just play a board game, because right now, you don’t see the story at all.
This is also a hard nut to crack. We all have “real lives” to live as well. We all have work, wife, kids etc. and no one can blame us for having to tend to that every once in a while. Even on a Thursday. I have no clue how to fix this. Maybe force players to bring their calendars so we can schedule in a few nights in more “formal” sense? I don’t know.
I’m guilty of this. Probably more so than anyone else in the group. This is my Achilles heel. I like to buy and read new games. I also get the irresistible urge to play them. And sometimes that affects my interest in the game we are currently playing. I lose focus.
This has a double-bad attached to it, and that is the fact that sometimes, when we get around to playing the “new” game, I’m almost bored of it already, because it was new and cool to me (had my attention) 6 months ago.
So here is another scenario to consider: I buy a game and / or read through a campaign… 4 months later we want to play it. So I read through the same campaign again… now we get bumps and hick-ups in the gaming frequency so after a couple of months I have to read through the same shit a THIRD time… at around that point I start to lose interest and buy another game to read on the side because the one we are playing is already old to me.
So how do we solve this problem? If we could make sure to “get it while it’s hot” and keep playing it with a better frequency, then I don’t think this would be such a big problem at all really. The trick is to catch the wave and surf it. One thing I have done (I am currently doing that in the game we play actually) is to NOT read new games I buy through and through. I buy the new setting supplement or campaign module, I browse it through, but I did not ready it! I held on, for a couple of months till it felt like we were getting closer to actually see some play, and NOW I start reading. It helps a little.
Ooooh! Shiny… Board Game!
Similarly, we sometimes get side-tracked one night because there is a new board game in the collection that we simply HAVE to try!
This is another “guilty as charged” for me. And it has steadily become worse over the last 5 years. It used to be Board Games was the back-up plan. The thing we did when we were not able to get an RPG group together. But these days we play Board Games because we, at that particular moment, want to play Board Games more than we want to play RPG’s.
I’ve come to have mixed feeling on this.
A) I love to play board games! And sometimes make the mistake of urging the group to play it with me at the expense of the RPG session we could have played.
B) I hate the fact that if we miss this ONE opportunity to continue the RPG campaign… who knows? Next week we might have fewer players and not be able to play anything BUT Board Games. And the week after that might be even worse… considering all the other myriad of small issues that dilute our RPG-sessions this is just another one that makes it hard to follow through.
So many games so little time!
In the end it’s probably simple maths. As we get older we have less time available to play. At the same time our budget for gaming goes up and we can actually afford to buy way MORE games than we could when we were 16.
So the ratio between consuming games/games available to play versus the actual time available becomes worse and worse.
These days I sometimes buy games I’m assuming from the start, will never get played. I just buy them for the read and to have them in my collection. It’s almost like the consumption of games has become it’s own part of the hobby. I guess that is when you realise you have become a “collector”. When you can name, off the top of your head, 20+ games you own, have owned for years, but that you have either played only once or not at all.
I just wished there was more time… like when I was 16… and we’re back to nostalgic utopia.
When we bring in all these factors that distract us from the RPG campaign that we have going. It should come as no surprise to any one that we play the same campaign for, give or take, 12 months. During that time we might have had anything from 7 – 15 actual RPG sessions, out of the maybe 40 game nights during the year. After this we stop and start another RPG campaign. It’s maybe only natural, but at the same time we all feel a little sad doing it.
We have tried shorter campaigns because we thought that maybe we could stay on target till the end if the end was not so far away… But we failed at that as well.
We have discussed playing more “one-shots” to “test” new systems to see if we liked them enough to start something bigger. But some people in the group don’t like jumping around that often from game to game and would rather just pick one.
We also have people in the group preferring Board Games over RPGs… strange I know…
I’ll be honest and say that EVEN if we did not have these problems, even if the group would show up like clockwork every Thursday and wanted to play the next session… I’m not sure I would not lose interest after a years time. I might be wrong of course, because the whole scenario I just described is a little alien to me, but it might be that I would still require a change.
The difference is that it would then be a change after 40 RPG sessions… and that is plenty of room to actually fit a full campaign.
This will continue and we bring it up every year to discuss how we can move forward, but we never seem to actually RESOLVE anything. We just go on and on in our old tracks.
Maybe you have any ideas?
- How many rpg campaigns have you participated in during your gaming career?
- How many of those have you seen to the end?
- Do you think this is a good or bad thing?
- Do you think it is a symptom of something else?
- How would you go about trying to “fix” it, if you thought it needed fixing?