Monday, September 8, 2014

New Campaigns

"Hello.  This is Sandra.  Sandra was once a ten year old girl back in the days when America was great, when she went to school with Democratic Candidate Bob Gillon.  Back then, your candidate tried to steal a kiss from Sandra under the school bleachers.  Do you want to elect a candidate that tries to force himself on little girls?"

I know, I know, I promised to stop writing about American politics.  It's only that you cannot imagine what it's like to be outside your country and see ads like this.

Thank god I still live in a country where firing a gun - at anything - on live TV will probably not get you elected.  Admittedly, I can't quite be sure.  I live in Alberta.

(that's an in-joke for Canadians only)

Been a strange weekend.  I write a post about seeking advice about D&D, and get an answer that there's a polite Star Wars forum that exists.  Logically, I should now write something about finding your own role-playing style, apart from the mainstream, only to find myself proved 'wrong' by evidence that excessive consumption of rabbit meat results in malnutrition.

I am not sure when I stopped writing in English - but it is the only explanation I have at present.  I look at the page and it looks like English to me, but apparently it isn't.  I've gone over.  I've lost touch. I'm just writing gobbledegook at this point.  The blog doesn't support guns, it doesn't support white cops killing blacks, it doesn't bemoan the death of Christmas and therefore this blog cannot be understood by American readers.

My apologies.  This is some kind of cultural break.  A miscommunication.  A failure to communicate.

The moron with the gun in the real political ad above thinks he's doing something very clever.  He thinks he's making a point.  There are tens of thousands who will see the ad and scream at their TVs rabidly, "Fucking A!!!"

The first words of the video, "Millions of dollars of negative ads are flooding into Alaska ..." will make no connection whatsoever with the viewer.  They will not realize they are watching a negative ad - or that it is being shown in Alaska.  They will not recognize that the very cheap looking video will have actually cost several hundred thousand dollars.  They have no understanding of filming for television, so they don't know what sort of grease it takes to fire a gun on network TV.  They will never see the tab being spent to buy network space between showings of Rick Castle, Fuckwit.  The people yelling approvingly at their TVs are ignorant.  Cheerfully, malignantly, indignantly, extravagantly ignorant.  Because this is the nature of appealing to the stupidest, most moronic subset of any group.  Do exactly what you are telling others not to do.  Do it, then pretend you're not doing it.  No one will notice.

Take a hobby.  People enjoy the hobby, but there's this nagging, fundamental issue that will not go away - a significant number of people are uncomfortable or unclear on how exactly to participate. There are endless discussions on what is accepted or not accepted, what's the right way to play and why it is very, very necessary to understand that there is no right way to play.  The rules keep changing.  Pundits rise up and declare the new rules are wonderful.  Pundits rise up and claim the new rules are stupid.  The wave rises and falls.

The hobby is dying.  The hobby is stronger than it ever was.  We don't have anyone in our school who can DM.  I don't know how to DM.  I DM, but my players think my game is shit.  I started a campaign, but it broke up after the first session.  We played for two months and then we decided to start a different campaign using a different system.  We don't play seriously.  We don't play enough. Pathfinder is better.  Swords & Wizardry is better.  Lotfp is better.  My game is better now.  No, I can't explain how.  No, I can't say it is definitely the system.  The new campaign feels better.  The new campaign is simpler.  The new campaign has more role-playing.  The new campaign has more character.  The new campaign, the new campaign, the new campaign.

What the hell?  Why is it always the 'new' campaign?

Have we simply gone so far that we've missed the relevance of those words?  "I've been running for 25 years - yes, I just started a new campaign last month."

I would like to know how many new campaigns an average DM starts per year.  Per decade.  Per lifetime.

I've been running 35 years and I have started three campaigns.  I ran the first for three months, starting three months after discovering the game.  I ran the second for five years, starting three months after the first failure.  I have been running the third for 28 years.

Why is that not typical?

Why do we want to pretend it shouldn't be?  Why have we invested the word "new" as something that's beneficial or great in a campaign?  Doesn't that mean that all the time and effort and discovery and design that went into the old campaign was thrown out?  How rarely we use those words: "I threw out my old campaign last week."

Why?  What was wrong with it?  "Oh, well, it was . . . well it wasn't . . . the players didn't . . . but it's okay, because I'm starting a new campaign next month."

Well good for you.  I won't hope this one will be the one that takes, because it won't.  It will be shit just like the one before, because it's plain that no lessons were learned.  People are killed by guns every day, but as a would-be Senator the message I want to send will be that you should use a gun to express your discontent with the other fellow.

Lessons.  Not learned.  Repeating the same mistakes, over and over.  Because no time is ever taken to examine the mistakes.  Find me the blog post that says, "I started a campaign but it was total shit.  I screwed over the players, I spent too much time on dungeon making, I tried to railroad the players into a story that bored the shit out of them, I really screwed the fucking pooch.  I did.  Not the players.  It was all my fault.  I'm really looking over my mistakes and I've decided to change the way I play.  I'm going to think it over long and hard before I start another campaign."

Those posts are out there.  People rarely go into detail.  It's embarrassing.  I can't really blame people for not tearing into themselves in the public eye.  We could use a little more of it, however - as that would build at least some sense that improvement matters.

Instead, we get, "I've started a brand new 5e campaign and it's BETTER!  It is so, so, so better!"

Oh yeah?  How?


Jeff said...

OK, here is a question that goes with the questions your post asks: How do you define a long campaign? Is it one with the same players and characters over a course of years? The same players, but many characters? An ever changing cast of players and characters, but an on going story? Or, perhaps any, all, or none of the above, with a persistent world.

I have known of a few long running games, and they seem to conform to one of these.

Timothy Brannan said...

In the 35 I have been running I have also had three major campaigns for D&D and one for WitchCraftRPG.

While there is continuity between them all (even the WitchCraft one), I seperate them out since they correspond to 1. High School, 2. College/Grad-school and 3. After kids were born. My WitchCraft game existed at the same time as my 3rd campaign.

Sometimes a "new" campaign is needed to represent a change in desires of a game. My WitchCraft game began as a direct response to my growing dis-internist in D&D around 1997-1999.

Sometimes there is only the desire to try something new. I like a lot of different games. I play a number of one-shots or shorter-term campaigns. Sometimes those games are folded into a larger campaign like running some Mutants & Masterminds and bringing back into my WitchCraft game.

I don't know. I have lot of ideas for games/campaigns/sessions and rarely the time to get everything in.

Alexis Smolensk said...


I define a 'campaign' as my world, the setting. I do not the specific players or parties that run in that setting. The fundamental world structure, places, people and organizations that dominated my world for the party I ran in the 1980s and 90s are the same for the players I run today.

F. Douglas Wall said...

I used to start 2 or 3 campaigns a year, each one running 3-6 months. I'd use a different system for each, because I've got a lot of them on my shelf and want to try them out. In fact, I still have lots to try. Each campaign ran long enough to reach an ending of sorts.

I never thought any system I tried would give me a better game. I just wanted to see what kind of game the system would produce.

This seemed to be a natural limit with me. I've tried to run a longer campaign, pushing past that opening story arc, but I've never quite managed. Though I did have a little success with running "sequel campaigns", new story arcs in the same setting, often with new characters and a new system (I did this to try out various universal systems). You'd probably consider them part of the same campaign, but I didn't think of them as being much different from the rest of the flurry of mini-campaigns I ran.

It's been very surprising that my current campaign has ran about 3 years. I'm running a megadungeon campaign (that someone else wrote.) It's big enough that they've only gone through about 2/3 of everything in it.

I'm considering starting a new campaign. A good portion of it is the old Seven Year Itch, getting bored with doing the same thing for so long. Another part is the fact that the players haven't done much else other than explore the dungeon, and even that feels like I'm running them through Diablo or some other computer game. Though I will take the blame for that, as I haven't done much work fleshing out other things for them to do.

Alexis Smolensk said...


I read your comment aloud to my partner Tamara, who is just now considering quitting her Wednesday campaign because the DM (and gaming club) have decided to upgrade to 5e. It isn't that she cares about one system over another, it's that she had just adapted to the old rules, and grown attached to her old character - and now they're gone.

"Why should I bother getting attached to a new character, or learn new rules," she told me this morning, "When they're just going to change it again?"

This is the crux of my issues with this too. Every new change is just a slap in the face for everything that's already been done. This makes every game disposable and shallow. No one REALLY invests - so the game never goes deeper than just being a game.

This may be fine for most, but I have played the deep game. It has soured me for a game based merely on mechanics and story arcs.

F. Douglas Wall said...

It was indeed very shallow. And the more I think on it, the more I realize that the word applies to my current game as well. Shallow. The only depth that has really been accomplished is reaching the lower levels of the dungeon.

While this was fine in the early days, when I wasn't sure this would last any longer than anything else I had run, 3 years of swimming in the shallow end is a bit much.

So I'm debating right now if I want to try and shore up the foundations of the current game in progress, or build something with more depth and detail from day 1 and start that.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Douglas, I encourage you NOT to start a new campaign, at least not without asking the players. Query them on whether they'd be willing to perhaps adjust their characters willingly to bring them in line with a new campaign, even reducing their stats, experience or magic if necessary.

Give them the option of having a say.