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Campaigning in Slow Motion

Campaigning in Slow Motion

No matter your playing medium--face to face, chat, email, or forums to name a few--the limiting factor in a game is the available time to play. In live games, the action can take place quickly, with encounters taking as little as a few minutes and short adventures beginning and ending in a single session. A campaign might take a few months; many of mine started at the beginning of a school year and ended when we went home for the summer. The asynchronous nature of forum play, though, can mean that the same short adventure might take months to complete, and a campaign could stretch on for years. As a result, time can easily make or break a Myth-Weavers campaign!

Before you start a campaign, consideration needs to be given to how long you want to go. Your players count on you to deliver the game, so you should be honest with them when advertising about the length of the campaign. If it is a closed campaign, know what the ultimate goal is, make applicants aware that there is such a goal; once the goal is apparent in the game context, make sure the players are aware that the game ends after the goal has been achieved. If it is an open-ended campaign, think about what would make you want to end the game, be honest about your interest, and collaborate with the players as the game unfolds to make sure everyone is having fun; when DMing and playing become a chore, maybe it's time to look for a logical conclusion.

Likewise, the continued interest of your players is important to sustaining a long-term campaign. While your players will be gung-ho right after the action starts, attention spans can wane as the weeks progress. This is particularly true when the game slows down, either because a few characters are the focus of the sequence or one or more participants are idle due to real life obligations. The admins can give exact statistics, but almost all games have lost one or more players. To some extent, this can be mitigated using the same techniques as described elsewhere in this Workshop: keep the action moving, set and enforce expectations for player posting, craft interesting worlds/adventures/encounters/NPCs, etc. For a campaign, though, you should be prepared to work characters in and out of the game. There are a few options:
  1. Immediate disappearance as though the character ceased to exist, which is quick but can be messy on the story.
  2. Ask the player to continue to a logical break, which keeps a clean storyline but may not be effective if the player has already lost interest.
  3. NPC the character to a logical break, which tries to strike a balance between the presence of a deadweight character and the continued pace.
  4. Invite a new player to assume the old character, which is a tricky process but may be the only choice if the character is a key part of the campaign.

(to be continued...)

Great stuff so far, really well done. I would say don't get bogged down in the methods of dealing with absent players (for now anyway) but concentrate on the core of the article, (which I guess is) techniques for dealing with forum play.

Thanks for the feedback. I had expected that general forum play matters would go under Running the Game; maybe I can sift through what I've written to start a strawman over there.

The goal of this article is to focus on issues germane to long-running games. To have a successful long-term campaign, you've got to (1) keep everyone engaged, (2) provide for the continued growth of the story to its logical conclusion, and (3) deal with inevitable attrition due to non-game issues. What I've written so far hits 3 and aspects of 2. Other things on my mind are lack of planning/ideas (which touches on World Building and Running the Game, particularly I want to mention something about the necessity of seemingly arbitrary details) and lack of character development (tied in to Call to Adventure).

Long-range planning probably merits its own article too--I've seen many games die where lack of forethought on the DM's part left the players with nowhere to go (all plot hooks closed off by the players and the DM can't/won't open new ones) or with no idea where to go (plot hooks too scattered, sketchy, or unrelated to the characters to be followed).

OK I understand your aims a bit better now. And you are right, you could easily touch on many others areas so can link to those articles rather than going into them yourself.
What I was expecting to see was an article on managing PBP play for experience table-top GMs, a kind of guide to changing media. Maybe that will get covered in a different article.

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