First, define “successful”. Also “campaign”.
Back when we played the post-college Shadowrun game, I had the whole campaign outlined1 to create story arcs, season arcs like a television show. Each season started and ended on certain points. When we played that game, we went through the first season and had a good ending. Then we tried to do play-by-email once we started all moving away in the second season and that one didn’t have a satisfying ending.
My answer? Endings make a successful campaign.
Plan for an end point.
Here are my definitions. Successful = a satisfying story when looking back on it. Campaign = a series of games, long enough that we can see a character change.
By the time we had the last big home group, and really after we got back together, we started playing games with endings in mind. Those games are the ones I remember fondly.
The Shadowrun Atlantean Foundation game ended.2 Our Lady Blackbird game ended. Our Dresden Files game ended. The CthulhuTech/Shadowrun game ended. All those felt great!
Our Blue Planet game was one session away from the ending and dang it, that didn’t feel that satisfying at all. The cyclonic was about to hit, our revolutionary force was about to destroy the GEO outpost, riots were about to break out all over the place… Just one more game session!
Our Shadowrun campaign that ended in the middle of a run: double unsatisfying! (Plus, it didn’t really have any story arc running through it, which doubly sucked.)
One year ago: Favorite RPG Podcast
I listen to podcasts, but I don’t have any RPG podcasts in my lineup, except for +1 Forward, a podcast about Powered by the Apocalypse games. But even with that, I only listen to the interviews about the PbtA games I’m interested in. As I write this, there’s eight episodes, but I’ve only heard three of them.
My current list of podcasts I’m subscribed to in the app: +1 Forward, 99% Invisible, Designer Notes*, How Did This Get Made?*, I Was There Too*, Imaginary Worlds, Shut Up and Sit Down, Radiolab, More Perfect, Serial, and The West Wing History Class.3
What are you listening to? What gaming podcasts do you recommend?
Two years ago: Most memorable character death.
I don’t care for character death. That’s way too easy — it’s over and done. No, I’d much rather see a character get knocked down and then see how they get back up again. Heroes don’t quit, they continue, they show you why they’re heroes.
The last Shadowrun campaign I ran — which also didn’t have a proper ending — had the players get their “secret base” destroyed and their van damaged. But that wasn’t the thing that really hurt them. Their friend had to turn to the mob to cover the costs of repairs and now their mob friend started to squeeze their friend for everything. Give the players something they care about and paint a target on it. Just killing a character off is simple.
So they hatched a plan to get Phil out from under the mob’s thumbs. That day, they went from mere criminals to heroes. I couldn’t have been more proud.
But yeah, crashing that garbage truck into the police car, that was toasty.
- Remember, this was back when I was still thinking of roleplaying games as primarily the GM’s story where the players enter with their characters to see what happens, rather than the collaborative play style I enjoy now. [↩]
- We completed a story arc there. I would love to go back to that game for a second season, but focusing on other characters we established. But time and distance and life won’t make that happen again. [↩]
- Titles with * tackle different topics each episode like +1 Forward, so I only download the ones I am interested in. [↩]