Creighton’s Corner: What’s A Campaign Anyway?

Last time we talked about taking a moment to think about what you and your players want to get out of a game. Armed with this knowledge, the GM can start to think about what kind of campaign to actually run.

A campaign can take many forms and it is a very good idea for the GM to be clear about what kind of game he intends to run. This gives all participants a good sense of the scope and type of the game and allows them to manage their expectations accordingly. For example, there is a vast difference in preparation time, expectation and scope between (say) running one of Paizo’s adventure paths (designed to take a character from 1st – 15th level) and running a short mini-campaign destined to only last a few sessions.

Today, a campaign can take many forms, but in the dim distant days of roleplaying, the meaning of the word campaign took much from the hobby’s wargaming roots:

“A series of coordinated activities such as public speaking, designed to achieve a social, political or commercial goal; (military) a number of operations aimed at achieving a single objective.”

Some of the earliest campaigns centred on the PCs clearing mega-dungeon complexes for no other reason that there were monsters lairing within who had shiny stuff. Many other kinds of campaigns now exist alongside this classic model. Others types now focus on exploration, establishing kingdoms, stopping the rise of ancient evils and so on.

Still other campaigns are more sporadic in goal, with there being no set overall goal to achieve. Such campaigns utilise many modules of varying lengths and styles that have little in common beyond the PCs.

This is the cover of the Dungeons & Dragons su...

This is the cover of the Dungeons & Dragons supplement for the world of Greyhawk. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some GMs even have one overarching campaign – say set in the World of Greyhawk – within which they run other smaller campaigns – for example the classic Queen of Spiders. These individual “mini-campaigns” all take place in the same world and may even have far-reaching consequence, but the PCs from each campaign rarely – if ever – meet. Such campaigns can unfold over years or decades.

At its heart, though, a campaign can be anything a GM wants it to be.

Decisions, Decisions

Deciding on the type of campaign to run is a major decision, which the GM should not make on his own. Involving the players invests them in the result and gives everyone a chance to air their views.

When deciding on the type of campaign to run, the participants should consider several basic factors (beyond the rules, setting to use and so on).

Preparation

The scope and depth of a campaign must inevitably bow to the pressures of real life. When setting up a new campaign, a GM should be realistic about how much time he is going to be able to devote to preparing the game. Luckily, there are many resources available to help the time-crunched GM. Publishers provide dozens of modules for their settings, fan created material is rife on the internet and message boards are a rich source of gaming content.

Playing Time

When you’re setting up a campaign, give some thought to how often and for how long you’ll be playing. Gaming every week gives you the flexibility to try almost any kind of game. If you are playing less frequently – say fortnightly or (shudder) monthly some types of game – those featuring complex political situations, on-going mysteries and so on – are much harder to run successfully because the participants often forget vital information between gaming sessions.

Commitment

Running a campaign from 1st – 20th level requires a lot more commitment than a series of one-shot adventures. When setting up a campaign, the participants should consider how long they see the game lasting. If the campaign is set to run over a summer holiday, for example, it is extremely unlikely that characters will be able to attain 20th-level. However, if your group of players is relatively stable and meet every week there is no reason why a long-term campaign won’t work.

Next Time

Next time I’ll look at ways to decide what you are actually going to play!

About the Designer

Creighton is a keen gamer who passionately believes in the Open Gaming License and is dedicated to making his games as fun and easy to enjoy as possible for all participants. Reducing or removing entry barriers, simplifying pre-game prep and easing the GM’s workload are the key underpinning principles of the products he releases through Raging Swan Press.

Over the last 11 years, Creighton has worked with Expeditious Press, Paizo and Wizards of the Coast. He now releases his own products through Raging Swan Press. You can read his thoughts on game design at raging-swan.livejournal.com.

Creighton lives in Torquay, England where, apparently, the palm trees are plastic and the weather is warm. He shares a ramshackle old mansion with his two children (“Genghis” and “Khan”) and his patient wife. Famed for his unending love affair with booze and pizza he is an enduring GREYHAWK fan.

[Editor’s Note: Creighton has graciously offered the opportunity for U.S. readers to check out this series of columns originally posted at the UK Roleplayers site about a year ago. This is the second article in a series. It first appeared here on 1-APR-2011. Here is the previous article.]

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