Finding the right duration for campaigns is like a puzzle to which I will never find the answer. I know there is probably no right answer, at least no universal one. Each person must find their own right compromise based on his needs and circumstances. There are those who manage to make do and live happily and there are those who, like me, never manage to be completely satisfied.
It is not uncommon for players with partners who do not roleplay to have to find a delicate balance between the time dedicated to gaming and that dedicated to their personal relationship. It is possible for the aforementioned partner to get jealous of time spent with dice and character sheets. This is why it occurred to me to compare campaigns to relationships. There are players for whom there is only one passion for a lifetime, who are wholly devoted to a character or campaign. While others start talking about how beautiful the next character and campaign will be before they have finished creating the one needed for the current campaign the DM is preparing.
Fortunately, gaming campaigns don’t get jealous, they don’t throw you out of the house, they don’t key your car, they don’t demand alimony, they don’t ask you what roleplaying system you used yesterday, or what that game is that you always like on Facebook, or whose stories you always watch on Instagram. But how do you find the right balance for the duration of your campaigns?
My serious relationships
One of the aspects I like most about RPG’s is the length of time over which their stories can be spread. It is wonderful to be able to carry on a story for many months or years, witnessing epic moments, developing plots and subplots, creating layers of rich, indelible memories. In this sense, my longest relationship has been with a D&D 3.5 campaign in the Forgotten Realms that lasted about three years. To be exact, 146 sessions, including six twelve-hour sessions (two per year: Christmas and August holidays). There is a 220 page text document that contains all the summaries to remind me and my friends how many incredible adventures we have had.
I enjoyed another fairly long story set in the Kingdoms of Kalamar, then got a crush on a super mechanical but wonderful system: Hackmaster. Since January 2018 I have had a stable fortnightly relationship with Hackmaster that has lasted 52 sessions so far, with no end in sight. I only run it every other week so I have time to devote to short, fleeting relationships.
Luckily Hackmaster doesn’t get jealous. But in reading other game manuals I already have the feeling that I’m falling in love with another system: The Burning Wheel.
How do you do it all?
I have two and a half nights a week to roleplay. That gives me 130 sessions per year. But I have a stable relationship, Hackmaster, my future stable relationship, The Burning Wheel, and then there are the current shorter, lighter stories: Hollow Earth Expedition, Household and D&D5e in Ravnica.
The problem arises when I think about what else I would like to do. So many games I’d like to try! Just to mention some of those No Dice Unrolled wrote about (in rigorous alphabetical order): Agents of Concordia, Brancalonia, Broken Compass, Dura-Lande, Inferno, Mork Borg, Nibiru, Pathfinder 2, Ryuutama, Vaesen, Vulcania. In addition to enjoying the depth of interesting supplements such as Norse Grimoire (and I have yet to try Journey to Ragnarok) or The Complete Hag, but I hope to be able to use them for other campaigns, so taking two dragons with a single ballista shot.
Sooner or later I will run a campaign of The Dark Eye, which however seems a game that requires a stable relationship and that gives its best if carried out together with the Messenger of Aventuria (see my article on Das Schwarze Auge).
If, on the one hand, I would like to try everything, on the other I realize that trying them at a fast and furious pace does not lead to any real reward. What is the use of playing a couple of sessions just to say you did it? Just to carve another notch in your dice? But if you take the time to savoring the details for each campaign made, five new systems and ten new settings come on the market while you were playing.
From here we return to the unanswered question. In order to try as much as possible, without running too fast, what is…
The right duration of the campaigns?
It depends on the players, it depends on the game, it depends on how long you have to study new manuals, it just depends. The duration of campaigns cannot be an exact number (but if it were, it would obviously be 42). While writing this quite surreal article, a thought occurred to me. Maybe it’s just like in relationships.
When starting a campaign there should be no way of knowing exactly how long it will last. That would be like meeting a person and deciding at the start that you will see each other for only 6 months, 12 days, and 4 hours. Each game and campaign must be given the opportunity to make the participants fall in love and create a stable on-going relationship. From the start, each campaign must be potentially never-ending. Life being what it is, there are obviously going to be cases where that may not happen. But, if you are lucky enough to find one or more stable, fulfilling, engaging relationships (games), what more could you want? It is probably better to spend 130 sessions on one unforgettable campaign than wedging 13 campaigns of 10 sessions each into that time, if they all end up looking alike.
So I remain without an answer, but I think of every campaign as eternal, as long as it lasts.