Campaigns die all the time. Some just peter out while others implode spectacularly. Why do some campaigns crash and burn while others seemingly go on and on?
I’ve previously written about four of the signs heralding a campaign’s impending death. When you realise your campaign is dying, it’s well worth exploring the reasons behind its demise. In this way, you can either try to reverse its death spiral or learn what pitfalls to avoid next time.
Some campaign deaths are unavoidable – perhaps the GM is moving away or starts a new job. Alternatively, several of the players could be moving away to start college. There’s not a lot you can do about that except try to recruit new players (except play on line or only in the holidays).
Other deaths, however, are completely avoidable as they spring from the game itself. In my experience, the most common in-game reasons for campaign death are:
- Too Dangerous: If every fight is a literal fight for survival and PCs are dying with surprising regularity the players are bound to lose interest. I played in a campaign once in which the main source of loot for the party was the equipment of fallen comrades. It got to the point we’d make joke requests that new PCs buy certain items our PCs needed because we never found any decent treasure. If I’d been the GM, I would have taken that as a pretty gigantic hint that all was not right with the campaign.
- Too Easy: If the campaign is too easy – in that mysteries are laughably simple to solve and villains are comparatively weak – players eventually lose interest. The feeling of accomplishment you get from victory is directly related to how hard it was to achieve. If you don’t feel like you are achieving anything, why play?
- Railroading: A few players like railroading and to a certain extent it is impossible to avoid – a GM only has so much time to prepare, after all. Most players understand and accept that. However, some GMs are particularly heavy handed and force the players down a certain, proscribed route with the subtly of a herd of stampeding wildebeests . (I once had a GM who even tried to stop us using a different entrance to a dungeon – I suspect because he hadn’t prepared that bit!) Many players react very badly to this practise. They either withdraw from the campaign or deliberately try to break it. Neither outcome is desirable; both lead to campaign death.
- GM Loses Interest: In almost every gaming group on the planet, the GM is the leader. I don’t mean that GMs boss their players around, but normally a GM – because he invests extra time, effort and money in the game – is more invested in the campaign than most players. If the leader of a group loses interest, it follows the players’ interest will also wane.
Remember that campaign death is not inevitable. If you can spot the signs you can reverse course. Pay attention to the four signs heralding a campaign’s impending death and act before it is too late!
Help Fellow GMs
Have you been in a campaign that ended prematurely for another in-game reason? Let us know what they were, in the comments below, and help your fellow GMs dodge the same fate!