What makes a successful campaign?
- Campaign organization. There is a lot to unpack in this one – an overall plotline to keep things from being just a disorganized series of encounters, knowledge of the game system, knowledge of the characters and their capabilities and weaknesses, having the rules organized in such a way that reference can be found within 30 seconds or so.
- Buy-in. There’s no point at all to having a masterfully executed campaign with 20 notebooks full of dungeons and a fully annotated rulebook if you can’t attract players. Most of the time there has to be a balance struck between the players and the GM – GMs should not have to run games they have little or no interest in because that’s what the players want, and players should not have to play in games they have little or no interest in just because the GM has spent time writing them up. Most groups playing in a campaign have played together before and have (formally or informally) determined the parameters of what they are interested in, but flexibility is still a very good characteristic to have when approaching buy-in.
- Time. Nothing saps the energy right out of a campaign like having the GM put together a kick-ass campaign (players: that takes a lot of work, you know), players putting together a bunch of kick-ass characters) (GMs: those characters are a road map of what the players want and you should pay much more attention to them than just assessing them for whether their points add up), everyone having a great first game – and then everything stalling right out because the group can’t get together for 2 months.
- Friendship. This is not to say that you have to invite only friends to your campaigns. Making friends and being social is part of what gaming is all about. That said, however, poor social interactions between participants can be a bane that shatters campaigns like a crystal goblet smacked by a mace. In any group stuff comes up over time, but trying to mix players who don’t get along all that well is a recipe for balkanization, fragmentation, and dissolution of the campaign.
- Interest. Similar to buy-in, but directed more towards people who are not gamers (in particular, but not limited to the non-gaming significant others of gamers). Non-gamers can make really fun and innovative contributions to a gaming group. However, non-gamers who play just to humor their significant other and have no real interest in gaming – or worse yet consider it to be not fun or a waste of time – can be disastrous. It takes all kinds of weird mental gymnastics to figure out the social mathematics of “How much is Bob going to add to the campaign” vs. “How much damage is Jordan’s disinterest going to subtract from the campaign”? You can give yourself nosebleeds thinking about that stuff. As a general rule, people interested in playing should play and people not interested in playing should not.
- Respecting the hobby. This is different from friendship because it focuses on an understanding of the group dynamics required to put on a regular roleplaying event. Roleplaying is a group event. It takes several people in order for a roleplaying campaign to work. Moreover, it usually takes some specialized roles for things to work out well. For most games someone must take on the responsibility of running the game and acting as its administrator, which can entail several hours of extra work per session. Someone needs to host the event, which requires cleaning, possibly some cooking, and in general making sure that there is comfortable space conducive to an enjoyable time available. There may be people responsible for transport of one or more other participants. There may be someone responsible for organizing food. Even for those without such added responsibilities, however, there is a need to understand that participation is a necessary component. Missing games can damage GM plot lines, as well as the development and fun of other characters. It’s a bit like being in a musical group – any time someone doesn’t show up, their particular contribution will be absent from the performance, and quality will suffer because of it.