I've been mulling over the idea behind this post for a couple of weeks. It all boils down to the fact that I've never "finished" a campaign in any game ever. I need to make a distinction to start out though. I've had huge success in both playing and running one-shot games, but that's definitely not what I'm talking about here. A campaign in the context of this post is more than just completing a published adventure over the course of a couple of weeks.
What I'm talking about here would be, in a traditional level-structured game, starting at level 1 and going through a complete arc through the highest level possible for the characters. For example, in D&D 4th Edition, a GM would help a group of players make level 1 characters and run an entire campaign by bringing them to level 30 through many, many nights of adventure and story-telling. I'd even allow the group to start at a low, but not bottom, level like 3 or 4.
So I've never done this or particapted in such a game. A part of me feels ripped off as I haven't had the opportunity to so thoroughly identify with any of my characters the way a full campaign allows players to do so. I take solace in the fact that we've only been playing tabletop games for four or five years now, and to complete a campaign of our first game we jumped into (Star Wars Saga Edition), we'd only just be finishing a campaign now.
But it really it's all about options. We're still searching for our main game system and setting at this point, and outside of Dragon Age, which is neccessarily slow-going to allow time to build new set pieces, we ping around from the familiar (Call of Cthulhu, D&D 4th Ed., Savage Worlds, etc.) to the new shiney kid on the block (Amethyst, Shadowrun, World of Darkness, etc.). There are just too many options and fun new games out there to try out. Like more RPG collectors, I have a gigantic backlog of games I'd be ecstatic to run but just don't have the time to sit down, read through, and plan a game of (Legends of the 5 Rings 4th Ed. I'm looking at you).
I wonder, is this pretty common? We actually have a fairly stable core group of 5 to 6 guys who meet weekly, and even we can't pull off a solid, regular campaign. I haven't gotten into board games and how sometimes we just need, as a group, a collective break from role-playing. What about everyone else out there? How many campaigns have you completed in the last decade of gaming?
The other big question I have is this: do we need games that support 30 levels of play, or are we getting a heckuva lot of extra material that will never see the surface of a table? I'm working on putting together my own game, and it occurred to me that I want a different focus on advancement. It's somewhere between games made for one-shots (Fiasco, Dread, Remember Tomorrow) and games that allow for endless character development and power spectrum (D&D). Maybe instead of designing your game to be played out over the course of years with character power curves growing endlessly, we can look to completing character arcs and personal stories in a matter of casual play over months? If nothing else this plays in favor towards the "simulation" and "realism" camps of role-playing. Afterall, it's exceedingly rare that a character starts at Strider and finishes the story at King Elessar, right?
To round this out, I'd love to hear what you think of the modern campaign, and even moreso from those who have had some success completing (or at least getting close to completing) a campaign.