This is my reply to a reader tip request in Johnn Four's Newsletter regarding how to run a good long-term campaign.
Dear Joe (name changed),
That's a good question which depends on many factors. Since your question states only a general problem, I'll try to answer with only general remedies.
1. The most integral part of running a good long-term campaign is having an awesome adventure arc. As the GM it's your job to create a fantastic story and world which the players want to keep coming back to over and over again. Maintaining player interest is the key to a good long-term campaign. Try watching good movies and reading good books for inspiration. All the best GMs steal ideas occasionally and modify them so the players won't recognize them. Excitement is contagious. If the GM is excited by an adventure, the players will be too. Try to always end adventures with cliff hangers, that way the players will be wondering all week what will happen next and that will maintain interest ten fold. I used to employ such great cliff hangers my players would beg me to continue the adventure on the spot, but I wouldn't. All week they could talk of nothing else but what would happen next in the adventure. When it finally came time to play everyone was so excited and 'into' the story I didn't even need to recap events.
2. Schedule a weekly playing time and try to make sure you play the game every week. People are busy, if you miss a couple sessions your campaign will die or at least be forgotten which is never a good thing for a long-term game. Always try to play once a week and preferably on the same day at the same time. It's always worked for me. I have some friends who used to run games 'just whenever' but then no-one would make it out to the games and it would be months between sessions. This kills a good campaign as surely as anything.
3. Have good characters. Make sure the players have a vested interest in their characters. Try to let them acquire 'cool' things and accomplish great deeds early on. Make them draw a picture for their character. All of these things will firmly establish the character in the players' minds and keep them eager to play. While nobody cares much about Joe the Fighter, just consider how much more interest is invested in Joe the Fighter who slew the great demon Argos to save the Kingdom of Pan and who wields the great star-fire sword of the elves? Weave the characters and their relationships into the story and the story characters you create as quickly as possible. Make them feel like they're part of a world. Have them meet and interact with the same important NPCs over and over again until those NPCs are as much a part of the story as the player's characters themselves.
4. Establish a good long-term villain. If your campaigns die off early it's probably because of a lack of cohesiveness in the stories. Try to tie all adventures together with a story arc, cliff hangers, and (if possible) a really good villain who constantly annoys and taunts the heroes. Most players will endeavor to keep playing a campaign at least until they 'beat' a really good villain you've established. As long as you can keep the villain alive without cheating or being unfair, your campaign should keep going as long as the villain really is worth his salt. My players once spent most of a 20 level campaign hunting down one annoying thief who kept stealing from them and a particular dark wizard who always defeated them (but left them alive). When they finally caught the thief and defeated the evil wizard, the campaign ended but on an epic note.
Hope that Helps,
--David L. Dostaler
Author, Challenger RPG (free)
Challenger Revision Updates:
- Improved Glossary
- Improved TOC
- Commissioned 100 pieces of artwork for the book.
- Weapon damage rules.
- Rewrote all powers in the game and all descriptions of all classes (and planning race descriptions).
- All Class entries now have a subtype, skill access, weapon training, and armor training entry.
- Reduced levels to only 30 levels in common, legendary, and epic tiers. When you reach legendary or epic level you can buy new special epic and legendary powers.
- Completely reworked the skills chapter. All skills now have specific groupings, RRs to do various things with them, rules on critical success and failure, and many redundant and confusing skills have been removed or clarified.
- Added henchmen and magic item crafting rules. Now the complicated artificer and potion brewing powers are much simpler.
- Rewrote all high level powers and put in some cool new ones.
- I have a guy working on putting tables in the book (print only because e-books don't support tables) for equipment, classes, and so forth.
- More powers per level (usually it takes a really long time to get stuff).
- Overall clearing of clutter and making the text more 'serious' but still keeping the occasional funny part.
- Rewrote introduction to be less 'preachy' and more geared to new players complete with all the abbreviations needed to play.
- Dragon moved from classes to races.
- Classes now only have one name instead of dozens.
- GM 'essay' is now at the very back of the book.
- Adding in more monsters by request.
- Possibly going to do double column to format pictures better.
- Possible cool parchment background and swirly page borders (I have these, but formatting glitches prevented me from using them sooner).
- Castle map picture and rules on drawing your own 'dungeon' areas.
- New Engagement rules solve a lot of mechanical problems including 'free hits' in combat. Now there are only free attacks and 'dodges' to get out of the way of such free attacks. Overall, makes combat have more flow and a feeling of control as opposed to randomness.
- Special thanks to Sean and Robby for the great ideas!
50 RPG Encounters on the Road