I came back from vacation to my two play-by-post campaigns I was at the time playing before I left. I gave fair notice to all participants I would be gone, of course. When I came back only one was still running. The one that didn’t need a gamemaster (“GM”). The other one, well the GM decided he’d got in over his head, and he just wasn’t going to be producing a quality game. So the plug was pulled.
I am incredibly jealous of those gaming group that have had decades long campaigns. I’ve found in my gaming groups that was rarely the case. The current top games, Pathfinder and I guess Dungeons and Dragons, are swinging the pendulum further away by having drop-in type campaigns run at the local game shops. It’s a great idea to get people playing together, but I think it’s also indicative of the fickleness I’ve found in this hobby.
The first problem is there is simply too many game systems and content. I am running a FATE game as the back-up RPG campaign for our group. It’s kind of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen in 1933 with splashes of World of Darkness endless “toolkit”. I started the game back when FATE was in Kickstarter mode, and all I had were my backer drafts.
Since then there has been a little change to the FATE Core system, but things like Atomic Robo RPG have come out to further polish the FATE Core system. In Atomic Robo, for example, players have “modes”, which are less restrictive than it seems. An action scientist might have a science mode and an action mode. It doesn’t mean he can’t be shooting bullets for science! But, it helps to define a character and the character’s Aspects. This is something that has been a great issue in our group. So, of course I grab it, and then I start having vast dreams of converting our poorly-Aspected characters to this new awesome system.
I’ve come back from that precipice, and Atomic Robo has given me some great ideas to incorporate into my campaign. But, you see where this is going? That is just flavors of one system.
Werewolf: the Apocalypse 20th Anniversary Edition (“W20”) is plugging along too in fine time, and Changing Breeds just came out which (re)introduces other werecreatures beyond werewolves. Now most W20 fans see across the whole spectrum of the old game line, but it’s indicative of how many campaigns can go.
I get W20. Yay! Let’s make werewolves. Our campaign starts going every other week or so because real life always gets in the way. We’re making progress in story and characters, and then New Supplement Comes Out! New skills or powers. New takes on core mechanics. Of course the RPG company has to make money, but what do I do with the character that actually wanted to start her character with this power, or the other player that wants to be a completely new race that just came out?
This leads in to GM excitement. Running a campaign is work. It’s bookkeeping. It’s planning. It’s trying to make sure each player is somehow involved or invested in upcoming stories. I don’t blame the play-by-post GM for quitting because that seems to be a great norm, especially in play-by-posts.
GM’s get very excited about an idea. Players are part of the creative process when creating characters because the GM now has pieces to play with. Pieces that make the idea more real! Then it starts. Yay!
Then there will be that first moment where a player does something that the GM doesn’t really want. Perhaps the player steals a bit of jam out of the idea. Perhaps the player’s character does something that really shakes things up in a way that knocks the game off the direct path to the idea.
It’s great when these changes produce more excitement. If the GM starts seeing all the great ideas coming out of actual play and gets more excited, good on that game. However, the opposite can be just as true, and the GM just deflates. The work becomes actual Work. A bit of shame comes in because the players are relying on the GM for fun! Don’t want to disappoint the players.
It’s no small wonder that GM seppuku is probably the number one reason for a campaign’s death. It’s so much easier to just wipe the board clean with totally new, totally exciting content. More and more I’ve been eyeballing GM-free RPG’s or ones where it’s easy enough to rotate GMs.
The one solution I have for fellow gamers stuck in similar excitable roller coaster rides is to keep things short. Make a story arc that lasts a couple sessions. Then allow a kind of refresh. Perhaps next story arc players want to make another character, or next arc will be a new game. Keep it short, and keep it so there is an end in sight for all players. Let them see an opening for them (and the GM) to be fickle.
Another solution is to simply not have a GM, but that’s a whole ‘nother bag of cats.