Looking back over the past year or so of blog entries (I crossed the 200 mark a few blogs ago and didn't even notice!) one theme that emerges is my constant struggle between committing to a game long-term versus flitting from one game to the next, one-shot after one-shot. I spent a lot of 2014 wanting to get a full campaign under my belt. I did (kindof) with Firefly...and I came to realize I don't care much for that kind of experience. I think I'm pretty comfortable and happy being a one-shot/short-game GM.
The problem I ran into with Firefly is that week after week I found myself in a battle against stagnation. Towards the end, I went to some ludicrous extremes to keep the game fresh and unique. I also found myself constantly in conflict with clashing plotlines...did I want to tell some kind of epic story with my players, or did I just want to follow them and see what happens? I could never make up my mind, and as a result, I ended up doing a disappointing job at both. I'm not saying I regret Firefly...it was definitely one of my favorite RPG experiences...but when I think about all the things I thought I was missing by not playing a long-form game, I see that it's not without its own costs and problems.
Still, I'm glad I tried, and I'm definitely not saying I'm done with the long games. In fact I'm prepping for two on the horizon: "Masks of Nyarlathotep" for Call of Cthulhu and "Jewel of Yavin" for Star Wars: Edge of the Empire. The difference with those, of course, is that they're long-form adventures designed to span a whole campaign. I won't be just winging it or world-building or any of that shit; I'll have a fully-prepared storyline/adventure ready to follow (or not follow), as the game demands.
Looking back at my own experiences, I daresay that's the real way to go: a good campaign should be built on a structural narrative. Whether that narrative is loosely-defined or every plot point plotted, I think an ideal RPG campaign has a definite beginning, middle, and end. I love a good sandbox as much as the next guy, but I can't imagine running a game for months...let alone years...on end where we're all just showing up and "playing to see what happens." I mean, after awhile, we all know what's going to happen, right? Now, I'll go ahead and temper that previous statement with the caveat that a sandbox game can have a definite end, and when they do, they tend to work. If you wanted to set up a game of Apocalypse World and decide that it's going to end after a dozen or so sessions, that, to me, works. Even if you don't exactly know how the game will end; just knowing there's a finite amount of game, I think, allows everyone at the table to sharpen up their senses and really get things going. It's a meta way of controlling tempo over the course of a long campaign.
I've done a lot of "shop talk" with other GMs over the years, and, inevitably, I get a story that goes like this: "Yeah, we had this game that went on for, like, years! And it was awesome...until <insert real-life problems, interpersonal drama, or other form of falling out/disconnection> and then it just kinda fell apart."
Wouldn't it be nice to be able to tell me (or anyone else) all about how awesome your game was, without having to have that anti-climactic bit at the end? Obviously I don't know you, Mr. Straw Man GM, but I actually wonder if, had the campaign not been a meandering good time and instead had a definite end point, if all the Whatever Happened would have even possibly not happened if that ending were in sight? I know, craziness, can't predict life, blah blah blah...but if you know something is coming to an end, I really believe we work our damndest to get there. I think everything...including and espeically our stories...need endings. There were a few occasions where I wanted to throw in the towel on Firefly, but I kept thinking "We've only got this many sessions left!" and doggonit, I stuck to it! For once in my GMing "career" I stuck to it! Of course it was only seven sessions, but baby steps, right?
Anyways, those are the thoughts going through my head this Wednesday afternoon. This Sunday, I'm going to host a big session of World Wide Wrestling, the latest Apocalypse-powered sensation to hit the virtual bookshelves. I'm only planning on one session, but if interest is strong and we come up with some cool stories, I'll push it to two, or four, or maybe even six separate sessions. And I'm looking forward to every part of it, including and especially the end.