RPG A Day 16: Do I prefer a set length or open-ended campaign?

Another alternate question for the day that I forgot.  I got caught up in a lot of stuff yesterday and realised I forgot to post when one of the players in my Pathfinder comment walked in and said “You haven’t done day 16 yet!”.  So here we are.  The actual Day 16 question I found odd and did not really know how to answer it – I would use all games as is if I could.  So I decided to answer if I preferred a set length or open-ended campaign.


These days I play to discover or learn things.  About my designs and about the characters that play in them.  Last nights game is a great example of this.  The previous game to that the players began investigating an assassination of one of the Tarnished Souk’s guards.  A burst of fey creatures exploded from a jewelry store and in the wake a body of a captain of the Hounds of Ill Repute was found.  The players soon surmised through their druid’s animal companions that the assassin was a cloaked fey like creature who was identified as the famed assassin Po’ Kesteros.  They also discovered that the guard captain was dating a barmaid from the Death’s Carriage Inn.

The party has also encountered a young child vampire who is looking for her brother named Kesteros.  Thinking the two individuals (Po’ Kesteros and he) may be one and the same they followed the breadcrumbs back to the Death’s Carriage.  There they met the barmaid who was not too upset her boyfriend had been killed and the party was directed to the manager of the establishment, Ariel LeBeau.  Ariel was shocked and concerned about Po’ Kesteros’ involvement, telling the players she was not surprised.  Po had been also courting the young barmaid in the bar and believed that the assassination was over the girl.  She told the party that Po’s lair was in an abandoned theater on the docks and wished the players well in catching him.

On the way out they mentioned Po to the barmaid and said they would catch him.  She mentioned Po’ Kesteros the assassin – knowing him by reputation only.  She had apparently never met him.  Fast forward to the group standing outside a theater, one of the party members being quite drunk having attended a funeral wake only hours before.  They plunge into the Theater Macabre (which is my pet name for it) to attend a recital of a play by a famed playwright (Willy Wobblelance the author).  The theater was boarded up so the performance was a surprise – as was the fact that it was performed by four wights.  Two of the PC’s are performers so they all settled in to watch the play – a three and a half hour journey of highs and lows performed by some very poor actors.

Long story short, the theater was a trap maintained by the The Masque, a rival thieves guild that the players had recently caused a war with.  Po’ Kesteros had probably never been here in his life.  The players fought the wights as they would not join the eternal troupe as well as a Bugbear Dread Devourer that had been starved.  A tough ask though they all survived.  None of this was the surprise though.  The surprise came as they found the study that the Masque woman used.  There was evidence there that the undead were kept there and were maintained in a state of hunger or need.  I thought this an obvious clue that the theater was a trap, a honey pot.

My moment of discovery then came at the end of the game.  They found a trove of magical items in the study and left them there.  They left them with a note to Po’ Kesteros apologizing for the intrusion and hoping that they could discuss if he is the Kesteros that the child vampire is looking for!  I was surprised.  Shocked at this development and overall pleased at the way things had turned.

Nice story but you haven’t answered the question…

True.  But here is my point.  A planned number of sessions to me seems to imply a planned plot line.  I do not like planned plot lines at all.  They reek of the potential of railroading and the like.  I present a campaign world and allow the players to explore it.  There are bottlenecks in some of my designs made to further introduce material but that is all they do.  The bottlenecks are not undefeatable and if the players work against them and break them then that is where the story goes.  I am really enjoying this particular game because no matter what I prepare the players surprise me every single week.

The why about which style of campaign I prefer

To me a campaign with a set number of sessions is artificial.  It is going to be tightly controlled and be directed.  I much prefer an open-ended campaign because when I start a game I do not know where it is going to end.

The Exception

I am currently working on my Pink Floyd Momentary Lapse of Reason inspired Classic Traveller game.  It is a connected campaign that will consist of ten sessions.  But this is not a campaign in the regular sense of the word.  Each game is going to likely be in a different setting (planet/space/space station/ space ship etc.) and will all be played with different characters.  The campaign is still going to be designed with a discovery theme – just the starting points will be highly defined with missions and the like known.  I honestly cannot see how to do this with continuing characters that would make me comfortable.

So there you have it – a long story and the answer.  Open-ended campaigns to me are really the only honest way of learning about your creations.  Players enjoy continuing characters and I just cannot see a way that I could design a game in a set number of sessions that allowed for me to enjoy the discoveries of the game also.  I am looking forward to you all telling me how incredibly wrong I am with this post!  Keep rolling…

1 Comment

  1. I think you’ll find it’s called the Thimbleweed Theater


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