Continuing my articles about the nuts and bolts of role-playing, I’ve gone topical. Campaigns are generally the big guns of RPGs, they’re the things you always remember. A good campaign leaves a proud GM, and a group of players wanting more. A campaign is not just a group of sessions, for instance my cyberpunk cops, that I’ve run for years is not a campaign. Campaigns have beginnings and ends, they have major villains (who you can’t kill) and their underlings (who you can).
There’s 2 broad types of campaign, historical (or real-ish) and complete fiction. Former examples include my Hastings one, where the group went from being teenagers, following a young nobleman called Harold, to standing alongside him at Senlac, holding his banner, the most trusted of his guard. Then there was the First Crusade, one of Straw’s epics, going from young household knights to owning great chunks of the Holy Land and starting military orders. The flaw with historical is obviously you know where you’re going, and you may not get much leeway. You are going to keep getting shunted in certain directions by the GM, who needs certain things to happen. You can as a player who has some historical knowledge, mildly cheat (for example, my baron in the Holy Land bought a chunk of Sicily, just in case the infidel came back). As a GM, you have to keep an eye on this (in my defence, my baron may have owned safe land abroad, but the only way Saladin was going to get his home castle was to pry it from his cold dead fingers).
Fictional campaigns can be as epic as you make them. My most epic was using MERP, set in Middle Earth about 2000 years pre LoTR, where the players are a group of reasonably powerful characters, who have to guide a young man of impeccable lineage, as he attempts to take the throne of Cardolan. The guy who set it up for them, an old man in grey robes was very insistent…
As I’ve said, a campaign should have a beginning and an end, where they finally catch up with the major baddie who they’ve hated for ages (it is perfectly acceptable to fiddle rolls to keep this person alive). There should be some sort of theme, a goal for the players that they can only reach through immense struggle. You get the idea. So think big, set your players on a journey. Lord of the Rings would make a good campaign, but personally I’d give the players 2 characters, a hobbit and one of the heroes. If they just played the hobbits, they’d get bored with the fact the NPCs are SO much more powerful.
A last word of advice – know your group. Do not as a GM start writing a campaign (clearly lots of work) if you have the sort of party who won’t get it. If you’re a player, and your GM starts a campaign, hurl yourself into it. You won’t regret it.