Why did my campaign end before I felt it was “finished?”
It seems to me that most (or nearly all) pathfinder/dnd campaigns fall apart before the story is finished. The question is why, and what can we do as players and GMs to set ourselves up for a successful campaign that leaves everyone satisfied. I’d like to focus on adventure paths specifically. I recognize in advance that a campaign does not have to end when the adventure path says it does, and that satisfying endings can occur at any point in the story depending on your perspective. Still, I think many players and GMs end their campaigns sooner than they would have liked, so I’d like to explore why.
I think self-written campaigns usually break down because of the herculean task of writing your own material. GMs, even committed ones, have lives and work and family. They also run into writer’s block or need extended hiatuses to develop new material. I think any extended hiatus can spell doom for the campaign. I could be wrong about that, but in my anecdotal experience GM delay leads to players moving on to other games and, from there, generally to campaign collapse.
To restrict the task to more manageable amounts of info, I’d like to survey you cannibalistic humanoid forum dwellers on your experiences with adventure paths specifically:
1. Of the campaigns you have begun, how many have you completed start to finish?
2. How many reached a satisfying ending for you story wise even if they didn’t reach the end of the printed material?
3. For the campaigns that collapsed, why do you think this occurred? Players not showing up? GM's lack of commitment? Scheduling difficulties?
I would love to put together an idea page for ways to avoid critical campaign collapse, which I think begins when more than three sessions are missed or canceled, or when more than three sessions occur with only two players showing up.
I’ll get around to extensively posting my own experiences if this takes off, but I’d love to hear what you all have to say on the matter. To start off, the only adventure path I have run to completion was Carrion Crown--on the second attempt. It took a couple of years to get all the way through. The successful run was generally a weekly game. I think doing it weekly really helped, though I know life gets in the way and it is rare to find a GM and 3 or 4 players to commit to weekly sessions. Still, even bi-weekly sessions seem to spell disaster unless the GM really rides herd on their players, reminding them of each session and trying to persuade them to show. The campaign in question also had a set of players that shifted over time--as one dropped out I had to go out and recruit another. I think only one of the players made it through from part 1 to part 6 without interruption, though a couple others were non-sequentially present for 3/4ths of it.
What do you guys think? Why do these campaigns break down? How many players do you need for a quorum? Are there strategies you guys have to avoid campaign collapse? Please assume that the written material is interesting and the games are fun, those are different issues.
Just speaking specifically about PF APs:
I have brought the following to completion;
Carrion Crown (GM)
Iron Gods (GM)
Curse of the Crimson Throne Book 2 (Player)
Kingmaker book 3 (player)
Serpents Skull book 3 (player)
Jade Regent book 3 (player)
The collapsed campaigns did so for a myriad of reasons. None of them are the typical obstacles of real life issues, flaky player attendance, or group social contract issues. I'd say it was a combination of GM burnout and loss of interest that would be the biggest contributor.
GM burnout was usually due to the amount of prep time required (even with printed material). Also, PF at higher levels becomes a bit of a bear to adjudicate and run smoothly. In my group for instance, there has never ever been desire to take a campaign beyond AP completion. At that point, we are well ready to start a new game as high level PF is not a sweet spot for us.
The loss of interest factor was a combination of GM and/or players losing interest in continuing the campaign. Some of this was due to lack of RP opportunities, some of it on GM burnout, and some of it GM not liking how the AP was progressing as written.
You may have noticed that the only APs that we completed are the ones that I GM'd. My players, I believe, would consider the endings satisfying to the campaign experience. I attribute that success to my drive to bring a campaign to completion. I strive to keep the game interesting and re-write (sometimes extensively) less interesting parts. As GM, I adjust to keep things fresh. The other GMs in my group are not as willing or have the time to make this happen.
Honestly, it doesn't surprise me to see most of our APs dying on the vine around book 3. It's usually a lag point (IMO) in the writing. Often, it seems some theme (often Mythos) is crammed into the middle to fill out the adventure that just doesn't fit. For example, a haunted themed AP that has an entire chapter dedicated to fighting aliens for some contrived reason. Often, the miss fitting chapter is well written, it just doesn't align with the campaign in the beginning or the end. This can cause players and GMs to lose interest and eventually the idea of giving up seems welcomed.
I wont waste a ton of time talking about high level PF, but it can cause burnout for many groups. Also, the APs start to lose content space for fun and exciting story/RP elements and give way to long drawn out dungeon crawls (which are required to challenge high level groups and their ever expanding resources). Keeping the game fresh can be real challenging when your focus is required on mechanics.
Ending prematurely is a bummer and not really satisfying. Though, starting a new campaign is always exciting and quickly washes away any longing for a previous cut short adventure. This im sure will vary greatly from one group/player to the next.
I look forward to hearing more and discussing this topic further.