View Full Version : Long timescale campaigns

2017-11-23, 07:02 AM
I once read about the idea of running campaigns that are structured around a long time scale, with the PCs having regular duties and journeys taking so long that the party is having a full scale adventure only every other year, instead of going to another cave, ruin, or castle every week or so. One thing this does is to have characters advance much slower during their lifetime, making them line up better with the growth that is assumed about NPCs.
But the really interesting implication is that you can really show the world changing around the characters. You can have threats that first seem harmless, grow into a nuisance, and really become a serious problem only much later. Which in turn makes the players having to look at the world around their characters differently. They might wish that they had dealt with something several years earlier when they still mistook it as something unimportant while they were busy with something seemingly much more pressing. And they can also see the positive long term effects of their actions, by having people they saved in the past become important leaders of the towns, or no-names they befriended grow into very valuable allies.
And I think when players have the opportunity to see the long term effects of their actions, they are probably going to care a lot more personally about possible threats in the future. When you simply wander the Earth looking for villages that need a monster slain or cult destroyed then there's a certain mundanity and routine to it, with little actual concern for the village. Worst case scenario is that the village is destroyed and the party moves on to the next village that needs saving, which they would have been doing anyway. But when the threat is the destruction of a border ford that they helped rebuild five years ago, and that ford is actually guarding villages that they founded for former slaves they captured two years earlier, it all should feel very different.

Sounds great. How do you do that?

One example I know of, but don'r really know anything about, is Pendragon. Pendragon has you play as regional lords protecting your domain, apparently with the expectation that your character will grow so old during the campaign that your first PC has to retire and hand control over to his heir. And all the examples I gave above are basically about being the defenders of a small domain. But is that actually necessary? Are there also other possible frameworks that would benefit from maping things out on a very long timescale? Establishing connections to places and people seems quite central, so I think the players having some kind of permanent home base might be necessary. (Though pirates and desert nomads might be an exception, where you have relatively stable communities moving around collectively.)

2017-11-23, 07:11 AM
I think the core of it is ensuring the characters have something they would rather (or have to) be doing that isn't adventure. Your standard wandering bard/theif/mercenary doesn't have that, so it is hard to justify why they will put their feet up for 6 months to a year between adventures. Especially if there isn't an "impetus" for their adventures - it is easy to explain why a former adventurer would come out of retirement if their home/family/fortune is threatened, but you can only use that so many times before it become trite. If they are just heading out for money/treasure/fame it is hard to explain why they are doing that only periodically (barring living it up until their money is gone, and having to go out and make more).

That is why the model used by Pendragon works (and Birthright does the same for D&D), because the characters have duties and responsibilities that prevent them running off into the wilderness hunting goblins at the drop of a hat, whilst also meaning that when the serious threats to the realm raise their heads, they have to because they are the only ones skilled/armed/experienced enough to do so. By being rulers of a realm, it also explains how it is more likely to disturb the characters life (any supernatural or monsterous threat in a wide area will be brought to his attension) than if he has retired with his wife to some farm in a hamlet somewhere (where any threat that isn't literally burning down the crops and stealing the lifestock will go unnoticed).

2017-11-23, 07:11 AM
Unwritten (the unofficial Myst RPG) seems to work under this assumption. The writing, refining and exploring of a new Age could take years before it is available to the public - yet this is a process the PCs are expected to partake in on a consistent basis.

2017-11-23, 08:06 AM
The One Ring RPG does this quite well - and is by no means about protecting one small area. It places as much emphasis on the journey to the adventure as it does the adventure itself (much like how the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit were as much about the journey as the destination). It provides suggestions as to why the PCs might not be adventuring - because they're fatigued and need to rest, because the weather will be bad for the next season and adventuring becomes nigh-on suicidal if attempted because of it.

Perhaps more importantly it gives things to do during the downtime between adventures - the PCs can open a new Haven, a safe place where they can spend the winter. They can develop skills, integrate themselves into a community, or just go back to their homes and get married and have children.

...It also doesn't assume there's a convenient dungeon, dragon or long-lost ruin stuffed full of untouched riches a five minute walk from the nearest town. Valuables are far away and hard to find, otherwise someone would have already found them, so lengthy periods of travel are necessary - and it takes time to gather the resources you need to undertake an expedition in the first place.

2017-11-23, 11:21 AM
I think the core of it is ensuring the characters have something they would rather (or have to) be doing that isn't adventure.

Perhaps more importantly it gives things to do during the downtime between adventures - the PCs can open a new Haven, a safe place where they can spend the winter. They can develop skills, integrate themselves into a community, or just go back to their homes and get married and have children.

This makes me think that you can see it as two different appproaches to campaigns. One in which the majority of roleplaying is taking place at home with "adventures" as occasional breaks, and one in which a great amount of offscreen activity is taking place between adventures.
I really like the idea that the PCs aren't simply hanging around lazily until something exciting comes to them, but that they are held up by something that prevents them from moving out immediately. If they are expected to sit around and waiting for a call, it probably doesn't really motivate them to be proactive and really get engaged with the world.

A major obstacle that prevents traveling is winter. The seas are too rough and the mountain paths are impassable. This already takes out a quarter of the year. When you read reports of arctic expeditions, explorers and crews often had to spend half a year trapped in a shelter surviving on preserved supplies. You really want to rather spend that time in a town or castle than being stuck on a ship or in a small shack with the same 20 people the whole time.
Though of course, you can have emergency adventures close to your winter base in winter. Which I think would be much more meaningful if it's something the players got used to not normally happening.

Making the map big and travel slow also helps of course a lot with going through a lot of calendar pretty quickly.

One of the biggest challenges that I see is how to maintain party coherence over something like 20 years or potentially much more. Some PCs will leave, be forced to retire, or die over the years. Simply making a new character and join the party after the rest of them have been together for over a decade feels rather inelegant. I think that somehow all players should have their replacement character ready long in advance, so that the rest of the party already knows them very well when they become the new PCs. But if you have all players simply play two characters simultaneously you have almost the same problem again. In Pendragon those replacement characters are the heirs of the PCs, and with all of them being allied noblemen it's very easy to justify why they accept the newcomers among their ranks.

Darth Ultron
2017-11-23, 12:18 PM
Well, you simply have the characters take breaks. You don't need rules or anything. It is just more like in the year 307 the characters have a couple of adventures...and then once the lands are at peace...they settle down and don't do much from 308 to 316. But in 316 a big event happens and the characters again band together to stop it.

You can stop ''using the rules'' and just role play for the ''10 years'' or whatever of history. Or you can use some of the ''kingdom'' or ''downtime'' rules from just about any system.

2017-11-23, 12:33 PM
I just got an idea, that is not at all thought through yet. But I'd like to hear your thoughts.

What about setting up campaigns that revolve around events that are happening in multiple places at the same time? PCs can only be in one place at a time, but multiple antagonistic forces can be doing their foul work simultaneously in many distant places. This would encourage players to do multiple long overland journeys back and forth between different cities, which would cost them a lot of time spend on the road or at sea. And if they have to rely on messages delivered by courier, then it can take months to get a reply to an inquiry and they won't be knowing if a message got lost underway. Which means that again they will spend a lot of time staying in one place awaiting news that enables them to plan their next move.

Now PCs actually can be in multiple places at the same time, if they split the party. I first thought about how to discourage this, but it actually makes for a great implementation of secondary PCs. When the party splits and some of the PCs go on a far away journey, those players will in the meantime play secondary PCs that are staying with the other players. If you make it so that secondary PCs are not retainers of the players own PCs, but those of other PCs, you have a very good reason for why they stay behind and not also leave as well. And when it comes to upgrading a secondary PC to a main PC, then that character has already a well established relationship with other players' PCs.
All players still play simultaneously and everyone still only plays one PC at a time. Seems like a great solution.

2017-11-23, 03:11 PM
On the subject of 'a reason for this to happen,' another justification beyond ruling-a-territory I've seen suggested before is that the PCs are living in "civilization" and the lucrative place to adventure is quite a long way away, requiring a months-long expedition just to get there. If you live in Fantasy Beijing, where the land is settled and safe, but you want to adventure in Fantasy Ulan Bator, where the ruins of a great civilization offer treasure and adventure (but where it's too dangerous to establish a permanent settlement because of all the ancient magic and current monsters) you've got to either cross or circumnavigate the Fantasy Gobi Desert, and that's no trivial thing.

2017-11-23, 03:31 PM
I recently, finally, got my grubby little hands on Ars Magica, and having multiple characters could be an idea to take from it. Say one character is doing something long term that takes a check every week or even month, while the other character is doing something more active somewhere else.

Mark Hall
2017-11-23, 11:15 PM
I recently, finally, got my grubby little hands on Ars Magica, and having multiple characters could be an idea to take from it. Say one character is doing something long term that takes a check every week or even month, while the other character is doing something more active somewhere else.

And, since I have it copied from another thread, Ars Magica's 4th edition is free from Atlas Games, (http://www.atlas-games.com/product_tables/AG0204.php) which will give you some ideas about running longer campaigns.

2017-12-08, 04:10 PM
Ars Magica is increasingly looking more and more attractive as a source to draw from now that my new idea for a campaign is taking shape. (Much more medieval Europe than what I've been doing before.) But I'm still rather unsure how an actual campaign would look like based on the 4th edition rulebook.

As systems go, I am currently quite taken with Symbaroum. In this system, all characters get 1 XP for every encounter that poses real risk, and it takes 10 XP to learn a new ability, 20 XP to increase one to rank 2, and 30 XP to increase from 2 to 3. My idea is that it takes time to train to spend XP, making it 1 day of training per XP spend. To teach yourself a new combat trick or improve your mastery over a spell it seems like an appropriate amount of time.
If for any reason a character does skip all training for a day, the whole process has to be started again. Since the players probably want to stay together if at all possible, it only takes a single player wanting to spend 30 XP to make the whole party stay put for a whole month. This alone could have the players go on two adventures and train afterwards, and then it's already october and time to wait for next spring.

Martin Greywolf
2017-12-09, 10:49 AM
Main problem here is scale - to do something like this, you essentially need two systems, or one really flexible system, to handle two or three entirely different time periods - months to years for downtime, minutes to hours for adventure, and possibly seconds to minutes for combat.

FATE can do this reasonably well through extras, where a kingdom gets similar stats to your character and just has its actions play out on a larger timescale, but you need to do some legwork to pull it off. It's no Total War to be sure.

Other than controlling entities of this size (counties, guilds, colleges etc), you can't really do much because while the characters do have lives in the downtime, they usually aren't terribly interesting to the players. Few people who want to have a campaign of "let's hand it to Sauron with a sword and a hobbit" want to spend a lot of time roleplaying Aragorn and Arwen falling in love, even though the latter was a much, much longer process.

Basically, unless characters control things on a large enough scale, their reactions to changes on that scale can be purely reactive. They can plot to assassinate the evil emperor, but they can't stop his rise to power through the senate, simply because they have no influence over said senate. Sure, you can have an adventure of it, but then it's not downtime.

If you want them to bridge a gap between not having a power to having power, then maybe starting out as an agent of someone can be a good idea - "Totally-not-Jedi Council wants you to stop the evil, evil person from seizing control, roll diplomacy" - and depending on your roll, you may contribute ("Turns out one of his allies were rather pissed off when you managed to make him admit he started the blockade of their home"), you may damage your cause ("What do you mean he has a point?"), or it may not matter, because you're not a big enough fish yet ("Yeah, you managed to stall him but he pushed through your promotion to Space Siberia, good luck.").

2017-12-18, 10:37 AM
A major obstacle that prevents traveling is winter. The seas are too rough and the mountain paths are impassable. This already takes out a quarter of the year. When you read reports of arctic expeditions, explorers and crews often had to spend half a year trapped in a shelter surviving on preserved supplies. You really want to rather spend that time in a town or castle than being stuck on a ship or in a small shack with the same 20 people the whole time.

And if your adventure is going INTO the arctic, it's seasonal change you have to worry about - rivers you walked on to get to your site are now impassable raging whitewater rapids - and the foundation you cut into the frozen earth just two months ago is now sinking in the thawed ground and threatening to collapse your structure... and it's still -10 degrees outside at night...

If you're in a fortified, well-supplied castle in a temperate region, you might have to wait until late fall or winter just to start your expedition...

I was reading Risen from the Sands - and that module has some problems - but it starts at the entrance to the pyramid, and I think it would make a great noncombat challenge to actually make it one week through the desert to get there...

Thinking about all this is why I like to run low-level adventures. It feels grittier and real when a 5th-level fighter has to worry about the heat of the desert, the 5th-level cleric has to spend some of his prepared spells for the day just so they have a place to rest during the hottest part of it, and you've all bought hot weather outfits, extra water, and the right equipment from the town just to make it to your destination.

2017-12-18, 03:23 PM
I think the most effective way to do this is with the actual preparations, risks, and consequences of adventure. Most TTRPGs don't do long-term because they have no long-term mechanics or references.

Want to delve into the ruins of Telioua? Get your terrain-appropriate vehicle, terrain-appropriate towing animal, plans and funds to replace both because the terrain is at some point going to become inappropriate, a guide, letters of introduction to the next guide, letters of introduction to someone after that who might know the next guide, months of rations and supplies, clothing and equipment to cover the eventualities that may occur between [here] and [there], upgrade your vehicle and towing animal because you've got too much crap to carry now, etc.

And of course, between [here] and [there], random encounters that aren't crap. Stuff that isn't just a pile of HP to chop your way through for no reason. It's more interesting to straight up block the path with a physically impassable or suicidally dangerous element and have players rethink the whole plan - force them into untrod trails. Or, mention things that in no way impede the party but interest them all the same, and slow the party down by their own decisions. Do the whole bandits thing, but make the players take weeks to hunt them down, don't just cram a bunch of random bandits down their throats. Introduce the party to competing interests, show them how weird they are compared to everybody else, how difficult a time a bunch of ragged tomb-robbers can have getting things from other people.

But most importantly, break some bones. Nothing can quite compare to "your leg is broken, you are crippled for 1 year of healing" for forcing time to pass. In that time, what's the party doing? Do you take up archery, so you can be of some use while strapped down on the wagon's driving bench? Does a party member turn a passing dalliance into a romance as a result of being trapped in town by your injury? What obligations have you failed because of this, have you picked up any? If it's an arrow to the knee, do you NOT become a guardsman?

tl;dr break them so they have to deal with stuff even if they "win"

2017-12-18, 04:18 PM
An element that I really love from the early years of D&D and that all its derivatives seem to have dropped as well is retinues of NPCs following and serving the PCs. These usually stay out of the most dangerous situations, which are the ones that make PCs advance the most.
Time between adventures could be used to improve the capabilities of followers. It could drift off into army and stronghold management, but this doesn't necessarily have to be bad. I find it much more compelling than running a store.

2017-12-18, 04:39 PM
I've been working on a game called Legacy which is about this - it's built around two PCs playing a master and apprentice, with years between adventures, where when the master eventually dies the apprentice becomes the master and takes an apprentice of their own.

Playtesting has been pretty fun, although it's due for a rewrite.

2017-12-18, 09:02 PM
Marco Polo set out to explore and came back 24 years later. Many people assumed he had died, he was gone so long.

2017-12-25, 12:38 PM
My new setting is taking shape and for culture I am drawing heavily on 13th and 14th century Northeastern Europe as my main reference. And with a combination of feudal and clan structures, I think members of the gentry would make for really great PCs.
My idea is this: All the PCs are older children of different rural estates in the countryside, who commonly answer the family's obligations when their liege calls for men at arms to defend the region or fight for their overlord. They are all somehow related by blood or marriage (because among the rural gentry, who isn't?), but could also be loyal retainers of the families who are otherwise capable to accompany other PCs on quests or war. If one of the families is having trouble and sending on of their scions to deal with it, that PC can rely on the other PCs to join the party on the adventure.

This leads to a whole range of very nice consequences that would suit the kind of fiction I have in mind.
Every PC has a family to worry about. Not that you should target relatives as a cheap shot to create drama, but the players will have to consider the consequences of their actions and won't be riding off into the sunset. It also means that all threats to the general population are to some degree personal for all the players.
By spreading the PCs out over different estates, you can also spread out the threats and calamities over a larger area instead of all the bad things always happening to the same really unlucky keep.
Because the PCs are all related,everything that is a threat to one family becomes the business of all the PCs.
By making the PCs scions of the families but not heads, they get the responsibility of protection but they don't have to deal with the management of the estate. The patriarchs and matriarchs will be dealing with that.
In addition to being responsible for dealing with specific threats to their families, the players also have a strong incentive to keep looking into potential threats for the larger region. Someone elses small problem today could well become their own big problem tomorrow. For example, if strange howls come from the forest every month or travelers keep getting killed by brigands, at some point someone should look into it.
Since PCs have a day job and homes, you can easily spread the different adventures and the character advancement out over many years.

In addition, you can also send the party on long distance adventures by making them hunt a murderer or thief or by seeking a special object to save their homes. Which does lead to the interesting situations that the players would have to leave their homes for extended durations, which does conflict with their role of guardians. The solution would be to give each player a sibling or cousin as a second PC, but they can only play one of them at any given time while the other stays home. So at each adventure the players will have to chose which of their characters to take and which one to leave at home. The one who goes on adventure gets to advance, the other doesn't. And if one of the two is more capable, do you take that PC on the adventure or leave behind to guard the home? Playing out what happens at home while the main party is away is probably going to be much more fun for the players than coming back after months and seeing the place in ruins without having any opportunity to prevent it. The best time to play the stuff back home would probably be after the adventuring party has accomplished their goal and are on the way back. It would be strange to have the players go on with their quest when they already know they are desperately needed back home.