Long or Short: Short Campaigns

All posts, RSS Feed

Just as there are many different types of players, there are many different kinds of campaigns. One aspect that is rarely discussed except perhaps in the vaguest of terms is whether a campaign is ‘long’ or ‘short’. This terminology in and of itself seems to suggest a binary distinction between the two, and while of course campaigns can have any length you please, I think that such a binary division, in this particular case, actually holds some level of merit.

The dividing line by this definition is that short campaigns are designed with a preset or expected ending, while long campaigns are expected to remain ongoing indefinitely.

Short campaigns work best when they have a specific story to tell and usually the game is designed with that in mind. This may mean the heroes completing their mission, figuring out the mystery or being defeated. Or, if everyone just wants to explore a concept or goof around, whatever content can be generated within the limited number of sessions the campaign is set to last.

Short campaigns thus aren’t defined by their exact length and may last any amount of time, from one session to many months. But in all cases there is the knowledge that the campaign is not meant to last forever and will eventually come to an end, to be replaced by the next short campaign.

This offers several benefits, not in the least simpler storylines and characters. This requires less investment by both players and storytellers in designing background as the world doesn’t quite need the depth and internal consistency if it is going to be left behind in a few weeks anyway.

But short campaigns also offer an opportunity for experimentation. Always wanted to play an anthropomorphic slug with a British accent who solves crimes with his French tortoise sidekick? Why not give it a try? If it doesn’t work, you can always try something else later. But if it does, and everyone is having fun, you can always expand the story and keep it going a while longer!

On the flip side, it is harder to become invested in a short campaign, and players may lose interest. Worse, short campaigns by necessity need to focus on the main story, leaving little room for exploring the particulars that a player finds most interesting. Some players may even feel cheated because once they finally get into their character, the game is already over, and there is not much room for character growth.

But all of this also hints at one of the major advantages of short campaigns. If everyone is having fun, it is much easier to make them longer than to make long campaigns shorter. Even if one or two players are tired of the character they created, if the game is otherwise fun, its easy for them to simply make a new PC for the next part of the story. You can always flesh out additional details after the fact, add new backstory or swinging the same band of misfits into a new situation.

Soon, we’ll take a look at long campaigns (available here), but in the meanwhile, be sure to check out this week’s changelog. What kind of campaign do you prefer? We’d love to hear from you in the community forum!