So you’re either in a long-term campaign or you’re running one and you have no idea how to keep it going. You don’t want to see your favorite character(s) fade into obscurity in the annals of your gaming history, but how do you stay challenged or keep things challenging for your players? Allow me to present a few of my humble ideas.
The fundamental flaw for me seems to be in setting a goal for the campaign, an end game that is easily achievable by players. When I say easy of course, that’s relative. It may actually be quite challenging, but with perseverance a group of players could succeed in a couple of years of steady play. Now, if that’s what you want, great! If your intention is to run with a definable exit strategy, my advice is unnecessary.
If however you determine at the beginning you’d like to run a very long term campaign or if in a existing campaign you find you don’t want it to end so abruptly, the above strategy is the kiss of death. You have to modify your way of thinking and except that the best long-term story lines don’t really have a simple, definable conclusion.
There are a couple of ways you can deal with this dilemma. The first is, you can weave a grand tapestry of adventures into an overall campaign background. The world grows and evolves, affected by the characters’ actions in the game, but it persists. The ultimately definable goal (players rule the world or whatever) is so far into any setting that you can postpone or halt it altogether for as long as is needed. It is important in these settings for the players to see that their characters’ actions are making a difference. Their part in developing the setting is what will maintain their interest.
Another idea is to develop a series of mini-campaigns, each with identifiable goals, but ultimately not enough to stop the career of the PC’s. I call this the “novel” approach. A campaign setting (city, nation, etc.) is fully explored and adventured through with some ultimate resolution (Defeat Boss A, unite the clans, whatever). At the end of the setting, though, should the players like their characters and want to keep going, events should transpire to have the characters move on to the next setting and the next series of problems they must solve.
Now comes the matter of power levels. How do you keep long-term PC’s from overwhelming a campaign setting by sheer virtue of their power levels and accumulated equipment? Easy enough and any GM worth his or her salt should already know the answer. Strip the gear. In most cases, it’s not practical for PC’s to move everything they’ve accumulated over a campaign. If they wish to continue along to another mini-campaign or be forced to pull up stakes and move to a different part of an existing setting due to the flowing narrative model, they’re going to have to liquidate a large part of their inventory.
This will likely come at a substantial loss, but I always allow players to take their characters’ favorite (and most portable) things with them. Rifles, sometimes vehicles or steeds, melee weapons, certain books or whatnot are all acceptable material and this gives the characters a unique look as well as makes them more “lifelike”. We all accumulate flotsam and jetsam in our lives. Why should PC’s be any different? This even goes to include “hangers on”, NPC’s who for whatever reason are now joined at the hip with the PC’s.
Certain things will also and should also become easier as a fringe benefit of advancement. For example, liquidation of all their accumulated goodies should lead to at least a small nest egg that can be used to more quickly secure a base in the new area, or buy contacts or protection or whatever. As a GM, this can always be worked around, but it is important (and I say this as a former player and GM) that a player feel his character has advanced enough that tangible benefits are present.
So you have some models and some ways to port the characters over to a new dynamic or new setting, dependent on what your and their interests may be. The important thing to remember is to not let this be too much of a chore. What burns out most GM’s is they start treating a campaign setting like a task or work and less like something fun; a unique story they have a strong hand in crafting. Keep it simple, have your fun and follow some of these basic rules and the rest should take care of itself.