Campaign Planning: Whoa! How Many Sessions is That!?
I am preparing to start a new campaign with the Where No Man Has Gone Before 2.0 setting based upon the MicroLite20 system. I am designing the campaign around the progression of the crew’s career starting with their training at Star Fleet Academy and ending with the characters having achieved such prestigious honors as being admirals, ambassadors, and prime ministers of governments. How the characters will stay involved in the zany adventures of a Star Trek RPG is a problem that I will tackle when I get there.
Progression in the game is simple. For every “episode” (game session) the PCs are a part of they earn a point of experience. When the PCs do something heroic that is in accordance with the mission of Star Fleet those PCs earn additional experience points (usually one or two points at the most). A character goes up a level upon reaching double their current level in experience points. So a first level character reaches second level by earning two experience points, a second level character reaches third level by earning four experience points, and so on.
Each level is associated with a rank, so when a PC goes from first level to second level they go from being a green cadet to a seasoned cadet, from second level to third they go from being a cadet to a green officer at the rank of Ensign, and so on. I am creating additional titles for the higher levels, because the game does not have ranks like Ambassador or Prime Minister (and for obvious reasons as those are not ranks at all). In the spirit of the television show and the films I am giving the characters chances to move away from Star Fleet if they want to.
The problem I face is that if the characters earn an average of two points of experience per session I will need to run 210 sessions for the characters to progress from cadets to the 14th level careers. That would mean running a game once per week for four years and one week straight. I have no intention of running a campaign for that long.
I hear that there are games of D&D out there that people have been playing for longer than three decades supposedly, and that is great if that is what you want to pursue. I married my wife, not a game system. I want this campaign to last about 26 sessions which is approximately six months. After that I want to move onto another game.
That is why I am just going to hand wave all of the experience rules. Characters will level up when I feel that they should level up. Characters will be promoted when I feel that the character should be promoted. Most important of all is that experience levels and rank will not be tethered to each other. You can be a 10th level Ensign working for a 5th level Captain in this game. I will keep characters advancing at a steady pace, and higher ranks and levels will not take longer to earn than lower ranks and levels do. Characters will advance and age at the speed of plot. This is not to say that there is anything wrong with the rules of the game as they are written, but that I simply do not want to use those rules.
Is this fair? I think so. The players will be told about this before they decide to join the game, so it will be fair in that sense because they will have chosen to participate under the condition that I will be responsible for determining advancement of the characters using my own judgment. I have been GMing for a long time, and I know how to manage people based on that and other life experiences (more the other stuff than the GMing actually). It is more likely that the characters will advance faster if I decide when they have earned the opportunity to move forward.
The reason that I am mentioning this though is because it seems that a lot of RPGs are designed with the intention of having people play the game for years. If you are an RPG designer please consider ditching that sort of model. There are so many great games and settings already out there, and more are coming out all of the time. Some like Where No Man Has Gone Before 2.0 are completely free, and how can you compete by producing a product that not only costs more money but that will also require years worth of play in order to experience the complete advancement of a character? Most gaming groups tire of a game after a year of playing it every two weeks in my experience.
Just some food for thought if there are any game designers out there who read my blog. Design some telanovelas for us instead of these shows that seem to drag a simple storyline on forever like Lost did. Some RPGs do the same thing and try to stretch out a cool mechanic or play experience well beyond its natural lifespan. I would rather have games that focus on keeping things moving at a fun and fast pace.