Writing for an open-ended campaign with no set endpoint can be very different for writing for a specific adventure plot with a limited run. What should be your concerns with each of them, and what should you avoid?
There are a lot of different styles of game with different goals, as we’ve talked about before. However, one thing many players don’t think about is what the endpoint of the game is intended to be- and that’s a big deal, because how a game finishes can be a huge influence on how it’s remembered and what everyone at the table takes away from the game. Endings are important, so you should absolutely be thinking about the ending of your game right from the very start of it.
Now, I don’t mean this in the sense of “know what the final boss is going to be”; you may also want to do that, of course, but that’s not what I’m talking about here. What I mean is that you should be thinking about what kind of course you want to plot for your game and how long you want it to be as well as what your goals for it are. Some people run games that last years or even decades, while others have games that might only span a couple sessions or even a single night; neither of these is wrong, but they certainly lend themselves to very different styles of play and goals for everyone involved.
So ask yourself (and your play group) what you intend with a game. Are you looking to have an ongoing weekly experience with no set termination point, so you and your friends can hang out and pretend to be elfs for as long as desired? If that’s the case, make sure that the campaign has an open and expansive world that the players can explore and interact with. Don’t limit the scope of your world, and always have new opportunities to explore. Also, make sure you know what kind of scope and scale you’re going to have in terms of power levels and influence over the world. Be prepared to introduce lots of characters to the game, not only NPCs but also sometimes PCs as well- because it shouldn’t be surprising if someone dies or retires, or real-world schedules don’t work out. You also need to beware of escalation in such a game- if you are making each adventure bigger and more important than the last, things can get very out of hand unless you want the players to be overthrowing kingdoms and contending with gods.
In a more intermediate style of play, where you have a specific endpoint in mind but intend to take some time getting there, your concerns may be very different. A significant danger of these sorts of campaigns is “wandering” in the middle, where there is a strong beginning and a strong finish but somewhere in the center things are sufficiently vague and unplanned that the game loses most of its structure. Make sure you have down all of your roadmap for the game, and are ready to shift things when your players make decisions you didn’t expect. Similarly, be sure that your players are alright with the commitment of showing up to the game consistently as such a plot often requires. Also, try to avoid saving the “good” parts for late in the game- if you hold back everything interesting from the beginning, you may never get to those later parts, so start strong and don’t stop.
For a short-run campaign of a couple to a dozen sessions, this is even more true- you should have a very good idea of what you are planning for each game and how it will go. You don’t need to have absolutely everything plotted out, of course, but you should know what the plot beats for each session are and what the track of the adventure is. If you are looking to have character development, know when that happens and how it will come about specifically. You should present the players with distinct options and choices more so than open-ended choices, especially if the game is on the shorter end of things; nothing will kill the momentum of this sort of game more than the players arguing for an hour or two over how, exactly, they want to open the Mysterious Door.
Of course, these are only a few of the ways to look at these kinds of games, and they all exist along a spectrum- there is no absolute border between a limited adventure and a longer campaign, and what suits the needs of your game in particular may vary. The important thing, as always, is that you approach the game with purpose and intention and know what you want and what you intend to do as well as what your players will enjoy; if you can do all of this, you have a game that is a positive experience for everyone involved, which is what matters most.
As always, remember that you can get your roleplaying supplies at great discounts every day from the Frontline Gaming store, whether you’re looking to pick up a supplement with some cool new abilities or a set of minis for your next encounter.