'Failed' Campaigns

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Jul 23, 2021, 3:29:23 PMJul 23
Saw this topic on DF, thought I'd share my thoughts on my 'failed campaigns.

First 'failed' is hard to determine in most cases. I don't know that
I had many I'd consider a complete failure - as in no fun was had, and
on the other side of the spectrum, I can only think of a few that were
complete successes.

Well let's start with the complete failures.

#1 Online - which generally has a lower success rate, and text chat,
which lowers it even more. Then there was the short time slot. I was
trying to run 5e and was doing a version of 'dungeon train' from
Adventure Time. 5e doesn't work well with short time slots for one,
and online and text chat lowers the throughput even more. The
'adventure' was probably a big issue with it, as that quickly gets
boring, even fully random dungeon is more interesting. I only had 3
joiners (weird as in the past I had plenty for 5e text chat) at the
end of the session they complained I was using XP instead of the
optional milestone leveling and never returned ?!?! 8O :?
:facepalm2: I had one guy return but he was totally clueless (way
worse than any newbie with 5e than I've worked with on roll20, and
I've done a lot) and didn't want to play by himself so that was it. 1
couple hour session.

#2 F2F - this was early 1e AD&D when I was a pre-teen. It was me
DMing a girl I'd just met at a resort my mom was at for a week she'd
brought me to. Just her, and I used B2 to start her in. She
basically went in and got captured by orcs immediately. The end. We
hung out the rest of the week, but no more D&D. That's actually the
one I regret most, and probably why I really dislike running 1 player
1 DM games. There's a lot I could've done better, for instance not
using B2 as is for a single character, not having her alone, not
starting at 1st level (But the DMG says to!) etc. But I was quite
inexperienced as a DM at the time, and it was very much a learning

#3 Not a complete failure but it failed more spectacularly than
anything I've ever seen before, I've heard about things like this, and
seen the fallout among people I knew, but never seen it firsthand.
Roll20 text chat, short sessions again, but I was running 0e (Clone
DD.) It started off pretty fun, and lasted a few sessions, but there
was a playstyle difference. I had no thieves and some people kept
complaining about how they would find traps without one. I said you
describe how you look for them, and I'd give some hints for it. Well,
I didn't really give any hints other than to take it slow and poke at
things, use a 10' pole, etc. AFTER a couple traps. Low level thieves
suck at traps anyway, so I don't see the difference and with everyone
able to do so it should've gone better. It didn't, one of them got
blown up by a fire trap on a spellbook. I didn't give any warning on
that either, but they didn't take any precautions after the hint of
poking at things, which would've saved him. The other playstyle issue
was hirelings, I like using them and strongly encouraged them, a
couple players took to it like a duck to water. One of the other
players who didn't *told* him to get rid of the hirelings in not so
nice words because it was slowing the game down and unfair to them not
getting their turn, it turned really ugly and the whole group
imploded. I was on the side of the hirelings people of course, but
they quit over it not wanting to play with the person who started it,
who ended up the only one left. Hindsight 20/20 a bunch of hirelings
are a bad idea in a short timeslot online, it took a lot longer to
resolve their turns than it would've in a live game. But I blame this
on personalities more than anything, and I doubt these people would've
gotten along no matter what else was happening.

#4 My last F2F game of 1e AD&D with friends. For context we'd been
playing 4e previously to this, and the 5e playtest had just begun,
which looked way too easy/survivable even compared to current 5e
(party took on a vampire and won easily at 1st~2nd level.) I was
running AD&D a lot closer to BtB than I did back in the day. I did
have a few HR - get some stuff from backgrounds, and an heirloom
possibly a magic item, half hp at worst for 1st hd, M-Us got 2 or 3
spells and could make scrolls, money must be spent on training to get
xp from it, and more generous rolls for ability scores. The players
had bad experiences with DMs with 1e, so they were already set to
dislike it. They were also effectively newbies as they hadn't played
it in 30+ years, and weren't used to being cautious as that's not
really necessary with most in 3e+

I was running Holmes sample dungeon in B2, I rolled up a CE lv 2 elf
m-u/fighter in the tavern looking to be hired. He overslept the rats,
and caught one of the party in it, and killed them too. The party
attacked him and TPK as he had plate they couldn't hit and he
destroyed them as they only had leather or worse. So that's a fail.
Pure AD&D, but a bit rough on the 'newbies' though, which I wouldn't
have done back in the day, as I always played 'kid gloves on' until
3rd level. I could've started them at higher level too, but (IMHO
bad) advice on not having new players start higher level from Gary
swayed me. Perhaps I should've had the CE elf in the tavern still and
allowed them to get their revenge - I was afraid he would TPK them
again though and had him bugger off with the cash from their

But they rolled new characters and continued on with the dungeon after
I convinced them they should've interviewed the elf and been more
suspicious. I suggested 2nd characters at this point as it was a
small group and AD&D can be pretty rough on small groups. The problem
was when they encountered the giant spider, they lit the webs on fire,
and went back through the door, but the low hp elf f/m-u wanted to
lure it out and waved his arms around to try to bring it to an ambush
with the rest of the party. It came after him, hit with an 18 and he
failed his poison save. The rest of the PCs managed to kill it
thereafter. Perhaps I should've allowed the others to get their
attack in an ambush first which would've kept him from dying. Perhaps
I should've changed the Giant Spider out for something a little less
deadly. Perhaps it's just AD&D again, and playstyles differ. *shrug*

After this I don't remember exactly and I can find a play report from
the sessions after to verify, but IIRC I was convinced to change
poison to non-instant death to something else so the elf wasn't really
dead. They finished out the Holmes sample dungeon, moving on to B2.
I picked up some more players and the extra characters were starting
to get a bit too much but the characters who had them held on to
them. There were complaints about how useless M-Us were and that the
clerics leveled up to 2nd before everyone else. They were used to 3e+
everyone leveling with the same xp, I still consider that a feature of
AD&D not a bug though. I restocked a bit of the dungeon where the
ogre had been after they returned to the keep (possible mistake)
beetles of some sort which were non-hostile. They went through that
room to access beyond that, and for some reason the elf decided to
attack them. Even with his high AC (-1 due to plate & dex) one of
them got lucky and hit him for 19 points of damage and he was beyond
-10. That's the final end and failure. I enjoyed running it, but
they obviously didn't fully enjoy playing it, they refuse to play 1e
ever again. I could've done a lot differently to ease them into it,
but it was what AD&D is, and it's really just a playstyle they don't

#5+ And successes.

Most of my online games I'd put partially failed, they either fizzled,
or I got frustrated with 5e when I ran it and quit myself. Where I
didn't quit, it could've been playstyle differences, or real life, or
perhaps I could've DMed better. 1 of my 5e games went really well up
to about 5th level, and I wish I didn't get frustrated and quit it
looking back. I tried to run the same dungeon (homebrew) again with
different people, and in a different system and in PBP instead.

I have a special difficulty with that with PBP though, all but one
game I've ran eventually got the point where the players were
(possibly) still there, but getting them to post anything actionable
that would move the game along or even post at all got to be extremely
difficult to the point I gave up on the game. This seems to be the
general consensus of either DM quitting, players quitting, or this
happening for the vast majority of PBP games. Somehow some manage to
keep games going though, I managed to join one such AD&D 1e game which
was very good (except for the lack of horses! j/k DM if you're
reading.) However I had difficulty following what was going on as a
player, partially due to my available time at that point, and decided
it'd be best for everyone if I quit.

There's one PBP I ran that was the exception to the rule as well, a
Marvel Supers clone game where it was going swimmingly. I just
couldn't come up with anything for them to do next, and couldn't get
into reading/using the Marvel modules (probably because they expect
you to use the Marvel Heroes instead of your own) - it's officially
still just on hiatus and not dead even though it's been years, I think
I checked in last year and players were still around and willing to

Live most of my 3e and 4e campaigns were meh at best, and I consider
both just system failure. I had 1 really good 3e campaign, my
favorite campaign I've ever run, but it was heavily house ruled, and
featured my favorite players only. Even that ended at 17th because
the players playing non-casters didn't feel they were able to have any
impact at that level, but it was about time anyway, kingdoms/world
saved etc.

Most of my 2e campaigns were successes. I remember one that 'failed'
was just off the top of my head when not everyone showed up. I set
them up in fairy land, it was fun, but it ended in a TPK that
session. A couple I didn't really like how they turned out in the
end, but they were still successful, one got to 20th level. Another
one got to 20+ and was put on hiatus for the one I didn't really like,
I combined players/characters from both and that got to about 27th. I
probably shouldn't have done that, as the one I didn't really like
kind of ruined the other one due to the rules lawyer. Or I should've
just said "That was an alternate timeline" and reset the world to
before that, but I hate when other DMs do stuff like that.

1e I don't remember much in the way of campaigns. I didn't run it
anywhere near as much as 2e. I played a lot more, and played a lot of
Champions as that was more popular here than AD&D was after about 85
even though I far preferred 1e. I ran a couple successful FR campaigns
in 1e. However, the majority was a lot of unrelated adventures which I
wouldn't classify as campaigns. People just showed up at lunch or
someone's house and played the same character or picked one they had
in their folder in the right level range, or made one on the spot,
with whoever was there and whatever adventure the DM of the day was
running, or on occasion random dungeons generated as we went.

Spalls Hurgenson

Aug 10, 2021, 2:18:42 PMAug 10
On Fri, 23 Jul 2021 12:29:22 -0700 (PDT), Justisaur
<just...@gmail.com> wrote:

>Saw this topic on DF, thought I'd share my thoughts on my 'failed campaigns.
>First 'failed' is hard to determine in most cases. I don't know that
>I had many I'd consider a complete failure - as in no fun was had, and
>on the other side of the spectrum, I can only think of a few that were
>complete successes.

I have a campaign in mind, and it's not really a failure, but its what
springs to mind when I hear those words.

This was a very early campaign for me. I had planned a fairly epic
series - I think it was intended to run 8 adventures - where the PCs
became involved in a war between an invading army of orcs and a small,
beleaguered kingdom (epic it might have been, original not so much).
The players would start as nobodies but, by uncovering various clues
and bringing these to the notice of the authorities, increasingly gain
in position and importance. Ultimately, the plan was for them to lead
one of the armies riding to the defense of the king, help save the
day, and earn some titles of minor nobility (all the while sprinkling
in clues for the next campaign).

The adventures got off to a good start; the players were having fun, I
was having fun, everything was more or less going to plan. And then,
barely a third of the way into the adventure... TPK: total party kill.
I was devastated.

I largely put the blame on that for myself. I pushed the characters
further ahead into the campaign than they were ready for. Not that the
players were completely blameless - they knew they were outmatched and
kept going anyway, despite an obvious way of retreat - but they
shouldn't have been there in the first place.

This failure was so memorable for two reasons. Firstly, it was so
unexpected; I had no plans for what to do if the players were put in
this sort of position (it may be why, when I write adventures today, I
tend to go overboard in options and avenues). At the time, I remember,
I literally threw my hands up and announced "The adventure is over",
to both my players and my own dismay (I still remember their shocked
faces). We all felt terrible.

But the other reason I remember this failure so clearly is because, in
the end, it wasn't really a failure. After a good night's rest, I was
able to concoct an escape... for the players at least. The campaign
itself was lost, but I couldn't bring myself to kill the players.
Instead - and through a method that to this day I've never bothered to
explain - I simply had them "hibernate" through the entire course of
the planned campaign, and wake up to the aftermath. Without the
assistance of the players, of course, the war against the Orcs didn't
go quite so well, but exploring the devastation of a kingdom they had
grown to know and love was almost as good. It let the players feel as
if their actions - and failures - had actual weight, and made the
world feel more real. They were no longer murder-hobos rampaging
through a world of faceless NPCs; they were characters whose
activities - for good or ill - had actual impact.

That failure made for a better game. So it was not, I suppose, really
a failure... but it sure felt like one at the time. And I've taken
lessons from it ever since on how to help players from screwing
themselves over, to ensuring that they felt invested in the world. If
only all our failures could be so productive.

(I've had other campaigns which have ended worse, but those often were
because of outside events; players dropping out, incompatible
personalities or play-styles, or just changing tastes that make the
current campaign less palatable. I suppose those could be seen as
failures, but I don't see them that way.)

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