On Fri, 23 Jul 2021 12:29:22 -0700 (PDT), Justisaur
>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
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.)