Tuesday, 15 October 2013

The Terror of the Unfinished Game

I'm terrible for starting games with long over-arcing plots and never actually getting them to a satisfactory conclusion (although I am getting better at this); the game might not get finished for numerous reasons, either I get writer's block or run out of ideas, most of the party dies, some RL reason gets in the way or any other number of factors could potential be the death knell of a game. In the wake of my God Machine game, which was one of the few games that i've created from the start with a definite goal and a finite finish in mind from the start (also one of the more satisfactorily wrapped up mini-campaigns that i've run), i've been thinking a lot about why so many of my games in the past have not gotten the finale that they deserved; some have puttered out due to factors beyond my control, but there must have been a fair few where, with a bit better planning or a little rescue work they could have reached a more engrossing conclusion?

For myself, it seems as though, I have no problem with concluding a game as long as I have a rough idea what the end conditions are when I go into a game; for example, in my God Machine game it would end when the people in the block of flats rioted and their violent anger awoke the God Angel, who would absorb their hatred and be activated, destroying the flats and those within, whether this included the player characters or not would be down to their own actions (in the actual game the players triggered the God Angel earlier than scheduled, but because it was weaker than it was supposed to be they actually escaped - full session write-up is available here). My main problem would seem to stem from when I start a long rambling game with no real idea of an end goal, when this occurs there is generally one main outcome, the game continues on until I run out of any ideas and then it gets wrapped up (too) quickly and we move on to the next game. This is often very unsatisfactory and it is obvious (from the quick wrap up) that the game has effectively run it's course or that I have become dis-illusioned with it and that my mind has already jumped onto the next concept.

However, recently, we've been running a number of one-offs where we've been taking it in turns to host a game for two sessions (one for character gen and prelude, and the next for the main session); this has been great fun and has really forced us to think about what elements are vital for an entertaining game and what can be safely jettisoned in order to fit an enjoyable game into a couple of sessions (really only a single full session). Something else that has been helping me recently has been my adoption of the Fate rules (in particular Fate Accelerated) since the focus on story through use of Aspects and Compels/Invoking makes it really easy to come up with plot based on stuff that the characters are interested in right of the bat, it also makes it very easy to see what a characters goals are and set the achievement of those goals as an end point for your campaign.

Going forward I think that my campaign planning is going to roughly conform to the following:

  1. Come up with idea for campaign.
  2. Design world & setting.
  3. Help players with character generation.
  4. Come up with an idea for first session based on characters.
  5. Help characters come up with concrete goals for their characters.
  6. Come up with a couple of end conditions for the game (in addition to the players achieving their goals).