Monday Lab: Long form play

Here’s to participation, as this was the biggest attendance yet for a Monday Lab, and I really liked it. Everyone had a chance to chip in, and if we didn’t discover any One True Answer, well, some reasonable questions were unearthed.

It’s tough to discuss long-term play without either idealizing it as role-playing’s most-sought goal or bemoaning unhappy play that never ends. I wanted to focus on those times when play turns out to be long-term in a motivated fashion, and the usual claims of “scheduling” and “so many obligations” don’t seem to apply. Whether this was planned, hoped-for, expected, or managed is another issue.

I apologize for the sound issues. Robbie’s input was a bit underwater-sounding, and some breathing was amplified too. These are a lot more distracting on the recording than I remembered them being for me during the event. I think that’s probably because I’m cognitively focused on the interactions and people, so I compensate for these things mentally and don’t realize what they’ll be like in production. I think I might elect a participant to play that role so we can stop and fix things like that for later events.



9 responses to “Monday Lab: Long form play”

  1. Character-world entanglements

    It was fun to watch this monday lab! Also extremely fun that people join and connect over national borders so much on this site. Many interesting shared experiences in the video, some of which I recognize in my own gaming experiences. I have watched the Runequest game, and I love the (all Swedish, hälsningar från Malmö!) group and the characters, so I’ll focus on that. 

    So, you went organically from ”let’s test this adventure thing” to a more long form game with deeper interest and entanglement between the characters and the world. Alongside this development, the proactivity of the characters ramped up, and I love that they now have goals, relations and obligations both small and big.

    The relationships and obligations-part started quite early, entirely(?) based on the characters cults. There weren’t as many cult-related NPC’s, or even cult write-ups in the first sessions, so the obligations to the cults were abstract, still mainly a motivational force or character-trigger in the imaginations of the players. That force, and the players ideas, fueled more and more character action and – mostly in response to that and the interest that developed around the table – GM prep and cult write-ups.

    In session 14, the cults are still the most defining feature of play, a feature that, from my audience perspective, looks to have begun as mostly traits of the characters? I’m thinking about your statement (Ron) about not having both well defined characters AND a well-defined setting to begin with, in the Monday lab video.

    Like you mentioned in the video, the group had a discussion about if you wanted to continue for a while or not in the end of one session, but I think the shift to a sort of long form game actually happened organically at least a couple of sessions earlier through this whole process of character-and-world entanglement and action? Either way, the world rised up to meet the characters, answering them. 

    That successive entanglement seems to be an important, if not the most important, reason that a game becomes ”long form” organically. Does it have to be a successive process? Can it be front-loaded, or how much can be front-loaded? (If we disregard play groups that decide and commit to a long term game from the start, and other external factors such as friends that continue as a sort of courtesy). 

    Long form campaign play is not something I actively try to achieve, but all of my best play experiences (as an adult!) has been at minimum five-six sessions long. That's possibly in part because of learning curve and system mastery, the latter leading to more proactivity from me as a player.

    • Challenging American-centric

      Challenging American-centric role-playing is one of my ambitions for Adept Play, specifically, to facilitate as much play, design, and dialogue as possible throughout the many available regions of play. One of the goals in my initial proposal (to myself) is be able to pay translators to make captions for people’s actual play and other video presentations, from multiple languages into multiple languages. Unfortunately, that day seems to be a long way off, but I am happy with the site’s reach and UN-like international identity at least as a start. More would be better.

      I think you’ve correctly described the process we’ve undergone, and that the functional decision, to “live here” and to take our fiction-thus-far relatively seriously, occurred socially and creatively before it did so explicitly.

      Regarding the expanding setting, the latest development which is only now entering play was to expand my concept of the diversity of cultures, so that the interesting geography of the northernmost land mass is finally getting a look.

      The sketchy/rich issue deserves some attention for this game. At the extreme beginning, it appears to be sketchy-characters and sketchy-setting, but then again, I did provide an evocative combintaion of the world/continent map, the single colorful image, the pictures of the characters, and the names for both them and for the cults. That’s a stronger aesthetic signal for “there’s a setting here” than many games begin with, even those with extensive sourcebooks.

      Regarding how things changed from that point, I had provided the cults’ names, or some of them, with the initial characters, and at least some of their basic aesthetic identities were in place in my mind from the start. I don’t think I went directly from how characters were played to the nature of the more developed cults, but some connection of that kind had to be involved. My thinking at the time was actually to build the cults so that each player-character made sense in it, but as a member of a wider range of possible worshippers rather than being archetypal for the cult.

      Here’s an important thought for this issue: if the characters had been created as much more complex, whether by me or by the players, probably for a different game entirely, say Sorcerer, then I wouldn’t have jumped so completely into setting development as our first touchstone or anchor point, as it would be better to have that evolve more slowly.

      That successive entanglement seems to be an important, if not the most important, reason that a game becomes ”long form” organically. Does it have to be a successive process? Can it be front-loaded, or how much can be front-loaded? (If we disregard play groups that decide and commit to a long term game from the start, and other external factors such as friends that continue as a sort of courtesy). 

      That is an excellent standing question for multiple people to address from their multiple experiences and their personal needs or goals for play.

    • The idea of paying

      The idea of paying translators for captions is terrific! Could that be a milestone goal at the Patreon? Or even a Kickstarter thing? ”Support the UN of roleplaying, If we reach this goal, about x RPG sessions can get translated/captioned in english and posted on adept play over the coming year” or something. I was sad that I hadn’t studied French when arakn_e posted those Sorcerer sessions…

      Interesting thoughts! I think I have a better understanding of the starting conditions now, and of how it evolved through play. I misremembered the first session and had an oversimplified memory/idea: that the PC’s began very rich/complex, while the world was very sketchy. So yeah, while the characters had obligations or a place in their cults which gave the players a starting point for exploration, and there was a sense of the world aesthetics, they weren’t deeply enmeshed in a starting situation like that from a kicker in sorcerer. That made it more fruitfull to expand the setting. It was especially intersting to read about the process of making the cults!

      Just a clarification, I didn’t think that the players' actions created the cult write-ups, or that the cults ”weren’t there” outside an abstract notion in the player’s imaginations in the beginning. But I did mean that the players seemed to have only an abstract notion of their characters' "obligations" (just enough: a reason for adventuring, something to think about aesthetically-wise for the world and character-world-interactions). Although the aesthetics of the cults and world came through in the first sessions of play, the players hadn’t interacted with cult NPC’s (or similar) yet (as I remembered it, maybe one priest from another or local cult). The ”entanglements”, the real PC-NPC obligations (can't find a better word for it now), relationships, and the like, then came bit by bit in play, sometimes with a big impression through for instance the somewhat catastrophic consequences of the PC's actions at the temple. In my experience, that sort of engaging bitwise or consequence-by-consequence PC-setting interweaving often not only makes long-form play a distinct possibility but makes it hard as hell to stop. I mean, it looks like the players generate goals and interests (and hatreds, and opinions) for their PCs in an automatic fashion at this point in your game. 

      Yes, in hindsight, I think my distinction and question about "front-loading vs not" was too broad and muddy to even be an interesting topic, and if it can be, you're right, only in the context of actual play and the priorities of a particular group and game. 

  2. Stick The Landing

    I remember one particular AD&D 2E Forgotten Realms game that I began as I graduated college. A year later, about 20 sessions, it ended in a satisfying battle with a demon in a buried castle's old temple. I remember the end of this campaign because it was the first time one of my players said "Sean, that was very good."

    Two years prior, during college, I had run a note perfect AD&D 2E campaign. Again it was about a year. And I thought what the game needed was a great big 1992 big battle finale'. I was wrong. Very wrong.

    I think the longer a campaign goes on, the harder it is to end in a satisfying way. Although that may largely an artifact of traditional design and play. But there is a momentum and much like writing a novel, or series of novels, if things are going well it can be difficult to wrap everything up in the end.

    My current thinking is when the group decides to end play, do so deliberately. Regardless of whether the plan is ended or not.

    • Hi Sean! I found this part

      Hi Sean! I found this part interesting: "Two years prior, during college, I had run a note perfect AD&D 2E campaign. Again it was about a year. And I thought what the game needed was a great big 1992 big battle finale'. I was wrong. Very wrong."

      Can you say more about this? What happened and why was it wrong?

    • Sure


      The game was large, there were at lest 6 to 7 players in it if memory serves, 5 solid players and a few who came and went. The players got along most of the time and we had all played in a couple games before. The campaign began in the Forgotten Realms in September and ended in May. We were playing AD&D 2nd Edition.

      As the players grew in level I began to weave politics into the story. It became more than dungeons; there were factions all building up to a big bad. The players had been instrumental in bringing about the coalition to fight the big bad. I have to emphasize at how well things were going. Players were invested and being proactive, not just reactive. Everyone was excited to see how the campaign would end.

      I read a novel where there was a large battle to end the story. And I thought, heck yeah, a full on battle to end this campaign, A big battle map, players fighting and leading the armies. I did not ask the players if they were interested in that. Nor did I ask if they wanted to game out the large scale battle first, then delve into the final showdown. 

      From the beginning I handled this badly. I could tell folks were not interested but kept going. There was a lot of confusion. The big map I drew caused confusion. Player expectations and GM expectations were not conflcting so much as they were going in entirely different vectors. Three hours in I managed to stop the game. We talked, which was good, and no one had hurt feelings. All appreciated what I was trying to do but we all agreed the execution was not fun or interesting. 

      Life went on. I ran other games for the same people and do so for a few of them today, so no feelings were hurt. I think there was disappointment but likely the players forgot about it. Not me, I have held onto that for a logn while as an object lesson in failure.

      The Lessons

      • Ask the players more about what they want. It does not mean give them everything verbatim, but do more listening. 
      • An ending can kill the experience. Endings are important even in an RPG. Folks remember (or don't) the last die roll, the epic ending. Nothing about the ending resonated with my players.
      • Don't change the paradigm unless everyone feels it going that way. The change from dungeons and politics, to WAR! was too abrupt a change.

      Hope this sheds some light on it.


  3. some questions

    I am Skava, a character in the Runequest game that by now is cited or referenced to in a lot of places around this site. The game has grown long term but was not planned that way. So far it is still ongoing so maybe it is to soon to call it successful? Being a fairly new role-player (started playing in the end of last year) I do not have the possibility to set my/our groups experiences in relation to others. At least not when we talk about role-playing. I can see parallels to stories in other media I like (mainly books), but I do not know whether these parallels are in any way special to our game. I would like to ask two questions of those of you who happen to have watched any part of our play and hope you will take the time to answer here so I can learn.

    The first question is, in case you have own experiences with successful long term play, can you see parallels with our game or significant differences, and what would those be?

    The second is more connected to me trying to understand the way the story we are weaving is growing and changing and how that compares to what attracts one to a good book or film (in an academical way). What aspect of the game play attracts you (and maybe why)?

    • Helma


      Thanks so much for sharing your experiences with us. 

      I do seee parallels with long term campaigns I have run and played in. I will put them in a list to keep things neat and tidy.

      • Player investment and buy-in. All the players seem at least a little invested and some seem very invested. And I do not mean just being social or "playing a game" but are interested in the world and what is going on there. 
      • The world is interesting. This is related to the first thought above. It is clear the players find the world interesting explore. 
      • More to do and explore with each session. At the same time, unless I am missing something, there is no external pressure to do defeat a big bad guy. Very much situation of the week and that, at least I think, helps a campaign gain momentum.
      • Evolution of rules and setting. Your GM uses the rules, make changes as needed, and is reactive to the players changing thoughts.

      Many of the answers to the second question can be found in the first; as an RPG voyeur I enjoy watching the kind of campaign I would enjoy being a part of as a player or GM. My specific interest is the evolution of the characters, rhe players, and the setting. I am discovering the world along with you; I do not have any front loaded expectations of the backdrop (setting) for you to run into. I can simply relax and discover. 

      Hope this helps. 


  4. Long form and short form play

    I just retrieved an post I wrote on my HD and forgot to post here!

    I'm reacting to the idea that it was not conceivable to play short form play, and that playing just a one shot or short sessions were seen as weird! This is totally true for what I've known from the beginning of my rpg experience (end of 1989-1990), and until 2010, in Belgium and in France (where I lived a bit).  And I asked myself, : when did we play short term games? Here what I remembers, reflecting on that:
    •    To “test” someone in a group with whom we never played: do we want to play with him? Will his “playstyle” match with ours? Which, in retrospect, was more: is he the group’s tone? Is he disruptive to the way we play? Example: I remember when we were 13-14, that an older guy, like 17, used this technique with a game of Ecryme, saying "We'll try a one shot and see if it fits together", and told us after the first session “I’m so surprised, it was great, now we could continue the one shot as a campaign”.
    •    When we were not playing with the “regular group”, because I had a regular group at this time. I still have, even if it’s more a regular group + a potential pool of players.
    •    When “the group was not complete”, or when we were hanging out together without meeting specificaly to play, but suddenly a few of us would want to play. For instance, we were 3 friends meeting in one’s house, and somebody would say “dude let’s play RPG!”, generally with some kind of social pressure to the "gm of the campaign we are playing" (in this example, a vampire dark age campaign) and he would say “Ok, I have this Warhammer one shot” or “this Vampire Masquerade idea where you play Anarchs”, and the session would have an end, without a plan to play it again. We would think about these characters and games as “open games”, something we could play again later if the situation happened again, like “let’s keep these characters in case of the same social situation happens again and we would play a one shot”. Even if generally it would never happen, we would play another one shots, with other characters, and generally would take time to make those characters during the same session (the notion of a session 0 was totally absent of our minds)
    o    I realize I’m still thinking like that. For the moment, I have a regular monday evening Cyberpunk game, I'm not the GM, and when the GM is not there or doesn't feel like gming (sometimes because half of the group is not there), I gm a one shot, generally Cthulhu dark or lamentations of the flame princess, and I think of the characters and players as, “if we don’t play the regular game, let’s play this”. For Cthulhu dark, I always ask for new characters (I change regions, times, etc.) For Lamentations, they keep the same characters they created (we played 5 sessions).

    The "golden" (I use this term cynically) "period of the long-term game without a planned end" was my Cthulhu sessions, when I discovered RPG (I was 10 or 11). We never played a campaign, only the one shots, and we never left the miskatonic valley. We used to play one shot and one shots, and somebody kind of emerge from that. Not so much “in between sessions”, because we didn’t play them (kind of Circle of hands is designed to, the beginning of a session was generally the beginning of the adventure), but more during the written adventure, during “downtime scenes”, or in sorcerer’s terms, “bobs”. We didn’t play so much of “free time” between those adventures, because our beginning GM was cutting the scenes. (I’m digressing, but the habit of not cutting scenes came while playing vampire during the mid-90s.)
    Even then, when a scenario was finished, there was no expectation that the campaign was finished (we kept the same characters for 4 years, playing a whole campaign mostly in Kingsport). 


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