I’ve decided that I want to play more variety in RPGs.  This, combined with the fact that I have less time than ever to play them means I want a tightly written novella or short story for a campaign, not an epic 7 novel series.

So, I want a campaign to complete in 6-12 months.  I want to play 2x per month, for 5 hours or so.  This gives me 60-120 hours to complete an entire campaign, which really isn’t all that much time.  With this perspective, how many levels should the game have, and how many hours should it take to level up?

Let’s say we go with 100 hour campaigns, which is being a bit generous.  We could do 20 levels for 1 level every 5 hours of play.  We could also do 10 levels, with a  level for every 10 hours of play.  I’d also say that the game system should probably be able to handle a longer campaign, and that maybe there is a more epic tier that exists, but there would need to be some practical reason that most NPCs aren’t “epic” or there aren’t really epic-tier heroes controlling the world and pulling the strings.

I don’t want to go too far down that way though, because that way lies super-hero style RPG play, and I really don’t care about that right now for Lost Worlds.  So, I think I want to delay some of the gratification of leveling, so I think every-other session is probably appropriate.  Every session might be hard to keep up with for players as they have changing stats and powers every time they sit down after a 2-week break.

All of that being said, I think I want my design space then to be about 10 levels worth of stuff, with level 1-3 being an above average combatant, level 4-7 being a hero, and level 8-10 being a leader.  There is going to be a fine line between having fewer steps and making the levels granular enough that a level 2 doesn’t auto-win against a level 1, and a level 3 doesn’t auto-win against a level 2, etc., since I want a little more granularity in the range.

I’m not completely sold that every-other-session should be a level though.  What would you prefer?

5 thoughts on “Campaigns

  1. connorbros

    Since I’ve been a break from both playing and running sessions of any kind, recently I’ve been thinking about campaign length, especially what a level even is. While this is kind of parallel to the whole ‘How many hours per level?’ question, I found myself recently attracted to the idea of each level representing a year in a character’s life. A full career from start to finish could be something like 20 years. Suddenly, the character advancement compels the roleplaying to me, rather than being a side system that happens to come along with an otherwise story and character driven game.

    As usual, it’s almost certainly not for all groups or campaigns, and then I have to deal with the question of ‘How does one play a whole year in around 3-5 hours of gameplay?’ (because, like you, I have very distinct limits on the time I devote to these campaigns, and more often than not find they are dropped before they get anywhere simply because life is like that). I still find myself wanting to play with the idea.

    Let’s say an early level is like a year of study, and each encounter like an exam. Could players realistically get attached to a character who lives a couple of months in the span of an hour at the table? Do you zoom in for a few key events and then build systems around the day-to-day routines? I feel that these questions could lead to an interesting campaign, though I have probably strayed from your original intent in this post. =)


    1. JackOfHearts Post author

      You could accomplish something along these line with more of a story game, but to do it, you’d almost can’t have a resolution that takes more real time than game time for hardly anything.

      At GenCon this year, I was in a group that had an hour to create characters while a GM came up with an adventure. The six of us came up with a deep back story with relationships between our characters and with the NPCs of the world. In the course of exactly an hour, we fleshed out from nothing our characters, what was important to them, what our relationships were with the other characters, and some significant life events.

      This was actually the most fun part of that particular session! So, something along the lines of what you are describing could be done I think, but it would feel like a very different type of game.

  2. Jason

    Maybe it’s my lack of experience with campaigns, but I think 1 level “guaranteed” for every other level seems pretty steep. I think getting to know your character’s strengths and limitations make up a big part of the attachment to your character, and just leveling up because of gametime played might not give you the proper time to do that…..or to build up anticipation or planning of the greater abilities available to higher levels.

    And let’s face it…..some of us (and maybe it’s just a novice thing) take more time to master the mechanics of a character after leveling. So in my opinion, to keep adding stats/attributes every couple of sessions would only contribute to the confusion and slower gameplay that comes with having to keep looking up stats, spells, etc.

    That being said, I like the idea of each level being equal to a year of the character’s life. I think it could simplify timelines in the game and give a little more depth to the characters. Some years/levels might take longer than others, so every 10,000 xp doesn’t automatically equal a year, but once that point spread system is established based on the campaign challenges/timeline, I think it would add a lot to the role playing aspect and explain more mature (or immature) choices based on where the player takes it.


    1. fminuzzi

      I’m a big fan of the quick level progression for a few reasons (and I know these are my personal preferences, just thought I would throw another point of view in there, in case it’s helpful).

      It makes every session feel more meaningful. Having a 5 hour session and coming out of it with only 1/5 of the way to your level can be a little disheartening. Maybe I’m just used to video games, but after a Saturday afternoon spent playing, I don’t want to feel like I’ve barely accomplished anything. There is the downside of the character getting mysteriously better in a matter of days, but having different time scales or other flavor reasons can help with that.

      The other thing is that the early levels have few options, and I’m eager to get new things as soon as possible. I have played plenty of DnD recently, though, so I don’t need the time to learn how to play which people new to a game might need.


    2. JackOfHearts Post author

      I agree with leveling too fast being an issue where your character feels like a different person every time you sit down to play. On the other hand, if we can only play approximately 20 times a year, the choices are limited. You can either gain a level every-other-session to make the campaign last across about 10 levels of power, or you can make the campaign focus on a smaller range of levels. Maybe 7 levels is the sweet spot here, level up once every 3 sessions (and this is an average for the math, not necessarily guaranteed). The game could still encompass 10 levels, but you could start from 1-7, or if you want already established heroes, go from 3-10.

      There could be levels after 10, but if so, we’d need to figure out why the other heroes of the world don’t have 20 levels of awesome.

      I am hesitant to link levels with game time, because that would really constrain the stories a GM could tell. I think instead, it would be useful to have more opportunities to play out that downtime, or more opportunities to have downtime in a game. A lot of campaigns rush from one cliffhanger to another to keep the players interested week in and week out. The downside of that is there isn’t time to sit back and just develop the character and take some break from the action.


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