Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Not a Casual Parlour Pastime

Entitled Tékumel Source Bookvolume 1 of 1983's Swords & Glory is filled with a wealth of details about M.A.R. Barker's fantastic world of the Petal Throne. Like Gary Gygax's Dungeon Masters Guide, the Source Book is so jam-packed with information that it's easy to pick it up, flip to a random page, and find something of interest. In this post, though, I want to draw your attention to a single paragraph from the book's introduction. 

As its name implies, a fantasy role-playing game campaign is not a casual parlour pastime, something to be started and finished within a single evening. It is designed to continue over several months or even years, with weekly, monthly, etc. meetings which may last for hours at a time. One establishes a character, a "persona" in a new and unfamiliar world, and watches this individual grow, progress in society, meet challenges and overcome them, and – hopefully – go on to retire as High General of the Empire (or something similar) at an advanced old age! This takes time, and it is not so much the final result as the excitement along the way which provides the interest. One can design short and simple campaigns, of course: scenarios which are complete in themselves within one evening's gaming. To me, at least, these are not as much fun as the longer-term process of character development just mentioned.
I agree with everything Professor Barker writes here. The experience of refereeing my House of Worms campaign, with a consistent group of players meeting weekly over the course of the last 68 months, has reinforced my long-held notion that the experience of roleplaying only reaches its pinnacle in long-term campaign play. In fact, I'd go further and suggest that many of the criticisms directed at RPG rules and structure – about resource management, for example – only make sense if you're not playing in a campaign of long standing. There's a rhythm to campaign play that is largely missed when you're only playing a one-shot or "short and simple" campaign, as Barker calls it. 

Now, I realize that, for a variety of reasons, long-term campaign play is not practical for everyone. Above all, it requires a degree of consistency in one's personal circumstances that, especially at the present time, isn't as widespread as one might wish. There are many potential impediments to the establishment of a long-term campaign and I realize that I'm very fortunate in having been able to get – and keep – a multi-year campaign up and running. At the same time, I think it's hard to deny that this type of play is foundational. It seems clear to me, if you look at the way the earliest gamers played, that it was geared toward lengthy, persistent campaigns with a reliable group of players. This is an abiding topic of mine and one I feel more strongly about it as the years roll on. 

RPGs are, of course, an infinitely malleable form of entertainment and there's no single "right" way to play them. Nevertheless, I will continue to advocate on behalf of "long form" roleplaying, which I not only believe to be its urform but also one that offers unique pleasures to its participants. 


  1. Yes, I learned a new word. Had to look up urform. Very "old school! 😁

  2. Long form is the best, if you can find a group that will make time and show up.

  3. I think of campaign play as "The Greater D&D".

  4. Someone's opinion who conducts a long-term campaign: https://harbingergames.blogspot.com/2019/07/long-term-campaigns-and-growth.html?m=1
    Continuity is in the DM hands and it is assumed that players will come and go over the years.