Before the latest House of Worms session began, my players and I talked for a little while about the state of the campaign and its current events. This wasn't a "meta" discussion about the campaign and its setting in an detached, objective way. Rather, it was a discussion from within, meaning how their characters viewed current events, what their immediate and longer term goals were, and even why they were proceeding as they were. It was a very fruitful discussion and proved quite helpful to me, the referee, in understanding how the players, through their characters, were approaching the campaign. Mind you, we have these kinds of discussions every few months, since there's so much going on in the campaign at any given time that it can be very easy to lose track of things (helped in no small part by my own laziness and forgetfulness).
One of the things that quickly became clear as we talked was the fact that, while the players were all largely on the same page, this wasn't completely true. For example, in the last session, the characters were scouting out an ancient ruin they had been told had become a flashpoint for conflict between several factions on the Achgé Peninsula. The ruins were of unknown origin and had recently partially collapsed, with portions of them falling into a huge crevasse at their center. Chemical-smelling smoke was wafting out of the crevasse and military forces engaged in battle seemed to be under the influence of some sort of mind control that was causing them to turn even on their comrades. Further scouting showed that the military forces were large and entrenched, meaning that any attempt at scouting was potentially dangerous and they simply lacked the numbers and resources to do this without danger to themselves. So, they decided to leave the ruins behind and make their way back to the colony city of Linyaró instead.
This decision was not to the liking of all the characters. At least a couple of them preferred that they brave the dangers of the ruins to find out both the source of the smoke and the reason the various armies were fighting over the ruins. They saw it as their best chance to learn something about the big events of the Peninsula, from which they'd been separated for about eighteen months of game time. Though the dissenting characters went along with the decision of the group, I suspect they'll eventually want to learn more about the ruins and might well undertake endeavors to achieve that end and they'll enlist the aid of various NPCs who share their point of view, even if the other player characters do not. Whatever they ultimately decide, there will be reverberations in the campaign, reverberations that will add to the glorious mess of the overall campaign setting.
But then that's how things go for the House of Worms. Over the course of the campaign, I've been assembling a huge list of NPCs, each one with a short description to jog my memory. Every time the characters encounter anyone, from the administrative high priest of a major temple right down to a street vendor, I add them to my file. That way, I can refer to them again should the need arise. This helps create a feeling of continuity, not only between sessions, but in the world itself, as if it exists outside the characters' control. There's nothing quite like the look of recognition that occurs when the characters encounter a NPC they've met before. There's a special kind of fun in this, as it not only helps with immersion in the setting, but also recalls earlier sessions and the events therein. These moments of recollection are vital to a campaign's success and longevity. They also provide more energy for keeping all the campaign's metaphorical wheels turning.
Bit by bit, the players and I, working together – and sometimes working at cross-purposes – have built up the campaign setting to the point where we've described, detailed, and catalogued so many elements that, if we want to, we could probably keep the campaign going forever. There are minor, personal elements, such as Keléno's complicated family life; mid-level ones, such as Aíthfo's efforts to keep the colony running; and high-level ones, like the power politics between the Naqsái city-states of the Peninsula. All these and more are there to form the focus of many sessions of play, in the process spawning even more. While I hesitate to say that the world of Tékumel is now "real" to the players of the campaign, there's nevertheless a certain truth to it. After six and a half years, their characters now "live" there full time and the choices they, the players, make concerning them are motivated primarily by what makes sense for the characters in this fantasy world filled with almost as many options as the real one. It's a lovely thing to experience and I consider myself fortunate to have found a group of players with whom we could realize this.
As I said, at this point, I don't see an end to the campaign. It's possible, I suppose, that enough players could lose interest in it that we simply lose the necessary "critical mass" to keep it going, but that seems unlikely. Over the years, we've lost more players than we've kept (though four of the original six from 2015 remain). Likewise, we've picked up new players, some of whom have stuck with the campaign longer than those who've departed (and we sometimes get old players back for "guest appearances"). Furthermore, the House of Worms campaign isn't just about one thing. At various times, it's been about underworld exploration, wilderness travel, espionage, clan business, imperial politics, military conflict, occult investigations, and too many others. If asked what the campaign is about, I would probably say something like, "The lives of seven Tsolyáni and their allies as they make their way through the world of Tékumel." That answer might sound somewhat glib, but it's nevertheless true.
That's the secret to a perpetual campaign: slowly build up a world with as much depth and detail as you can and you'll never run out of things to do. If my players are to be believed, it's definitely worked for us.