How to Run a Long-Term RPG Campaign

One of the first things I noticed when I started writing Dungeon Solvers was that people have a seriously difficult time finding long-term campaigns and dedicated RPG groups to play in. Honestly, this shocked me because up until recently every one of my groups has been a long-term campaign.

My group’s D&D campaign has been an excuse for us to get together 3 years after college for a few hours a week and have fun together. It sucks that people have issues finding something like this of their own.

So that got me thinking. Why has my group been able to play together for so long and so consistency?

The first reason is 100% a bit of luck. The group and campaigns started with all of us roommates in college. Not everyone has a group of friends that are interested in playing TTRPGs.

However, there are a few reasons that I think our success in staying together all this time throughout 3 of my personal campaigns and 1 outside long-term D&D campaign isn’t solely attributed to luck. There are absolutely factors that my group has that a lot of failed groups don’t.

classic Dungeons & Dragons party
A lot has changed in the RPG scene, but human communication hasn’t. Credit: WotC.

Set Expectations

Session 0 is an amazing tool for any group, even if you’ve all played together for years. However, for a new RPG group, it’s critical to run a session 0 before beginning a long-term RPG campaign.

From a mechanical standpoint, session 0’s can be nice to learn what other players are playing. You may switch up your character idea after hearing what the rest of the group intends to play, or you may all join forces and build a cohesive party together.

However, session 0 is most importantly used as a way of setting the social expectations of each other. Are there topics that people aren’t comfortable with talking about? Is there any behavior that irks people? What type of game does everyone want to play?

All of these questions help to create the experience that your long-term campaign becomes. It’s good to have ground-rules to point back to on the off chance that someone breaks them.

Stick to Your Expectations

The hardest part about setting expectations for the group isn’t the part about setting the expectations.

No, the most challenging part about setting expectations is enforcing them. If someone breaks a rule that everyone agreed to, they need to be corrected. Boundaries were made for a reason. When someone oversteps the boundaries, even if they had no intentions or malice in doing so, the boundaries become weaker.

I’m not saying that the entire group needs to stop the game and call the person out, though there may be times where that’s warranted. In fact, sometimes the best way to handle enforcing expectations is to give yourselves a few days to mull it over and then have someone speak to the offender in private.

The point is that if there was some rule, boundary, or expectation that’s important to the whole group and was broken, the group needs to ensure that the issue is corrected.

A great way to have someone leave your table is by overstepping their boundaries that were public knowledge.

Be Picky With Who You Play With

This concept can tie back into sticking to your group’s expectations. I mean, if you have a group that lays down rules (or doesn’t at all) and regularly breaks them they may not be the right people for you to play with. There’s no trust that they have your best interests at heart.

Don’t be afraid to leave a group if the people you play with are not people you enjoy spending time with.

This could be for completely innocuous reasons too such as the “group gets side-tracked a lot”. You may even be friends outside of the game with these people, but you just don’t like how they run their games. That’s fine!

If someone, a few people, or the entire group make you feel uncomfortable, leave.

There’s a saying I hear all the time, “no D&D is better than bad D&D”. And it’s so, so true. You have other options, even if you think you don’t. Don’t suffer through something just because you want to play an RPG.

Set a Schedule, and Stick to it

I’m a stickler for consistency so I recognize that there is some bias that comes with this advice. I’m also sure that I’ve mentioned this before, but setting aside a consistent day, place, and time for your sessions is a godsend for ensuring that your long-term rpg campaign stays afloat.

Schedules are great because it means that everyone can set aside the time and plan their other commitments around the game. They’re also great because, on those occasions where they have to miss the game, they’ll be able to let the group know as soon as something comes up.

Not everyone has the luxury of doing this, though. People work in industries where they can’t guarantee that they have X day and Y time off every single week. As we get older we have more people who depend on us too. Sometimes things just pop-up. In that case, check out West Marches style games!

However, if your group is able to swing it, I can assure you that having a consistent schedule will do wonders for group cohesion. The group knows what to expect and makes an effort to keep the game as a priority (as long as it’s healthy to do so).

You Don’t Always Have to Play the Campaign

There are times when the stars don’t align and more than 1 or 2 people can’t make the session. Try not to cancel!

You can always run a side campaign or one-shot when only a couple of people are going to miss the session. I mean, the rest of the group wants to play, you want to play, so why not play something?

apocalypse world art
Get the gang together and survive the apocalypse! Credit: Apocalypse World.

Dungeon Master and Game Master burnout is a real thing. There are times when your DM or GM may just not feel like playing and it’s not the end of the world if you all skip a week or two because of this.

However, if you’re still hankering to get together consider your other options. Perhaps one of you can run a one-shot for that session instead? Maybe you can all go to a movie, out to dinner, or some other group activity.

You don’t always have to play RPGs together, sometimes just hanging out together is enough to ensure that your “game day” is part of your regular schedule.

Conclusions

Turns out, a lot of the advice I gave in this article isn’t unique to tabletop RPG campaigns. This information could be used for other hobbies or just general advice for befriending people.

Consistency is key, planning time to hang out is important, and making sure your friends respect your boundaries are all key facets of finding and maintaining great friendships, both in the RPG space and out of it.

There’s a lot of luck to be had with finding an RPG group that can last years. Hell, my group has fluctuated in terms of player size and game frequency over the years, but unless life throws us a curveball I can see is playing regularly together for quite some time.

If you enjoyed what you read be sure to check out my ongoing review for all of the official D&D 5e books!

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