RPG Campaigns: Why They Fly, Why They Flop

Flight or flop?
I make no claims to expert knowledge on any subject, save procrastination (someday I will get around to writing a post about that topic). However, I have been involved in my share of successful campaigns as a player or GM. I have also been there to witness a few flops firsthand. So I thought I would post a few observations on why some campaigns seem to take off while others flop.

I suppose "successful campaign" needs a bit of definition. My Dr. Handwave definition of success is anything that the participants enjoyed and would do again. My Dr. Handwave definition of campaign is an multi-session game that involves the same setting and a continuity of players and adventure arcs.

In general, I would have to say that the successful campaigns I have been involved with were based on three factors: (1) Players getting along with each other; (2) Commitment of players and GM to meet on a schedule for more than a few sessions; and (3) Shared participation and enjoyment in the creative process that is a part of tabletop RPG gaming.

I am sure there are lots of other reasons that I could identify, but those are my big three. I think you have to have #1 and #2, to get to #3, but #3 is not an automatic outcome. I also think the challenge is that #1 and #2 are about the individuals, not about the setting or system. Get the wrong people together? It won't work. Get the right people together but through in too many scheduling complications? It won't work either.

I have experienced several flops, both as GM and as a player. It is easier to identify a specific reason for failure than a specific reason for success. Here are two flops and one fizzle:

Flop #1: My worst flop as a GM was the result of using a series of adventure paths. "Series" is a misnomber because we never made it through the first. It was a bad match with my GM style and an even worse match for the players. Having a GM who is "meh" on the whole thing doesn't get the players very enthusiastic.

Flop #2: I tried to get my old gaming group from high school back together via Skype. It was really fun for two sessions and then the reality of schedules started working against us. No one could commit to more than one night a month and the odds were against us finding a common night every month. We maybe had two more sessions over five months. One of the guys was in community theater, another guy did shift work, and I was in another gaming group plus was out and about playing music.

Fizzle #1: My in-house face-to-face Castles & Crusades campaign was a great success until half the group (the kids) all went off to college, leaving the rest of us (the parents) staring at empty chairs. I don't view this as a flop, but I do wish I would have had some sort of big ending to wrap things up. Instead, it fizzled with a lot of loose ends.

What has been your experience with campaigns? Why have your successes been successful? What were the reasons for your flops?

[Note: Whatever thinking that is behind this post was triggered by Peter D's post, What Would You Change if You Could Reboot Your Campaign?]