Whenever I tell people that I run games, not campaigns, they always ask “why?” Some of it is bad experiences. I’ve never played a truly unique campaign. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all for archetypal images and the notion that all stories ultimately tell one great metanarrative. But the reality is that every time I’ve been invited into a “campaign”, it always ends up being the same basic story arch with assorted names changed along the way to distinguish it from every other story. Usually it goes something like:
“The epic Battle of Good and Evil begins with the vast hordes of villainous goblinoids wiping out the armies of the Noble Alliance. The Evil Overlord who sent them is likely to have an Implausible Plot Device that makes him/her/it all but invincible. Thus, the remaining ragtag forces must hold off the numerically superior monster army while Our Unlikely Heroes search for the Dubious Resolution Artifact which will overcome the Implausible Plot Device and defeat the Overlord and his/her/its armies.”
All props to Tolkien, but I’m interested in getting more out of the stories I play and the stories I tell. So the games I run are run more in a vein called “free-play”, meaning that I provide a fully functioning world and prepare numerous plot-hooks along the way, but the party, in-character, makes decisions about the direction they go. The story is told through character development, not through a story-arch that I’ve written ahead of time.
To each his own, but if you’re running a game with me, this is likely to be how the story plays out.