Trying to get my blogging sea legs back again I seem to have stopped suffering from the “not having much sufficiently different to say” problem (a sclerotic affliction that seems to affect a rather large number of gaming blogs that age past three) to the more germane, if somewhat manic publishing quandary of having a spate of things I am so pumped about writing out that this thought train begets that thought train—and the danger of “option paralysis” starts to set in.
Writing out a rather detailed analysis this morning of how the Hill Cantons campaign evolved between its three major play groups (and 3.5 years) I was struck by how similar the overall arcs where between each of them. Though each (sub)campaign was/is very different in feel by dint of the wonderfully deviant and unique stamp each group of players brought to the table, all three groups--the Austin, San Antonio home, and Google Plus (which just celebrated its one year anniversary) parties--have seemed to fall into the the same broad brush strokes patterns when I put my mind to it.
Phase One: Buffet Period. Lots of roaming around the map, bouncing around, feeling out the walls of the sandbox metaphorically. Explorations are generally quick and limited, popping into one place for a session then another. A good deal of time is usually spent figuring out what to do especially in the beginning of a session. Generally a somewhat dangerous period for the PCs as they are low level and feeling out the “danger contours” of the sandbox.
Phase Two: Settling In. The group becomes more focused and goal oriented. Leadership or group decision dynamics start to settle in and become stable (though this can be unsettled when differences start to set in later). A home base “in town” is found and generally stuck to for a while. The group starts to build relationships with NPCs: patrons, useful contacts/sources, hired help, etc. Money and other resources are still pretty limited but growing and starting to allow for more choice.
Phase Three: Long Haul. Usually the group becomes fixated on some kind of long focused exploration arc, thoroughly exploring one site or “quest”. Fatalities start to ramp up again as the more dangerous areas of the big site/quest are reached. The party is slowly, but surely gaining power and resources. The home base may be upgraded and the hireling list starts to take on the appearance of a private army.
Phase Four: Rock to Rock. The long arc plays out and then the group starts bouncing around from sites or hooks again. Usually shorter bouts but with more focus on party-derived goals. The party will either stay in this pattern for a while, jump back into the previous phase (but never with the same intensity of purpose) or move on to the next.
Phase Five: Maturing Goals. Players start really digging into long-term goals of their own devising. Great long schemes come into being with some significant time spent out of session dealing with individual player's machinations. Some divisions may start arising as the players find themselves leaning in one direction or the other about where to put game time into. The characters are solidly mid-level now and PC death is rare. (Hireling/henchmen--who stay in a lower power rang--death though can skyrocket in the face of the ever-mounting dangers.)
I feel like there are more phases beyond this last settling phase. To be honest I just haven't gotten there yet with any of the three groups (and that reminds me that I want so desperately to get the home face-to-face group back playing in the next month), but I seem to remember back in the hoary day that Phase Five mature goals begin taking on long roots and the players become big name players who are increasingly as directive as the GM in where the campaign grows.
Now obviously these patterns could be totally specific to how I run a game and the kinds of players I like to roll with, but it does make me wonder if people who run similar campaigns over long periods of time are seeing patterns. Are they ballpark similar, wholly or partially divergent or what?
What dynamics have you seen develop at your table and do you feel that they have some kind of distinctness to them that you can generalize from?