Which RPG Do You Prefer for Open-Ended Campaign Play?

During the month of August, I’m participating in RPG a Day 2017. Each day I’ll answer a question, or my interpretation of a question, about tabletop roleplaying games. For those who have wanted your beloved UncleBear to get back into RPG blogging, this is the closest you’re going to get.

Which RPG Do You Prefer for Open-Ended Campaign Play?

I don’t like open-ended campaigns. That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy stable game groups or long-running campaigns. My problem is the same one that I have with a lot of televisions series that never seem to end or go on long after they’ve exhausted their original premise. Sometimes you can keep them interesting, or they come back around after a period where they get boring for a while. Most of the time they just peter out. Something that started off strong ends up… meh.

The term campaign as applied to roleplaying games comes from the hobby’s roots in wargaming. A military campaign has an objective. It may be long and complex, but there’s a final goal that signals that it’s over. There is a theoretical end. An open-ended military campaign means there’s no exit strategy, and that’s generally considered to be a bad idea. Stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end. In the

Stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end. In the beginning, the characters figure out what they need to do. The middle is the process of doing it. The end comes after they’ve done it and wrapped up loose ends. That works for single adventures, multi-adventure story arcs, and campaign play. A sense of closure is a wonderful thing.

Too many people, I think, confuse open-ended with sandbox play where players have a degree of freedom to choose their own objectives. Far too many people think that the opposite of a sandbox is a railroad, where the players are forced to follow a script. Those aren’t the only two options. In between are a vast range of structure and free form. In my experience, it’s far more satisfying to have an objective, pursue it, and then complete it, whether the gamemaster is guiding things or the players are selecting their own path.

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