Campaign lengths?Retirement for gamers?does it matter?


Build that keep! Run that City! Become king of Aquilonia!


To my brain, the Holy Grail of Progression for its own sake soon feels forced/mechanical and eventually Unfun. I kinda take a similar stance to Progression as HF does to Balance.

A steady uphill climb can only be accomplished through numeric increases, new options, or new mechanics.

Numeric increases are the sugar buzz of dopamine hits for me… quickly develop a tolerance and quickly fading.

New mechanics generally have only one direction to grow in: more complexity… which eats up cognitive load and forms a barrier between a player experiencing things in the limbic mode—virtually, viscerally, vicariously—and a player calculating their way through a procedure. <—This is why I skip the more complex game systems.

And new Options, those are kind of the cannabinoid neuron receptor pings: instantly more interesting and meaningful because of the perceived novelty. The cool new abilities feel great here and there, but you can’t build a long term story on new abilities every five seconds. Just as you can’t usually tell a satisfying story that is just a string of new stuff. The end must reflect the beginning in some way. For a story to feel whole, anyway.


This is where Hank’s “Rollercoaster Theory” of Balance for me applies just as much to Progression.


Many great responses in this thread.

In D&D, the level progression feels extremely boring and limited to me. Usually you get one or two things if you are not a spellcaster and sometimes those things aren’t significant enough to get a kick from leveling up. If you are a spellcaster, you get some spells but what happens is you cast a limited number of them over and over again so you are still limited in a sense.

The real issue however, Like Lon said, is that you can only have a limited number of ways of progression in a game.

Numerical increase, which I call numerical inflation but is also called treadmill progression, doesn’t help at all and is only psychological. Usually the difficulty increases along with your bonuses. You gain exactly nothing or next to nothing but you pay in numerical complexity - math becomes difficult. There is virtually no difference between casting a 2d6 Fireball against a 20 HP monster and 14d6 Fireball against a 140 HP monster except that you’ll need a long time to calculate your damage. The game is slowed for no real benefit.

Lon explained the downside of introducing new mechanics. Mechanics tend to interact with each other and usually result in needlessly complicated systems and slow down the game. Obviously one man’s complex is another’s boring, i.e. complexity is subjective so people prefer different game systems for that reason.

The moral of the story:
There is no reason why an ICRPG campaign can’t last for decades. It is entirely up to the GM and the group. Being rules-lite has no effect on the duration of a campaign. Otherwise story games wouldn’t last even an hour.

The real moral of the story:
We need more pirates to keep the earth cool! Arrr!


This is actually a debate I’ve had with several of my game master friends, and the point I always go back to is that leveling up is not character progression. Gaining new abilities is not character progression. Read through any “What is Roleplay” section in any system and it talks about collective storytelling. Well storytelling isnt about “Hey look I got this new thing” it’s about the growth the character goes through internally, (which is usually reflected in their new abilities) In that sense I find D&D character progression very unsatisfying. The gains are just offset by the growing encounter levels so it doesn’t make a difference. On the contrary I’ve ran plenty of rules light games (Using FATE or FATE Accelerated before I discovered ICRPG) where the characters had goals, and achieved them (or changed them as the character grew) that ran for extended periods of time. As for how long a game should run, I tend to lean towards telling a story till the story is done. I generally have clear story arcs, even for sandbox style campaigns. And if the characters have more story left to tell, I let the players carry them to a new story. So my rambling point is honestly system doesn’t matter as much as storytelling for how long your games can run.


So I posted the question of why people go back to the big name games on reddit, and an hour in…not too insightful.
1: Ain’t nobody got time for that.
2: quirky systems are fun for short games. But not long stories.
3: because the access to published resources reduces my prep time.
4: resources spent knowing the big name system.
5: big name games are big names cause they are better.
Seem to be my favorite answers.
1: cause it’s idiotic yet funny.
2: cause I think it is the common perception (I’m willing to be wrong). Not truth, just perception.
3: I believe this is also a false premise like 2, but understood when you look around, and don’t have a pool of grizzled GMs telling you, 3 npcs with interesting problems is all you need for 5 sessions.
4. Understandable for baby players, who have only played one or two games perhaps gamed for 3 years, and don’t know the business cycle yet.
5. The first reply…that took a lot not to reply to and mess up my data pool.

I don’t think there has been too much thought on this. But I’ll wait a while. Perhaps a different pool?

Click here
If you want to follow along.


I’ve been running an ICRPG campaign for a year and half with 6 players who meet up twice a month for about 4-5 hours a session and I myself am ready to do a new campaign (Mostly because I want to implement new homebrew systems) but my players keep wanting more and I keep the campaign going.

How do you keep them invested? How do you give that sense of progression? I make every one of my sessions somehow related too two characters’ backstories thats how. So thats 1/3rd of my players who are very invested in the current situation involving their family member, childhood rival/nemesis, or their hometown as a whole. The remaining players get to learn more about their fellow players and help them succeed who in return help them when its their loved ones on the line.

Sure they get new loot and stat points but only 2/6 players have more than 1 heart and that really doesn’t matter in the 1.5 years we been playing.

The numbers and complexity isn’t what keeps the game going, its the player’s being invested in their characters’ lives at my table.


This! Characters earning cool new abilities and getting stat bonuses doesn’t mean the character changed in any meaningful way.

Burning Wheel does a really good job of this with the Belief system. You get rewarded for playing out your beliefs. And you can then spend those rewards, to increase your ability to do things. It’s about a character’s arc. Not all the cool gizmos and gadgets they have.

Stat bonuses increase mathematical complexity. While new abilities increase the cognitive overhead to play in general. Leaving little cognitive room for role-playing, which is kind of the point.

I have seen more roleplay happen when I have simplified things for my players than when they are trying to use 3 different complex abilities, time them right, and make sure they don’t get other party members caught in them.

More roleplay means more opportunities to play out the narrative that you are engaged in as a group. It lets you put more nuance and depth in the simple things. It lets you add more layers to the story, rather than adding layers to the game itself.

Like others have said here, I don’t think the length of a campaign is limited at all by having a system like ICRPG. I think quite the contrary. If you are playing D&D 5e and you get to Level 20, now what? The incentive to play built into the game, leveling, has been fulfilled. Sure you could continue, but your players don’t get any more rewards for playing.

While with something else, the reward for playing was never about levelling. In Burning Wheel, it is about the characters beliefs. In something super simple like ICRPG, it is about the story the characters make. Since their gear can always be destroyed, they always have room to keep questing and acquire more. Which, lo and behold, places them in the middle of another adventure!

Having characters “level up” in the traditional sense can be fun for a while. But eventually the complexity added by the bonus stats, features, and abilities add up. The game slows down as people need more time to process their options and when they pick an action it takes more time to resolve. With more complex interactions between abilities the game becomes about finding the perfect set of actions to take at the right times for the maximum outcome.

Players will optimise the fun out of the game.

I like certain complex systems, but I hit a max for the amount of complexity I can take eventually. And then the game stops because it is no longer playable. Regardless of how long it takes to get there, if you keep going there is a ceiling.

And that’s not to say that complex games can’t run for a really long time. Most games ramp up the complexity slowly, to give players a chance to get used to their new abilities.

That’s all great in theory, and partially in practice too. But then real life kicks in, people move, etc. New members try to join at high levels without getting the chance to acclimate to their high-level complex abilities, old friends try to rejoin and they don’t remember their abilities. Kick off a good boss gift and everybody forgets the small details if the adrenaline is hitting them anyway.

Personally, I would rather have a simple system that I know I can run forever if I need to. I can give them cool abilities, then when it is getting a bit complex for players I can take them away with rust monsters, attacks that break their equipment, etc. And through all this, because their gear and abilities are so fluid, the players make solid stories and choices based in their characters, not their gear or abilities. (I usually supplement that with some version of Burning Wheel’s Beliefs).

It’s a lot easier to add complexity if you need it to a simple system, than it is to remove complexity from a complicated one

But that’s just me. :slight_smile:


Is the question you are asking about campaigns in general, for ICRPG or D&D?
I don’t believe this is in the wrong pool.

I really do love mechanical progression of my character, having the chance to create my own gear/abilities or choosing from some cool ones!
What keeps a campaign going for me is STORY and the relationships built between PCs. That’s what keeps me coming back.
These two in combination really does it, but the latter trumps the first. Playing TTRPG is not playing MMORPG where mechanical progression is all there is unless the hanging out with friends/guildmembers does it. Not matter. I’ve played with people who only see the mechanical progression, can’t even roleplay and view the whole session as some kind on PvE combat raid they have to beat to get exp or Loot.

A good story is what keeps the game going. Investment in PC backgrounds and group relation is what glues it together.

The campaign I’m running now has a good story but what really fucking dots the i is the players investment in their characters and the fact that I take this and sprinkle it into the world to make it real. We’ve only run 3 session but I just sit in awe when the interact with eachother. It’s fantastic! :sob::star_struck::heart_eyes:


I guess I should’ve streamlined my question as I’ve discovered it.

Why do many gamers go back to the big name games, even after they have played better games?

That said, I’ve really enjoyed this conversation and did not want to focus it. But alas I’m saddened by no one commenting on my prediction of the future of retirement communities. Not really, but kinda think is cool to look forward to.

I personally prefer shorter stories at this point, but I’m just doing mental speculations on the why would you go back to D&D after experiencing ICRPG.
Answers I can come up with.

  1. Huge nuanced community you can connect with easily.

  2. A chance for me to plant my flag with an accomplishment that others in my peer group would recognize. “Getting to level 20”

  3. Perceived ease of game setup due to published material.

  4. Investments of time, effort and money, people thinking they lose all if they change systems.

  5. Legitimate issue of support in VTT, but I am almost ignorant about.


You nailed it. What you said exactly mirrors my experience with D&D. As complexity grows, people start optimizing their tactical options and roleplay goes out of the window. This simply due to players having limited time for their turns and optimization starts to eat all of it.

You are not alone thinking about roleplaying filled retirement.

Re: why do people go back to big name games.

  1. Brand recognition & advertisement - everybody knows or heard about D&D.
  2. Familiarity with the system - almost everybody plays/played D&D.
  3. Published material and ecosystem - lengthy books are a hindrance instead of helpful but yeah.
  4. Big player pool - higher possibility for starting a group but people forget that you can teach a simple system to anyone. Some people don’t want to play a noname system though (see 1).
  5. Sunken cost fallacy = Prior investment of time and money to the system so people don’t want to abandon their investment.


I think it’s what you make it to be really. I ran a campaign that lasted 2 yrs. My new one with new players is about… 9 months in and 45 hours roughly at present? I have several hundred one shots and modules taken over 30 yrs either purchased or off the web. Mostly the web. And I take bits and pieces of them to plug into the story I came up with on my own. I, like the critical role group… tend to push on the character development and investment first and story a close second with action a runner up that keeps things from getting to boring. The past 9 months, I have milked a one page adventure and stretched it out to encompass an entire year of game play by inserting bits and bobs from those other modules. And, things are just ramping up. We just began “chapter 2” the other day. Who knows how far this can go but as GM, I run my games with an indefinite time line in mind. Just like real life. You live until you die. In game world… you play until you leave or everyone disbands. If the game goes on for the next 20 yrs… so be it. I would die a happy man if I pulled that off. lol. So… thinking about how many months, days, years, hours played… seems redundant to me. You set a goal as GM and run with it. Set a one shot in action, or set a multi game in play or go for epic story… up to you. Cheers and happy gaming


1: PLEASE use line breaks when you write. Half these posts are not readable, despite such a great topic.

2: What painful irony to hear that systems predicated on character options and player back-patting (above described as ‘complexity’) are now considered suited to long term play, when the longest running stretch of ‘classic’ D&D, with the most intuitive progression (AD&D/2e) was entirely built on progression through actions, treasure, and allies. Modern D&D is entirely front loaded to lure new players, and scales quite badly.

3: No system can enhance, guarantee, or even facilitate long term play. It is ENTIRELY the purview of players and GM chemistry and commitment.

This topic is deep, but weird. The reddit re-post demonstrates perfectly how the crummy attitudes of this era can scare off humble and positive players with their disposable, ‘no time to speak in detail’ tone.


Well the reddit and this post seemed to have run it’s time in discussion, my conclusion is somewhat changed and a bit more informed.

Many possibly most players prefer the big names because of exposure or lack there of. They feel secure there. Not to mention what they feel is supplemental support. (Roll 20, premade adventures, apps for running a game)

Few people have any idea what an impact rule exception game design has had. (Magic the gathering being the first big game with this that I can think of pre-caffeinated).

For players with little exposure to playing RPGs a long campaign to level 20 is the goal. (I blame video games, popular shows, subscription gaming)

The tipping point principle acts like gravity to most people. As they think the big names are equal to default role playing. (They don’t seem to remember when vampire the masquerade was king of the hill.)

D&D 5e was great balance of styles when it came out and is now a mess. (I still hate level progression)

Players each play for their own rationalized reasons and don’t really think of their motivations. (Most people live their lives this way, so it’s not a stretch).

Going to conventions in force seems to be how you move the tipping point, only once you have major traction. (WotC did not push D&D 4th thinking they had gravity, Pathfinder ate their lunch. )

They focused 5E launch on conventions and such. Not to mention weekly open table games at stores with their weekly games.

The internet increased the perception of gravity towards bigger games, while at the same time allowing smaller publishers to exist and even thrive. But the cost of entry has increased to get to tipping point potential. D&D 6th edition will be a business decision not a D&D 5 has run its course or is too limited.

Reddit is not the place for an in-depth question about motivations.

So I guess my next question should be is does any of us have the time or concentration (more than 2 willing GMs)to run weekly ICRPG open table adventures at game stores?


I’ll be hosting a game in a couple weeks at the local comic store. They want to start incorporating gaming, I’ll be running this as their first game. I’d love for it to turn into at regular thing. I gave a couple options to the owners as to what games they’d think would go over best. This first game will be Tales from the Loop. If things go well, I’ll definitely be bringing ICRPG into it.