So one of my local groups has been playing a Burning Wheel campaign since last November. We only meet every other week, but it is still the longest I’ve played a game since I caught the indie game bug. As a result, it’s given me a bit to ponder about my play preferences and the special appeal of long-term campaigns.
First off, I usually think of myself as a firmly “Story Now” player – get me to the awesome from the start and keep it coming until the big finish (usually 1-4 sessions away). Here, though, the main thrust of the campaign has been a slow burn, with some of the initial plot lines still awaiting resolution. Yet I have not been frustrated by this.
Instead, I’ve used my character’s beliefs as a checklist to drive my actions each session and updated my beliefs frequently. The end result is that I’ve gotten satisfying “Story Now” payoffs from seeing my character accomplish important things, even if the larger campaign goals remain out of reach.
Second, I’ve found myself really enjoying BW advancement. This is totally contrary to my impressions when I read the BW books; I found the advancement rules incredibly complex and wrote them off as unfun bookkeeping. But there’s something about looking for an opportunity to test Persuasion or a wise to pop it up a level that has pushed my buttons the right way.
The result is that I have thoroughly enjoyed it as my character has developed in directions I would not have anticipated (or seen in a shorter game). Another key to my enjoyment is likely that all the characters started out as seasoned in several areas, so there wasn’t the frustration of feeling like the real excitement of play would have to wait until you advanced.
Third, we’ve really had time to develop our setting, from the town where the game is based to the larger religious and political landscape of the world. This development has had its share of surprises we likely would not have had in a shorter game – like the eventual revelation that the “good” god actually is in full support of the radical martyrdom of some adherents to strike blows, however ineffectual, against the evil overlords. We’ve also had some abiding NPCs that have deepened in their characterization and progressed beyond their initial roles to almost PC-like status. Without the time investment we’ve made, I don’t think we would have seen these things happen to this degree.
So clearly long-term gaming can offer special things. That said, I think it’s Luke Crane and BW’s sharp chops that have been key to keep my attention span this long. I would have thought that I’d be tired of playing the same game by now, and I likely would have been long ago if this was D&D. But the mechanics and the great play of my group has kept things fresh and entertaining. I suspect we’re getting close to the end of the game since that big campaign goal is moving closer (and the GM is expecting his first child in a few months), but it has been great to see that I can still find real value in a long-term game, though of a completely different sort than I did back in my younger days. I hadn’t realized I missed long-term play, but I guess a part of me did.
So when’s the last time you played a long-term game?