The Magnum Opus Campaign

This post won't be about D&D specifically, but I think it should still be of use to old-school DMs.  It's more of a general philosophical pondering about the art of game mastering.  Bear with me--my thoughts are a bit disjointed today, but I've been thinking about GMing in general lately.  Particularly what I think of as the "Magnum Opus" campaign. I'm not sure if other GMs experience this, but back around the fall of 2002 or so I began running the Buffy the Vampire Slayer RPG, right when it came out. Our group took to the game like fish to water; we were the first group to have a website dedicated to the game.  We were the first group to cut "opening credits sequence" videos that I posted to our website.  We were the first group, when everyone started making credits sequences, to do a full-length music video for the series theme song. In many ways, at the time, we set the standard for BtVS RPG campaign websites.

I actually cut soundtrack albums for each season of the game, and gave them to my players as keepsakes. We wrote "fan fiction" that took place in between seasons.  A good deal of impromptu character interaction happened over e-mails between sessons when someone would just have an idea and e-mail those of us concerned.

But I'm not writing that to crow--not really, though I'll happily brag about what a great group that was. I'm writing it because I want to illustrate just how into the game we were. To this day, despite some player conflict issues in our last season, that stands as the single best group I've ever run, and the single best game I've ever run. It went for five solid years (four "seasons" of play) and to date is the only campaign I've ever successfully brought to a conclusion, closed the book, and said, "The game is done." Other campaigns have either blown up, petered out, or just never been picked back up after a break. This one came close in the last season, but such was our dedication and enjoyment of the game that we soldiered through a particularly rough spot, and even the player with whom I had conflict through that season said that he was glad he stuck it out because the end was spectacular.

In the end, I have very fond memories of that game.  Some of the players are in my other gaming groups, and we still share stories of that game--stories that others seem to enjoy hearing (at least, I hope they do and I'm not misreading their reactions).

So here's what has been weighing on me. That game, in many ways, was a magnum opus for me. It was epic in theme, story, character development, it was aces in every way a game can be.  I miss that game.  I miss the chemistry between the players.  I miss the storylines. And in many ways, I've spent every game that I've run ever since then trying to re-capture that magic, and failing to various degrees.  I know that each game has its own magic, and I'm not saying the games I've run since then have been bad.  I've actually had some pretty good games--my Doctor Who game has been pretty successful, for example.  My Age of Conan game is going pretty well, save a current poor choice of adventure modules by me. I'm even attempting a sort of "sequel" game to the Buffy game, set in the same Pittsburgh, 5 years later, with all new characters. That's just getting going, but is working out okay. But none of them have had the same kind of magic that game did. None of them had the same kind of excitement--the feeling that everyone can't wait to get together and play the game that week. My wife--who was a player in the original Buffy game and is playing in the pseudo-sequel--wants me to do the same things for this one; start a website, make a credit sequence, etc.  But as of yet I don't feel the magic enough to make that leap.

In many ways I feel that I'm being unfair to my players in this.  I still give my all as a DM, but am I tilting at windmills, at the expense of my current gaming groups?  I hope not--I hope that they're all having a great time with the games I run. But in some ways I feel kind of like a fraud because of my fond memories of that past game. Is it wrong to want to recapture something akin to that excitement and magic, or should I just let it go for what it was and try to make the most out of what I've got? Am I cheating my players in my nostalgia for that game and group? Or is it natural and harmless to feel this nostalgia so long as I'm putting the proper level of commitment in my current games?

I recently came up with an idea for a game (which I discussed in my last blog entry) that has gotten me really, really excited.  It's a ways off (potentially a year or so) before I'll actually get to run it, but I am excited enough that I've already started putting ideas down for it. I think--and hope--that it has the potential to recapture some of that magic, albeit in its own way. 

But here's what I'm wondering: have other GMs experienced this?  Do you have a single great campaign in your past that you look back upon as a sort of magnum opus, that ran so well you wish you could just live in that experience as a GM?  A campaign that's perhaps unfortunately cast a shadow over what you've done after, which was so magical that you just wish you could recapture a fraction of it? If so, I'd be interested in hearing your story and what (if anything) you've done since then, and if you ever managed to recapture that magic.


  1. What you describe plus the real life death of a player really threw me. I've moved on. Recapture the magic? I don't look at it that way anymore. Rather, keep moving ahead, with that foundation still there behind. I did need to change, though. Things are not the same, never could have been, and I always knew that, but now I am ok with it.


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