Rules Index | GM Screen | Player's Guide

Chapter 10: Game Mastering / Game Mastering / Planning a Campaign

Campaign Length

Source Core Rulebook pg. 483 2.0
The length of a campaign can range from a few sessions to many years. Two main factors determine campaign length: how much time you need to complete the story, and how much time players want to devote to the game.

A single session, or a “one-shot,” is great if your group is trying out Pathfinder or wants to play a specific short adventure. This requires a smaller time commitment but requires the GM to present the events of the game in a way that is immediately engaging, since there’s less opportunity for the players to become invested in the story or setting.

If you want to play through a longer campaign, you’ll need to add some story elements that speak directly to the characters in your game rather than just to the events of the adventure. In other words, the characters should have individual goals in addition to the group’s overall goals.

You can estimate how long a campaign will take by looking at the amount of time you actually have to play, or the number of character levels you intend the characters to advance. It typically takes three to four sessions for a group to level up. Since you’ll probably cancel sessions on occasion, playing once a week for a year results in roughly a 14-level campaign, playing every 2 weeks for a year gives you an 8-level campaign, and playing monthly allows for a 5-level campaign. If you play only once a month, you might consider holding longer sessions and using fast advancement (page 509).

It’s entirely okay to have a campaign with an indefinite length. Many groups play through one adventure and then decide to take on another. If you run an indefinite campaign, however, avoid ongoing plots that you can’t satisfactorily end if the campaign comes to a close after the next adventure. If you introduce an overwhelmingly powerful villain who’s crucial to the story but can’t be stopped until the player characters are 15th level, ending the campaign at 8th level will feel anticlimactic.

It pays to be conservative when estimating your campaign length and scope. It’s always tempting to run a 20-level epic campaign with complex, interwoven plots, but such games can fall apart long before the end if your group can play only once a month and the players have other responsibilities.

Expected Duration

Source Core Rulebook pg. 484 2.0
Not every campaign ends at the same point. Some campaigns go all the way to 20th level, ending after the player characters attain the height of power and confront the greatest threats any mortal could face. Others end at a lower level, after the group takes down a major villain or solves a crucial problem. And still other campaigns end when players become unable to attend or decide its a good time to stop playing.

You should have an end point in mind when you start a campaign. Still, you have to be flexible, since you’re telling the story alongside other players, and your initial expectations for the campaign may be proven incorrect. When you think you’re heading toward a satisfying conclusion, it’s useful to check in with the other players. You might say, “I think we have about two sessions left. Does that work for everyone? Is there any unfinished business you want to take care of?” This lets you gauge whether your assumptions match up with the rest of the group—and make any necessary adjustments.