I’m interested in exploring what phases players go through over the course of a campaign. Blocking out these phases and putting a finger on the unique play styles each of them off and transitional periods inbetween. What overarching goals exist during these phases, and what sort of dangers are threatening and appropriate for good world building.
Level 1 characters are the very starting phase. Generally gold plays the largest need as mere survival from night to night relies on a reliable income. Goals are very modest, kill bitches get money. The introduction levels from 1-3 can usually be skipped for experienced players in my opinion. Their is little in meaningful content for the initial grind when players are unlikely to feel powerful enough to take bolder actions.
By 4th level players should be entering a second phase. Once past minor challenges and quests a larger narrative should be introduced. I run much more open games than most DMs I’ve played with, usually a narrative plays off events the players have dealt with on a smaller scale. Once they buy into a larger narrative, introduce a challenge or adversary that is beyond their ability. This should set the tone for the rest of the campaign. Several levels can deal with this phase as players accumulate power and renown in pursuit of their goal. I feel this is the most classic phase of dungeoneering that most players are content with.
The next phases are not level dependent, but occur when the party begins to influence elements that require active management. Whether this is taking over a guild or starting a business, things of value exist in the background that makes having direct control impossible. This also gives a weakness to the party, something all of their accumulated enemies can retaliate against. This is also a good phase to introduce or reveal a more organized and diverse adversary that is willing to take heinous steps to lash out at the group. This can be a dark and evil motherfucker that makes their 4th level adversary look like a dentist by comparison. Show a true face of evil, and do some serious damage to the party. This will lead into the next phase.
Conquering a major evil involves far more souls than your party alone could hope to meet, let alone control indirectly. This phase requires alliances to be forged. Be it through exchange of power or wealth, favors, perhaps the destruction of an unknown enemy, and many other hoops that need to be jumped through in order to keep these ties strong. By now your party would be attracting the attention of deities, if they haven’t interacted with them directly already. Mobilizing these alliances and taking down a major disruptive force would bring the players into a legendary status. From here their goals would look toward the heavens, or hells.
Dabbling in various planes of existence is something players could run across throughout their careers, but making your mark on the very fabric of time is an epic that requires more than a brief jaunt through the abyss. Demons and demigods also seek power eternal in this phase, and the alliances of mortals matter very little. When players are satisfied with their mark on the mortal realms, ascending into god hood is the final phase possible.
Not all campaigns need to stretch so far to be enjoyable. In my experience player and DMs tend to stick to the second and third phases for as long as possible, not everyone is cut out for greater political dealings and micromanagement in their weekly hack and slash game, let alone becoming gods.
Just a post from my phone to kill time and remind the world I exist. If it sparked some thoughts, feel free to share. I’m curious what other campaign phases I’m missing.