A campaign is defined as a set of individual adventures that are linked together to tell an on-going story. It takes a special type of GM to be able to build a campaign and run it successfully, but it can be a very rewarding experience for those who can do so. Building the individual adventures is only a part of what makes up a campaign; it is up to the GM to present a living, thriving universe to their players as the campaign progresses (something which requires a great deal of thought and energy). This sub-Chapter discusses campaigns and offers guidelines on how to run a campaign.
Before the creation of a campaign even begins, the campaign's designer should have a pretty clear idea of what its story is going to be about. The plot slicing method presented in Chapter 11.1.1 works well for creating a campaign, though the method must be applied at greater length since the campaign's story is going to be told the course of several adventures. The designer has to ask themselves whether or not their campaign will have a single, overarching storyline (which tends to lend itself towards greater opportunities for character development), or if it will be composed of single plots (which tends to be a little easier to create). With the goals of the campaign in mind, the designer may take each overarching goal, sub-divide it into goals for the individual adventures, and further slice them up as much as they'd like.
At the onset of the campaign, the GM needs to establish the core character group. They will need to be flexible with their group of players while the campaign is in progress even more so than in an adventure. This is because it is likely that players will have to come and go during the course of the campaign; this simply cannot be helped. When a player leaves the group, it is important to establish what will happen to their character. The easiest thing to do is to have them leave the character group for a time. The character may be kept in reserve until another player can pick that character back up again; that character may then explain to their group that they had an opportunity to perform some business, which has since been concluded. Players who don't feel like sharing their characters may have their character killed off instead. Their death should be fairly heroic (such as a character who sacrifices themselves for the good of the others), especially if that character has been with the group for a long time. A GM should not kill off every member of the core group, however, or the whole plot of the campaign will seem contrived.
Also of importance is the origin of the campaign's core group of characters. There are several methods through which characters can get to know one another and decide to work together. In Wing Commander, characters who are part of military groups may simply be assigned to one another and have to work to keep each other alive day after day. Non-military groups may be comprised of characters who have bonded together to work towards a common goal, or who are (perhaps) co-workers. There are even campy reasons why groups of characters decide to get together originally, such as the classic adventuring group that composed of people who went to the same bar one night and decided to work together over multiple rounds of drink. Any origin story is fine as long as it works for the campaign. Just as important as the origin of the group is how to introduce new characters into it. As with the beginning of the campaign, it is important for any new character to have some back story and to have a reason for wanting to join up (even if it’s campy).
Once a campaign has been established, it is part of the GM’s job to maintain it. This is best done by building on what has happened so far, by foreshadowing what is to come and by attempting to create a living environment for the characters; this can be done by developing the relationships they form and making subtle yet important changes to the overall universe as the campaign progresses.
Building on the past and foreshadowing are future is perhaps the best ways to keep a campaign running once it’s been established. Foreshadowing is important in the early going as it will hint to the players what they will be doing in the future and help prepare for those events. For example, if a future adventure involves helping to rescue trapped miners after a cave-in, the characters could meet somebody in an early adventure who works there and who complains about all the earthquakes and lax safety precautions. By the same token, building on events that have already happened is equally important. If the characters rescue the pro-consulate’s daughter, the pro-consulate will remember them and their heroism the next time they meet. If TCS Tarawa bit the dust in an adventure, chances are pretty damn good it won’t be there to save the day in a later adventure.
As part of building on the past, the GM should from time to time include recurring NPCs. Chances are good the barkeeper on Jolson will still be the same knock-out babe the next time the characters drop in for a visit. A dark figure seen in an alleyway in the middle of the night could show up again on an entirely different planet to finally reveal their intentions. The characters can form relationships with certain NPCs (such as the innkeeper at the Regal Inn in Newberg on Landreich, who lets the characters stay at a reduced rate because they helped him find his lost cat), which adds to the overall story and helps flesh out the campaign. The GM should be careful not to overuse recurring characters, as that may make the campaign seem artificial, but if used well they add realism to the overall story.
One thing the GM should be sure to understand is that the vast majority of NPCs won’t know about the characters, and so most of them will treat the characters like they would anybody else. Most NPCs won’t even pay attention to the characters (unless they do something to attract their attention). The characters have no special clout with them, and so they will have to be careful in how they act. If they are kind and just, chances are they will earn friends and the respect of others; their chances of getting a cheap meal or successfully borrowing transportation may be vastly improved as a result. If the characters act like a bunch of jerks, the opposite is true...
Another way to make the campaign world seem more realistic is to change what the characters know. If a mechanic the characters trust has been talking about retirement, the mechanic’s nephew may be working in their place the next time the characters visit their shop. If the characters know a friendly noble on an oligarchic planet, they may have become the sovereign since their last visit. The GM can even hit the characters where it will hurt; if they love a particular community, have it become the victim of some natural disaster or enemy raid. The Wing Commander Universe is replete with conflict throughout its history, some of which involved the total destruction of entire planets (Kilrah) and the complete annihilation of their populace (Goddard, Locanda IV, Telemon). Wars and other major calamities are part of real life in a real world; this should be true even for the characters. If used judiciously, changes and calamities will add meaning and purpose to the story. GMs are warned not to hit the characters below the belt too often; the players won’t want their characters to become attached to anything if all they are being offered is a constant barrage of pain and anguish (of course, if that's what the GM's gunning for, that's not necessarily a Bad Thing).
At some point the GM may decide the time has come to bring their campaign to a close. When this happen, they should try to wrap up any remaining loose threads; they shouldn’t just drop the campaign mid-stream (except in the very rare case where all the players, including the GM, have to quit the game in rapid succession; in that case there's little other choice available). All stories deserve a good climax and a final resolution; campaigns are no different. If the characters had a run-in with a mob boss in an earlier adventure, the GM should include an adventure wherein the final, climatic confrontation takes place. If the characters have been sent on a deep-penetration strike to Kilrah, the GM should compose a final adventure wherein Concordia charges to their rescue when all hope seems lost. It may take a couple of sessions (or adventures) to wrap everything up, but it is well worth it, especially if the GM wants the players to remember the campaign and talk about how great it was for years to come.