No, I'm not talking about players dropping dead at the table. I had a thought the other day, however, about the lifespan of a player in a long-term campaign. Much ink (virtual and actual) has been spilled over campaign lifespans, by which is implied the arc of a GM's interest in running a campaign. But something I don't believe I've ever seen addressed before is the arc of a player's interest in participating in a campaign.
This may not come up that often because, let's be honest, it can be difficult to get a campaign to last for any great length of time. But if you spin our a campaign arc over a long-enough span of sessions, this will start to come up. In my own experience, the issue arose during my first big Pendragon campaign back in 2007-2008. Despite all three of my players vocally advocating for a long, multi-generational campaign, over time one player after another pooped out until it was just me and Des. So based on that limited experience, I hereby put forth the following sweeping general categories:
The Story Arc Player: This player will be committed to a campaign as far as a particular arc is playing out, but once that is done he quickly loses interest. In our Pendragon campaign, this was typified by a character who went through a "heel turn" (as they say in the wrestling world) before eventually redeeming himself through valiant self-sacrifice. It made for some particularly dramatic gaming, but once it was done, the player was no longer interested in the campaign. He tried a wide range of new characters, but none of them held any appeal. His in-game behavior became disruptive due to boredom, and eventually he stopped showing up entirely.
The Single Character Player: A variation on the Story Arc Player, this player will happily play through many character story arcs over the course of a campaign, but once his character dies or retires, the player is ready to move on to greener campaigns. In our Pendragon campaign, this attitude was typified by a player who was whole-heartedly committed to participating up until his first character retired. Despite attempting to play a new character, it just didn't take and ultimately the player admitted it was because he felt he couldn't do anything more with the campaign beyond what he'd accomplished with his first character.
The End of the Line Player: This player is in it for the long haul. This may be the most common type of player in your stereotypical old school D&D campaign, perfectly willing to roll up a new character when their old one gets mangled in a trap or killed by a grue, but it's never been terribly common in the groups I've played in. In our Pendragon campaign, only one player fell into this category, sticking it out to the logical end of the campaign and playing no less than three characters in the process.
There are probably other player types when it comes to long-term campaigns, but those are the three that I've come up with based on my own admittedly limited experience. I'm sure my esteemed readership will be able to come up with a couple more in the comments, right folks?