I recently wrote a little bit about hooking players. However, that's just phase one. Once we have them hooked, we need to keep them. This is far more subtle, and still requires serious attention. It involves delivering things that were promised, but often not in ways originally expected. Part of it is also getting your players to think of the future, and look forward to their options. And of course, there is much more to it as well. So let's jump into it.
Giving Players What They Want
Part of a campaign is giving players what they want. Now, this could mean a lot of things and be delivered in different ways. It could also change from player to player. Some players will want elaborate, complex, and challenging combat encounters. Others will want situations they can talk their way out, or rally allies to their cause. Others still will want to unravel a mystery, or navigate the complex political relationships between kingdoms, alliances and empires. Keep hitting these notes that your players love, and they'll be looking forward to more. Seems simple right? Well, not necessarily.
What If They Don't Know?
There is more than that. It's great if your players know themselves well enough to be able to tell you what they want. However, they may miss things. Likewise there will be constraints. You can't have massive battles every session at the same time as deep political intrigue, and a hunt for a lost magical item without it getting jumbled occasionally. So the player who likes political intrigue may need to wait a session or two to have their favourite part come back.
These situations are tough. Finding out what your players like when they don't can be a game of trial and error. However, don't be too worried. Well executed searches that are in the right ballpark go over fine. There just might be other things your players enjoy more that you'll find as you search. You may need to balance everyone's wants as well, and a player might not get their favourite thing but still get enough to enjoy coming back every time. Sometimes players want something new. What is that? Well, they'll know when they find it. It's not exactly helpful advice but it does remind us that looking for novel things isn't a bad thing.
You can also hit something else. There may be a root cause to why your player likes what they like. You may also learn that your player likes the other aspects of the game too, even if they didn't previously say it. This could happen for a wide variety of reasons from their previous game experience, to something just working in ways they didn't foresee. You might have also hit the real root cause of why they like what they do. A player who loves combat encounters may end up really enjoying a political intrigue campaign because they have many options to try to bring people over to their side instead of their enemy. This situation of weighing options, each with their advantages and drawbacks, and making decisions could be the real reason they like combat encounters. You can target this, of course, but more often I find you'll stumble upon these kinds of revelations. Just keep an eye and try not to miss when they fall into your lap.
Paying Off Promises
There are promises that are made when starting a campaign and bringing in players. If you said there would be combat encounters, they expect some combat. Chances are your players were looking forward to them. Some may have been pushed over the edge and decided to join the campaign because of them. Likewise, as you build things during the campaign, players expect them to lead somewhere. Anywhere. You can't guarantee players will like twists and turns as much as their own ideas, but they tend to be far more interested when they know that they are building towards things, and that there will be a reveal.
Also, when thinking about this topic, be careful about going too specific. That there will be kobolds is probably far too specific to be the kind of promise I am talking about here. What makes this difficult is that the promise that the campaign will involve hunting vampires may not be too specific. Some players may really have decided to join the campaign to get the experience of hunting vampires. They loved the idea of living a version of their favourite fiction. However, often times the promise will be higher level. Figuring out what promises you made, and making them accurately in the first place is difficult. However, carefully keeping this in mind is important. Sometimes you can break them but you need to give something in return that is as valuable. What? I don't know. It will depend on your group and it's part of what makes running campaigns hard. However, exercise caution since it's very easy to fail when subverting a promise for something better. You also don't want to do it too often, otherwise promises become meaningless.
Sometimes People's Opinions Change
It's easy to get the idea that things are fine and keep doing it. And often times, this works well for a group. However, it's also important to note that sometimes people's opinions change. The players who were super into dungeon crawling may want a break for a few sessions. If you notice this, or are informed, incorporate it into your campaign. Don't take it personally either. You could make the best spaghetti in the world, but sometimes people want something else. It can happen to the Dungeon Master too, or just makes sense as the campaign evolves. Your intrigue campaign about gathering forces to stop an undead army may in fact end with a combat encounter. After all, doesn't it make sense for a massive battle to occur after so much buildup? It's not necessary, but more often than not your players will want such an awesome combat encounter after so much buildup.