Sunday, March 11, 2012

One-Offs vs. Campaigns vs. the Real World

Most of the people I game with (locally and on Skype) are working people with complex family / social lives.  What this means is that there are many opportunities for "life to get in the way" when planning game sessions, especially when conceived as a regular group of players participating in a coherent ongoing campaign.

This phenomenon was made super-clear earlier today, when our Brockport-based RPG'ing group's referee took ill at the last minute.  None of the rest of us were prepared to take up the mantle and run anything, so we simply canceled the session outright.  However, due to a communications foible, one of the players showed up at my house anyway, and he and I got into a discussion about how to protect our group in the future from the ravages of (perfectly understandable) last-minute cancellations like this.

The player in question happens to be a longtime RPG'er and referee himself, and he came up with a brilliant, elegant solution to our conundrum: abandon the concept of a continuous campaign altogether, in favor a of a series of one-off adventures.  That is, each time we meet every two weeks, we simply decide on the spot which game / adventure to play.  One or two referees come prepared with a one-session adventure concept (I have a purchased module I already plan to run as my first one-off session) and some pregen PCs, and off we go!  One session = one game = one adventure!  We choose between whoever is ready to run something each week.

This more flexible, modular approach will potentially solve two longstanding problems we've had in the Brockport RPG'ing group:

(1)  We have a somewhat rotating cast of players; one-offs should make it easier for players to jump in and out, hence encouraging the sporadic players to actually show up, and

(2)  Even the three or four of us who show up every single time have not been able to get one consistent campaign going because of referee illness (like today) or lack or preparedness (as I was exhibiting for awhile when running The Lost City, hence my hiatus until summer).  A rotating series of one-offs frees any one person from constant preparation duties, and really should take less overall preparation for whomever does step up to the plate; it is a smaller commitment.

That is the thinking anyway.


  1. I'm thinking along similar lines.

    I wish there were more 1-3 session modules independent of any campaign. Richard of Dystopian Pokeverse and I once had an idea for a reverse Dante's hell where the characters start in hell (in a prison zoo for humans) and have to add and remove magical body parts (eyes, wings, hands, gain spider legs) until they ascend, transformed, into freedom by escaping to the surface. i.e. no campaign just weird gonzo for three sessions.

    But, and this is a big but, players like watching their characters develop over time and influencing the campaign world.

    I suspect there is room for both.

  2. The main group I DM currently have a contingency plan should one or more people are unavailable. Luckily we have a experienced group and dropping one game for another is fairly painless. But we do plan for the problems. The game must go on.

  3. Some blogger posted about a "back to the inn" rule at the end of each adventure that I liked. I wrote about it here:

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  5. This is something that a West Marches style campaign could also help with. Similar to what Digital Orc mentioned. Back in the day, my friends and I used to call this a "house game" because each session needed to begin and end at the house, which could be anything from an inn or a stronghold to a travelling airship (depending on the campaign in question). The most successful campaign I have participated used a similar formula. Everyone had several PCs back at the house, so if one got tied up in a more extended adventure for a while (it happened every once in a while), you would always have another available. It worked out really well. We rotated referee duties and there were some basic rules about not screwing with NPCs that another ref had created for their own use.

  6. One way to split the difference: Have a stable of Characters, multiple for each Player. This works well if the characters have some sort of in-game reason to associate together; members of a guild or lodge for example, though that isn't absolutely necessary. Rotate DM duty, and Players pick who they'll play each game. The result is a consistent world with the potential for larger story arcs (if your into that kind of thing) but without the limitations of a traditional campaign run by a single DM.

  7. Why not simply have several DMs running their own campaign worlds, and alternate as needed? "Bill got sick, so I'll DM tonight..."

  8. We did this for a few months. We decided to do it like episodic Conan short stories, with no particular continuity between one story and the next. It works well as long as the referees keep the adventures truly very short, and the players agree to take their loot and get out at the end of the night. The temptation to continue an adventure over multiple sessions and fall back into campaign play is strong.

  9. I am sure that, as Paul says, "The temptation to continue an adventure over multiple sessions and fall back into campaign play is strong."

    However, in response to Dave's query:

    "Why not simply have several DMs running their own campaign worlds, and alternate as needed?"

    I would say, that may be what happens, yet there may be something liberating about literally picking up from scratch each night, at least for a while. Maybe this will be a palette-cleanser before we "fall back" into that old friend, consistent campaign play.

  10. P.S. The "stable of characters" concept is quite brilliant, thanks for that idea.

  11. I'm not super-keen on the idea of one-shots, to be perfectly honest. I want a character I can get invested in, or an ongoing story to tell. I've never played in a one-shot game that I really enjoyed, and I certainly haven't ever been able to write one that could fit into four hours.

    Having a few on the back burner in case someone can't make it isn't a bad idea, but I don't want it to be the default.

    I prefer serial to episodic television as well, so ;-)

  12. @Cid: The beauty of this system is that each referee can choose -- if you have the desire, time, and willingness to keep an ongoing campaign going, I'm sure we'll all happily play in it. But those of us with less desire or will to keep such a thing going can create one-shots. At least that's the idea.