Changing gears: on the beauty and realisation of short campaigns

When I, or my group(s), run a game there is a tendency to build each session on the previous ones, weaving a story based on what went before and where it feels like the characters are heading.

This ends one of two ways:

  1. Everyone has a blast and the campaign finds a natural and memorable conclusion
  2. More frequently people drift away, or burn out, or something else means we never get finished
This month's RPG Blog Carnival topic, changing gears, has inspired me to post my thoughts on having more short snappy games - especially now life and work interfere more!

I would totally recommend switching games every few months. Switch system, switch setting, switch DM, maybe mix up the player group slightly. Decades-long world defining campaigns with the same group are not the goal, and I feel getting less and less likely.

Changing up games is more fun. We get to play more new games, we get to finish more campaigns, we get to switch out DMs which helps with burnout. As a player it feels more satisfying to finish a shortish 2-3 month arc than plough through a multi-year story. As a DM it's more satisfying to run that shiny new book and wrap it up ready to run the new-new book...

Science fantasy character art (creative commons)
Why not try out a different genre? Image credit: Paddy-One

Changing up games is less pressure. If we don't like a system or setting then it's only a few sessions. There's less fear of a campaign finale falling short. There's more chance of getting to that finale with the same group of players who started! If someone can't make it for a few weeks they can probably (hopefully) join the next game...

If a game is a big hit, run a second season like a TV show. Axe it when it runs out of steam (like a TV show) - and bring it back for a reunion in 10 years with the original cast.

The only problem I have with short campaigns is keeping them short. I like to meander, I like to find out what happens to the characters. I dislike prep (too much like the planning I have to do for work) and I don't plan ahead. Here's what I have learnt:
  1. Work out what the main elements of your setting are and how they are connected (I spent a fair bit of time talking about my ideas about this in the past) 
  2. Use those connections to plan out a series of plot points. These are stepping stones, anchors, the landmarks on your campaign road trip. Depending on how long you want to play for, and your tendencies, either plan more (and don't sweat about hitting them all) or less (and fill in the gaps when you feel inspired by events in play) than that number!
  3. Build an adventure around each plot point. Don't force them. They don't have to sequential. The plot point can be the hook ("thieves guild want to steal the crown") or the twist ("find out the necromancer is the Duke's father") or background ("the goblins lay siege to the city") for the adventure, but it's better if the adventure isn't the plot point itself so the outcome isn't predetermined.  No railroading.
Let's say we want 2-3 months of weekly sessions, so let's go for 10 adventures. We can skip or add 2 and still be about right, let's not sweat it.

We know the things, NPCs, places and antagonists we want to work the story around and we know we want 10 adventures.  The classic "3 act story" suggests there are (variations on) nine generic plot points:
  1. Exposition - setting the scene and the status quo
  2. Inciting Incident - something propels the protagonist(s) into the story
  3. Turning point 1 - The Point Of No Return 
  4. Confrontation / Rising Action - tension builds, stakes are raised, obstacles emerge
  5. Midpoint - gaining confidence, taking action
  6. Turning Point 2 - everything is going so well ... then
  7. The Dark Night - oh it's all gone wrong
  8. Climax - but the protagonist (usually) pulls through and wins in the end
  9. Denouement / Conclusion - what happens after? 
I dislike using the "3 act story" template (because I don't think it works for our medium) but I think some of the plot points are crucial: we need an Inciting Incident and a Climax, really, and I think it's good to start with some Exposition/Setup, so that's adventures 1 (setting the scene), 2 (the Inciting Incident that launches the campaign), and 10 (the Climax, plus often the Conclusion in montage). 

We need seven more plot points adventures... 

Find a structure that works, for you, but they're all basically:
  • Players get a feel for the world and some of the key players
  • Something kicks off that gives them a Quest
  • They explore, learn, find artefacts and information, make friends and enemies, win and lose
  • There is a final confrontation to end the Quest, and we see how the world is changed
Let me know your preferred structures or go-to plot points in the comments?

You'll get better each time, and if you keep changing gears there's always a next time.  Thanks to Lair of Secrets for hosting, and thanks to Of Dice & Dragons for maintaining the Carnival - check the archives or sign up to host here.

Test minis for Warcry

 A while back I got into Warcry, a light and fast skirmish game which is perfect for time-strapped modern life!

The previous Blood Bowl minis were a pre-test for these to try out Army Painter Speedpaints - although hopefully some Blood Bowl is on the cards sometime.

Painted warcry skink and cultist minis
Huanchi skink and a Jade Obelisk cultist

I wanted some nice contrasting colours and as I wasn't feeling restricted to a colour scheme (as I have been with Infinity) it was fun to experiment.  I knew I wanted jade green for the cultists and went from there, and I really didn't want to go green for the slinks so I picked orange as a nice counter to the cultists' purple.

These are Army Painter Speedpaints from the starter set, I've seen people complaining about them "reactivating" (i.e. not drying) but I find that makes blending and mixing colours easier...

I'm liking it so far, and having fun finally, just need to get the rest done!

What's on your hobby table?

On creating elements for a setting

When I saw this as the title for the April RPG Blog Carnival my mind started ticking over campaign and setting planning and how I want to go about it.

Image credit: cosmicgrooveart

It's easy to just start building things that will never get played and I think a solution is:

So, leaping off from that into the void, what sort of elements and what does each need?


TTRPG games generally involve some exploration, and even if they don't the scenes have to be set somewhere.  Places are everywhere from towns to rooms to dungeons to continents and planes!

In my opinion, Places are often containers but I think they need the following themselves:
  • Flavour descriptions / scene setting (depending on scope and scale)
  • Rumours / things to interact with
As well as being the basic things you need for a dungeon room, these settle nicely with the start of a "three act" story - Set the scene, call to action - so can often lead to setting up a sidequest nicely.  Can we run the full mile and prep some of the rest too?
  • Rising action
  • A climax
  • How the place is left changed
Oh - there's a location based adventure!


TTRPGs are about conflict and resolution, and where would conflict be without antagonists to rub against our protagonists (the party) - these are the factions and moving parts!

Blogging back for March, and thoughts on April and beyond

Sorry for not being more active, real life takes its toll once again.

I haven't really had any time to read around the blogosphere or to get anything written, but here's a whistle stop tour of the (active) blogs that sent me hits in March, as a thankyou!

of Dice and Dragons, of course, has been keeping the RPG Blog Carnival rolling - please go show your support if you can, there are still some slots available to sign up to host in 2023 I believe!

Seed of Worlds has several very readable recent posts, and many better and more frequent blog link lists than I do (or can)

Hobgoblinry showcases some Oathmark Orcs and some Mordheim Skaven and terrain

Sea Of Stars has not only been hosting the March carnival but is also embarking on an A-Z blogging challenge for April (good luck!)

DIY & Dragons has a 2022 in review (not just gaming) in a smorgasbord of interesting things

and Shuttered Room has been cataloguing creatures, all the way to Z! (more talent and tenacity than I)

I'm planning on getting back on this horse every month, as part of my bid to be a more sociable blogger, and trying to participate in the Carnival and just see what great stuff is going on.

Dungeon23 has burned me out but I'll hopefully be back on that as well ... I have a whole shelf of stuff I could review ... comments welcome on anything you'd particularly like to see more of!

Seedy Sci Fi / Cyberpunk bar generator

As I'm currently enjoying running Mothership as much as I used to enjoy running Stars Without Number, and this month's RPG Blog Carnival theme is "Taverns, Bars, and places to meet", I thought why not combine my old love of one-roll generators and my new love of spark tables into a bar generator for your favourite SF TTRPG?

Image credit: Pazuah on DeviantArt

So grab a fistful of polyhedrals and let's see where the party ends up:

This place is:

d10 tens d10 units
a backstreet or spaceport hotel bar filled with noisy arcade machines
a streetside kiosk in a shipping container selling local moonshine
a laser-lit all-night club rumoured to have a secret back room
a trendy wine bar in a respectable 'hood tended by an AI/robot/alien
a high class cocktail lounge with live music playing
a trucker / hauler / biker bar hosting an open mic contest
a pop-up bar in someone's hab block allegedly run by the mob
a snug in the back of an ethnic restaurant with the best bartender in town
rooms in a church, mission, or similar with plenty of under-the-counter goods
a motel bar in the middle of nowhere with a priceless bottle under glass

Current patrons (reroll each day / as needed):

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Image content used that is not original was sourced via creative commons or similar and is used in good faith - and because I love it - however please contact me if there are any issues.