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.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments always very welcome :)

Popular Right Now

Please consider indie and small press RPGs, and support the blogosphere.

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.