Behind the Screen – Chapter 10: The Long Game

Chapter_10I cannot count the amount of ‘campaigns’ I’ve joined, only to have them fail or peter out in some fashion, never getting properly off the ground. I think the longest continuous campaign I’ve been part of was a D&D third edition game that lasted almost a year back when I was young. I want to play in, or run, an extended campaign, but I’ve not been able to find a stable enough group of people I can stand to be around for several hours at a time. I’m sure all role players have faced this set back in one form or another at some point in their gaming history, and if you haven’t, you are one lucky person. So with that sort of thing in mind, along with the idea that people occasionally have things like jobs, families, lives, or are just plain useless sometimes, a friend of mine (the Editor-in-Chief of this very site) devised a method (the One-Shot method) of having an extended campaign-style setting while having sufficient flexibility for the players to change with each session. So for this chapter, I thought I would look at how a long campaign compares to the One-Shot method and how groups can utilise these methods to get the best result.


The Campaign

A campaign is a series of sessions, played by the same group, in the same setting, using the same rules, following a consistent story arc, generally to defeat some ultimate enemy of some kind. We all know this, but of course, it doesn’t have to follow that exact formula; the goal, setting or even the rules could change, but typically, the GM and players remain the same, with the same characters.

Seeing your character grow over the course of the campaign, working with (or sometimes against) your group members to achieve difficult goals, acquiring massive amounts of treasure and even just hanging out with friends are all positive things about a campaign, reasons why we enjoy getting together and playing these games.

But things change.

For those of us who have been playing for many years, we have grown up through these games, and our life state is most likely not the same as when we were younger. When I first started playing, I was nine or ten years old, living on a farm in New Zealand, obviously still in school. Since then I’ve done a lot of things, including getting a partner, moving to Australia and generally becoming what some might class as an adult. Now I have to work, spend time with the wife, do chores and various other adult-y things, giving me not as much free time as I once had. A lot of us are in that same boat, with responsibilities to jobs and family that must take precedence. A person in a stable situation can usually organise time to play, but this is not always possible. In Behind the Screen – Chapter 8: Technological Intrusion, I wrote about how technology can help bridge the gap between folks separated by distance, but what about those whose time is the issue?

Here we come to the One-Shot system I mentioned earlier.


The One-Shot system


Not this type of one shot.

Suppose you have a group of players, more than you would normally have in a single group, but they have varying degrees of time free to participate. How could you organise games for such a bunch? The One-Shot system shines in this scenario. The basic system works thusly; games are still set at regular intervals, such as weekly or fortnightly, but the players only come to games when they can. Each session is individual and does not carry over to the next, so the PCs will end up back at their base/town/hovel before the next session. This allows different characters in each session.

The first step is to create the setting, which isn’t hard really, it doesn’t even need to be exactly defined, just choose a continent or land or equivalent, pop a central point in it with a small discovered area around it, and away you go. I’ll give an example from our version: a keep full of adventurers who were just participating in a large scale battle was moved, with all people inside, to a wild and sparsely populated continent on the other side of the world. We used a hex grid for our map, with the keep in the center, each time someone ran a session, they would choose a hex cell on the map and fill it in with what was in their adventure.

Next you need some rules, because there will be disparity between player characters as you go through. Some players may play in every game, while others will only get in a single session a month, and because of that, levels of the characters will start to differ. The frequent player will be of significantly higher level than that of the monthly player. So some form of ‘down-time’ experience gain is needed, to help bolster those lower level characters. We also had a rule where the role of GM rotated through the players, so everyone had a go. This is why the surrounding area was kept undiscovered, so any GM could fill small parts of it with what they wanted. Because of having different GMs, we had to instigate rules to prevent GMs over-rewarding groups and causing those characters to be too powerful for their level.

While not completely necessary, a log could be kept to document the world changes that might take effect, so everyone knows what’s going on. Otherwise, a standard default level of the world needs to be set, for things to return to at the end of each session. Just think of it like The Simpsons, everything is pretty much the same at the beginning of every episode, that’s what this system is like.

It may take a little more to set up, but once it gets rolling, it will flow on smoothly, as long as everyone participates and follows the rules properly. I was part of a group that had this working in a local games store. That store has since shut down and the customer base dispersed to the four winds, but (besides a couple of interesting hiccups) it worked well while it lasted, and everyone was happy with it.

When my Call of Cthulhu seventh edition arrives (which isn’t long now), I will be playing it with a group of friends, and we plan to do it in a one-shot method, not so much because of personal time constraints, but more because others in the group also enjoy running CoC, and it is a lot easier to one-shot than it is to run multiple games. And disparity in CoC is irrelevant, since there are no levels as such, Investigators are just people, and sometimes those people get a bit better at some skills, nothing more. CoC seems like the perfect game to run one-shot, even the setting supports it, with our group being a detective agency, allowing members to come and go freely.



Well, ten chapters down, more to go I hope, but I need your help, dear readers. I am running dry on ideas to write about, so I need you to comment on here, tell me want you want to know more about. I am only one man, with only so many ideas. It need not be only to do with GM related matters, but anything role playing. Talk to me, my (hopefully) adoring public, and tell me want you want.

If you don’t, and I can’t think of any more ideas, I fear for what my Editor-in-Chief may do to me…



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