One-Shotting My Way Through A Campaign

Posted: June 16, 2011 by pointyman2000 in Articles, Roleplaying Games

Recent events have started to put a slight damper on the campaign I’m running with an inconstant player character roster at the moment.  It’ll pass, but for the moment I need to find a way to get around the “Who Will Show Up This Week?” lottery that things have somehow turned into.

That said, I think the best way I can adapt for the moment is to run a little counter to how I’m used to running for a few weeks.  I tend to use a lot of continuity in my games, often ending in cliffhangers or in natural lulls in the action of a particular “story arc” of a game.  This seems to be counterproductive when sometimes the cast changes from week to week.

So I’ve been mulling over it and I think that going for a TV show / Episodic format might be my best bet.  Add character development while I can, but keep long multi-part arcs to a minimum.  Sure there’s going to be the occasional long story / recurring villain, but that won’t be the general format of the campaign anymore.

That said I’m enjoying the game I’m running.  Mage: the Awakening has always been a game of higher ideals for me, so seeing thing toned down to goofy antics between highly competitive groups of teens with awakened magic is a breath of fresh air.  The players are cunning as ever, with a lot of interesting ways to get around the rules of the school so they can get an edge over the other cabals.


That said, how do you GMs get around the issue of a variable player roster?  Are there any sort of tricks that you employ?  Please feel free to post your tips and techniques here, as I’m very open to figuring out how to better adjust to this situation.

  1. Von says:

    I’m trying out a very similar format for my upcoming Iron Kingdoms game. One thing that has occurred to me is to keep the character development and villainy antics confined to the characters’ base of operations. Friends and enemies are doing their thing at home, between adventures, and largely prevented from working against each other directly by the social strictures of the setting.

    This may not be present in your game, but since I’m going for the whole we’re-in-here-and-the-adventures-are-out-there civilisation/wilderness feel, there’s a place where social, narrative stuff can happen and it’s a place where all the characters can find it if they choose to.

  2. Joshua says:

    I think the Buffy the Vampire Slayer-style “episodes form an arc within a season” works very well for roleplaying campaigns, particularly with a variable play roster. Here’s a couple other things we do:

    We have one player (used to have two) who couldn’t be there every time, but could every *other* time, so we run two campaigns at once: one with Mike, one without. I started out running both, but now we actually swap GMing duties, so I GM the with Mike campaign (my Kapow! supers game), and Dan GMs the other (Warhammer 40K setting, playtesting Zap!). The supers game uses the one-or-two shot episodes form a season-long arc format; the 40K game is one continuous campaign, often ending in cliff-hangers.

    A couple other tricks: if we’re in the middle of something and only one player is missing, we run that player as an NPC (generally one of the players takes the character). If several are missing, then I try to have a back-up one shot or return to a previous campaign for a one-shot. Finally, in the game I run Friday night for the kids, which is a straight dungeon expedition (using Stonehell), we adhere to the rule that the session begins and ends outside of the dungeon, so if any of them have Science Olympiad or something they’re doing instead, their character just doesn’t go on that expedition.

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