I’m always on the look out for different formats for delivering role-playing games. We already have the staples of long-running, mini-campaign and on-shot. Yes, these definitions can be debated until the ends of the Earth but you’re generally going to be involved for multiple of tens of sessions (long-running), somewhere in the single figures or just above (the mini-campaign) and a single session. Let’s just go with it for our sanity.
There is nothing wrong with the above other than one key weakness: with the exception of the one-shot they all involve commitment over an extended period of time. Assuming weekly sessions, which is a big assumption, you’re looking at around 3 months or longer with cancellations. If you’re bi-weekly then the mini-campaign could be getting on for a quarter to half a year. This is a big commitment and it raises all the usual momentum issues. The mysterious fabric that keeps a game running over an extended period can unravel (in so many ways it’s a whole post in itself).
There is always the one shot, but it has other issues, most notably those raised by it’s length. It’s the role-playing equivalent of ‘you have four hours to save the Earth’ and you might as well blow your whole load because there ain’t any long-term impact. This can be great, it can also play havoc with the pacing and the ‘gonzo meter’.
What’s the solution? Well, two things got me thinking.
I’ve become irritated with watching TV shows on a weekly basis. I do it, but I’d prefer to have all the episodes available to me and binge watch it in a substantially compressed elapsed time than the weekly release would have resulted in. I’m talking 1-3 days rather than 13 weeks. I will even not watch some shows until I can do this. I did this with Game of Thrones, patiently waiting until the season was finished before I watched it. I’m watching Mr Robot now because its first season has concluded. It’s a lot easier to do now people have realised the beauty of the 13 episode season.
Essentially, this is what you’re wanting to do with a role-playing campaign, right? Not play for a defined amount of time on a weekly or bi-weekly timeslot but binge the whole thing in a compressed time frame? Your mini-campaign may be 6-9 sessions long and you want to find a way to not make it 6-9 or 12-18 weeks long in elapsed time!
The other influence has been Longcon. I didn’t go, but some people I know did. This was basically a small role-playing convention held over a weekend, like a handful of others of a similar nature. There was one big difference: no 4-hour slots for games. The idea was to break the one-shot nature of conventions and actually have people pitch game which they’d run in 3 – 6 (I am guessing) session affairs (though I’m sure the time definitions were flexible) over the two days of the weekend. You could describe this as the student days of old when you’d play an RPG all day (which I guess is right but I never actually did this!). I describe it as taking a mini-campaign and binge watching it just like a TV show! So people have already done it!
So, if you’re thinking of running something that is on the shorter to medium end of the mini-campaign length just run it over a weekend or two Saturdays relatively close together? In short be bold and compress the time. I’d certainly be interested in that as a player. It would seem to maximise the fun, without compromising too much on length, while still being a form of long-form play to avoid the gonzo of four hours or bust. It would also give the game a sort of event feel, which is always good.
It sounds a bit intimidating from a GM perspective, as you lose the ability to digest and think about it for a week as events unfold, but I’m sure some people quite enjoy this extended session approach to it as well.