Author Topic: Campaigns vs. One-Night Adventures  (Read 17283 times)

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Campaigns vs. One-Night Adventures
« on: June 02, 2010, 10:07:31 PM »
The D&D gaming system was designed for the on-going campaign, with gaining experience and advancing in levels/skills as its hallmark feature. However, our complicated life schedules make an on-going campaign which regularly meets and includes the same players a challenge. We no longer have the luxury or stamina of our teen years to game every weekend, days at a stretch. Enter the one-night adventure. Players show up, have fun, and then the adventure is over in just a few hours. Both approaches to D&D have their strengths and weaknesses. Below I discuss my own thoughts on the two approaches and invite your own contributions to the discussion.

One-Night Adventures
First, I am a big fan of one-night D&D sessions. These sessions last just a single night or two. The DM and players can vary from session to session. The advantages of this approach is that it takes little on-going commitment on anyone's part. You just agree to show up for a single session. This makes all our lives a bit simpler. It also allows players more variety in both adventure settings and levels. One session might be a waterborne low-level adventure and the next a 10-12th cerebral slugfest on the outer planes. It gives players a chance to play a variety of characters classes and levels and interact with different players. The big disadvantages are that players don't have much emotional attachment to characters ("Who cares if I die, it's not like I spent the past year working this character up to 10th level?"), and this lack makes for a very different game dynamic/interactions. Also, magic and treasure loose their allure ("I don't get to keep it and use it in the next adventure, so why bother?"). What do you think? That is, what role does the one-night adventure play in the D&D game?

Players start from scratch and through quick wits, steady swords, and lucky die rolls, gain new powers and skills, facing progressively more challenging and deadly adventures. This is the core focus of the D&D gaming system and what makes the game so much fun. You grow with your character, developing his or her persona and history, along with your adventuring companions. Every decision, every save, every new magic item is important because it matters from here on out and will come into play in future sessions. It's also nice to have a stable group of players whom you can get to know from session to session (or, perhaps, plot how to back stab their character because that self-righteous paladin is sooo annoying). (Yes, personalities and group dynamics of players and DM can make or break the campaign.) The huge downside, at least for me, is that such a campaign requires that the core players be able to play consistently. Sure, it's easy to account for a missing character for one session, but too many cancellations and turnover in the group destroys the on-going story of the campaign. What do you think? That is, what makes the campaign the best way to play D&D?


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Re: Campaigns vs. One-Night Adventures
« Reply #1 on: June 08, 2010, 12:42:02 AM »
I agree with your assessment on both styles of play. Campaigns can be very rich and rewarding in the long run, but they are definitely harder to pull off. It's much more work for the game master and it's harder for the group to consistently schedule game nights.

One night adventures can be a lot of fun and it's nice to take a break from a campaign every now and then (or maybe between campaigns) and spice things up with a single night adventure. One thing I love about them is that you can get very experimental and try things that you never would have tried in a campaign. It's sort of like a short story versus or novel... you can be much riskier. You can also do some things that simply wouldn't work for an extended period of time.

Here are some examples for ideas I've had for single-shot adventures...

1. One idea that I've tried a couple of times is that the characters wake up with no memories and no identity. They wake up in some kind of alchemy lab or wizard's spell chamber or maybe even something more exotic (biological egg sacs?). Anyway, they wake up and they have no memories at all, no clue who they are and no idea where they are. And they immediately realize they are in a dangerous place (maybe some kind of animal starts to try to break down the door to get into the chamber where they are). I think this could be a lot of fun... especially for the players. They are thrown immediately into an action scene with no weapons and no resources. They have no character sheets! Give them a blank piece of paper! As they gain information about themselves, they can right down stats on their character sheet. But initially, it's blank. Not even a name. For this idea to work, the game master has to take on a lot of extra work. The players don't even know if they can cast spells yet. As the adventure proceeds, they have to learn to trust one another and they also start to piece together clues about who they are and what's going on. This idea would actually work in any genre, any game system. I've run it once in a fantasy setting and once in a sci fi setting. Coincidentally, I saw a sci fi movie last year where this idea was implemented. It was called Pandorum starring Dennis Quaid and Ben Foster. In that movie, the two main characters wake up from cryogenic hibernation on a starship - they have no memories and no idea what their mission is. Similar idea... anyway, I think this one could be a lot of fun. Of course, this is custom made for a single-shot adventure. By the end of the adventure, they've figured out who they are, what's going on and they either complete a mission or escape from wherever it is.

2. Another idea is to put the adventure within a very simple framework with a very simple goal - escape from a prison or navigate a deadly maze while being pursued by an enemy or perhaps simply survive a dragon attack. During one single shot adventure, I had the players acting as bodyguards for a magistrate in a city who was being targeted for assassination. Their mission was to keep the NPC alive at all costs. They sealed themselves up in the magistrate's fortified mansion and erected all kinds of defenses while wave upon wave of bad guards assaulted the place. They had to survive the night until help arrived in the morning.

3. Another thing you can do is go all out with something you normally don't do in a regular campaign. One idea would be to let the players roll up very powerful, very high level characters and let them arm themselves to the teeth with every imaginable weapon and magic item... whatever they want. Then give them a short mission with a suicidal goal. Something like rescue the princess from the Demon Lord's palace in the bottom plane of Hell. Put them up against hordes of demons and see if they can survive.

4. Shipwrecks are good for single shot adventures. Have them shipwreck on a small island which isn't on the map. And fill the island with all kinds of adventures.

There's a million ideas for single shot adventures. I actually do love that type of adventure, but curiously most of the stuff I run ends up being campaign length... dang, I need to another one of these! :)

Offline tanis

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Re: Campaigns vs. One-Night Adventures
« Reply #2 on: June 09, 2010, 10:48:44 PM »
Those ideas actually sounded like a lot of fun. I'm all for playing 'by the rules' most of the time, but sometimes it's nice to do something weird like have a god-like being under my control. XD And psychological deals like the amnesiac thing are always interesting too. Btw, I saw Pandorum. It was really good. Sort of like Fight Club and Resident Evil combined. It was a headtrip. o_o
He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.

Offline Drul Morbok

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Re: Campaigns vs. One-Night Adventures
« Reply #3 on: April 25, 2012, 05:54:17 PM »
I think there's also some middle way: Unrelated adventures/campaigns with different groups, but in the same world, at different times and places. It need not be one-night adventures only, but essentially it puts little value on long-term progression of either story or character.
I have to admit that I never tried it, but we try to motivate new players to join. Well, that's almost accomplished, the far more difficult part is to motivate them to stay...
And now the idea is to start with a weekend-adevnture where they play characters without classes which are not from the world they start in. They have nothing but their own description of themselves. No rulebooks, numeric values, or ingame terms involved here.
They talk to people and find out what's going on, and how escape, exploit, survive or fit into the world. I think the best way to describe what I mean is an example:
I have always been fascinated by a magic ittem called immovable rod from D&D. A magic iron bar that locks itself into place at the push of a button. This is so amazing!!
Hey, look at those olympic high bar gymnasts. How much momentum they gain from swinging around some fixed bar...imagine them swinging around with something in their hands that changes to fixed to almost weightless. Warriors could climb to great heights and drop themslves in front of opponents, changing momentum from falling to horizontally by fixating the bar the moment before landing. Artists might perform magnificient performances, wearing costumes with meterlong tails. It takes a lot of artistic skill and stamina, but if you learn it from childhood, I think one should be able to even travel long distances without touching the ground. Why not, you can even sit and rest on them in midair.
And so their first adventure will start in a world where those things are rather common, and if they want to try ba themselves, they will be as succesfull as fits their character description. There will be a lot more things like that, and they can always ignore this stuff and find other things that fascinate them. No matter what, they will succeed, and never see those characters and this general part of the world again...well maybe sooner or later, quite literally.
Optimistically as I am, I hope that at least some players are interested in another session, and I think if they are, it is because they found something that fascinates them. To stay in the example above, some player might want to play a high bar gymnast who starts into the game by getting such a bar. This will be where the first character sheet is created. Esseantially D&D 3rd terms and value range, but never the classes. Like the whole system or not - I think attributes, skills and feats are handy concepts, I just don't like the rest of the books...well, maybe as some kind of inspiration, see those bars, but not for rules.
But this time, he starts being the only one having such an item...or making such use of it. Of course he first had to learn how to use those special bars - his experience is limited to fixed ones. On the other hand, to be honest - I would also let him play a kickass-champion if that's the style the players prefer. They'll also never see tohose characters againg...
But they might hear from them. Just tales from the uncle of a friend of a friend's uncle who hrad it from a blind beggar. Prophecies that foretell what the players did in another campaign, but so obscure that it will take the players to find out. The calassical motto of being unable to escape destiny  ;D

For example, in one campaign, there will be what seem to be a casual villain out to destroy the party of superheroes that defeat him after a superherostyle battle. After defeating him, they will discover that he gained some energy from some kind of "death vow" he uttered. He did it in a language they don't understand, but might be able to find someone that can loosely transcribe the words: "you not you later earlier ruin". No more answers, and silence for an adeventure or two, again with new characters. Then some hints, hidden between other independent stories with independent characters.
To make several long stories short - someday I will tempt them to to something rather reckless that by coincidence causes the total ruin of a mighty mage...they don't even notice, but in this adventure, he outmatches the party. They find out who he is and what they did and they have to escape him and all his range of tracking, scying and whatever - which they will have accomplished at the end of the adventure.
Needless to say that a slightly more talented translator whould have translated the wording of the first death vow as "you_but_not-you particle_futur particle_past my_ruin", and the perfectly context-sensitive translator would have translated it as a curse for "someone that's both you and not you will ruin me in the past". So he had tracked the characters that actually ruined him by spell, but they escaped (or died unknown to him). For some reason, the spell "tracked the players, not the characters", and reported the superheroes decades after the original incident, during which the ruined guy still believed the characters to be alive, and believes to be facing when he plots against those superheros.
I think my players might enjoy this dawning conclusion, and i hope I'll be able not to spoil it by making things too obvious too soon.

This hook aside, the main idea of switching characters is that you don't have to bee too consistent about how things work within each adventure, while being able to weave something like a narrative thread. Characters might stumble upon the grave of a fomer character without knowing him ingame. Hear about another former character who fulfilled a dream that was once beyond the range of an adventure. Find out the the strangely patterned scorched marking on the groun, in one campaign worshipped as messages from elder stone gods, are the result of another character's magic experiment gone awry.
But whatever happens - I can always claim that it was possible only at this very time and place (and world, if need be). We could even chose different systems each time, from complex to simple, from serious to pun-ridden, from down-to-earth to greatly overpowered.

In my specific case, the friends I try to recruit stated that they "preferred games that started over each time", so I try to introduce it to them that way. If they like it, they get to learn the world by playing again in somehow similar environments. They don't want to remember stats, reidentify with a personality, or live with the consequences of what they forgot about anyway.
But I almost know fur sure that they would like the game and the system, and that is my intended way of proving it to them...

But first of all I still have to actually gather the intended players...narg, should have started in wintertime :(

Offline David Roomes

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Re: Campaigns vs. One-Night Adventures
« Reply #4 on: May 06, 2012, 09:53:04 PM »
A lot of really awesome ideas here. Very nice. Thanks for sharing. I particularly like your ideas on what could be done with multiple immovable rods. Very creative.
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Offline Drul Morbok

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Re: Campaigns vs. One-Night Adventures
« Reply #5 on: December 18, 2016, 02:46:17 PM »
I think there's one big difference for me as the GM:
In a long-term campaign, I need a lot of background explanation to feel satisfied:
If I assume some "common language" all among the players' background choices and along the run of the was it developped, established, spread, how is it maintained?
Same for "common currencies"...where and how is the metal mined, shipped and processed, how is it protected against theft, assault, counterfeiting?
If I introduce cleric characters...what are Gods anyway? Where do clerics come in? Does divine magic involve roleplaying faith? Or is it merely a strategical ressource on the character sheet?

In a short adventure, I might schedule it to two ingame days, and  rather than "casting a spell twice per day", the char might get four "generic charges" that achieve the same metagame effect with giving full roleplaying freedom to what happens.
If a player likes, he might toss one-use steam-punk style spheres, unfolding a into mechanical spiderlike construct, or some compressed-air nailgun requiring several hours to recharge - without me as the GM integrating knowledge about such weapons into the social setting.
In fact, rather than having the player creatings their characters, I can give them ready sheets that stick to the core system in the loosest sense, but serve some ingame purpose.
I might insert story twists like time-travelling that are out of reach within any persistent gaming system I'd otherwise play.
I can insert light-hearted stuff like an Alchemy Alley, full of houses with intertwined smoking chimneys, with the occasional roof being lifted by an explosion, followed by curses and sometimes a fleing apprentice...or some Hospital of MagicK Accidents with a special section for transmutation mishaps.
When the adventure is over, all of it will (hopefully) be a nice memory, not to be continued.

I'm not saying I favor adventures over campaigns in general, but I'll be meeting som old friend for some short session, so I want to make the best of it :D

Offline Drul Morbok

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Re: Campaigns vs. One-Night Adventures
« Reply #6 on: December 22, 2016, 02:50:18 AM »
Thanks a lot, this looks quite interesting. I’ll be leading some roleplaying towards the end of the year, st. like a classical weekend session (one evening, one full day, one day until early evening).

Since some years ago, I moved several hundred kilometres away from the players and now returned for christmas, I won’t be able to implement the persistent pool of player characters….at least not that easily, but maybe now I will aim at implementing the basis for it, so when we meet again in spring or early summer, we can in some way continue the setting, but without the players (and me) having to get re-attuned to the characters too much.

Well, in any case, I’ll keep you updated on what I made of it and how it went.