Thursday 28 January 2010

Duration Dilemma

I've been sitting down and making some notes for my third D&D campaign. The story outline was already prepared and I have some key encounters fleshed out but most of it is still a vague set of notes. I'm trying not to make the story too ridged and build in several options and alternate pathways for the players to take. But as soon as I picked up my outline again I saw one major problem immediately. Its too long.

Both my earlier campaign arcs have taken between 14-16 games to play out. For a group that meets roughly bi-weekly that meant the game stretched across several months. But over the last 18 months (since my last campaign ended) the regularity with which our group meets has fallen to a new low. Life, unfortunately, has a habit of getting in the way of a regular schedule. Nobody is 100% happy with the current situation but we all accept the inevitability of it and are trying to maintain games around our constantly shifting lives.

The problem with a very irregular pattern of games, with breaks between sessions of anything up to 6 weeks some times, is maintaining plot cohesion. By the time we have completed a side quest for instance we have forgotten who it was hired us in the first place. As a group we try to overcome this with comprehensive notes between games and recap sessions before we start play. But its not the same as meeting on a weekly basis and following a story through from beginning to end over just a few weeks.

One possible solution that I'm now toying with is a shorter, simpler campaign arc. It would mean making some radical cuts in the story I have already written but it might make for a tighter adventure that will stand up to the fragmented nature of our gaming sessions. A story arc that could be covered in say just 6-8 sessions could still last our group for months and stands more chance of being understood by infrequent players. The other advantage is that a tighter story might actually be better than one that rambles on for ages. In my last campaign my players had a long journey to their objective which on paper only last three games but in reality went on for nearly three months.

So I've broken out the scalpel and I'm trimming the fat. Size, as they say, isn't everything.


  1. Interesting. A tight story inside a broad canvas may allow you to have your cake and eat it too.
    Our group (going now for almost 14 years) approached the point a couple of years back where regular sessions were almost impossible due to family commitments etc.
    We now have monthly sessions on a Saturday.
    My campaigns are short (8 sessions or so) but fit into a wider arc, and we write up in-character notes between campaigns so that everyone can keep track of the big picture.

  2. I have had to make a similar decission with gaming i nthe past. Being a working adult in a group of other working adults and with very few of us having schedules that are fixed for more than six months at a time, adaptability and flexibility have been the only way to do it.

    Though I am not running a game now, in the past I have resorted to smaller arcs that can be strung together but do not have to be. It's like Japanese animation series vs American series.

    In Japan, most series tend to be written with a definite beginning and end. If the viewing public likes the characters they will bring them back for another series wih its own beginning and end. The story may or may not tie directly into the previous series and if it does it may tie in to a greater or lesser degreee. The point is that they use shorter arcs instead of the ongoing, ever-reaching story archs that a lot of our "dream campaigns" tend to be.


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