Friday, December 3, 2010

Campaigns vs. One-Offs

Over at the Lands of Ara, Carter posted about hitting that sweet spot in his campaign. Here too, we seem to have hit that nice sweet spot for all of the same reasons. The PC' s are a bit tougher now and can survive some heavier battles, plots are thickening nicely, and through all their trials and tabulations, the PC's are beginning to leave their mark, however small and for good or evil, on the game world.

This got me thinking about campaigns compared to one-offs.

I'm a big fan of the campaign. I love the 'story' that evolves from the players and their characters actions, the ever present cause and affect. I love the slow moving 'story' arcs and the re-occurring NPCs. I love the fact that PC's deaths become more bitter and have weight. And I love the fact that once you hit that sweet spot the campaign begins to run itself which I feel is a sign of a successful ongoing adventure.
"...once the campaign is set in motion, you will become more of a recorder of events, while the milieu seemingly charts its own course!"
-Gary Gygax, DMG 1st ed. p. 87
I love that there's a history and that when new players come in the veterans retell their tales. Our group's character levels are between 1st and 5th and that adds a sense of realism (if you can have realism in a FRPG) to the campaign world and a sense of ongoing depth and a passage of time.

Campaigns are where the concept of Role-playing games come to life as characters and events are brought are colored, explored, live for a while and then die (sometimes horribly).

Now one-offs, on the other hand, don't do much for me. I've run a few and, granted they can be fun and a good way to introduce players into the concepts of the game but it just leaves things hanging.

Players that bring their characters to life during those few hours are gone - poof! vanished at end of game. It leaves myself (and hopefully the players) wanting more. I want to know what the consequences of these players actions are! I guess it's hard for me to let go of the long term cause and affect in game. In this sense, one-offs tend to be quick quests, hack-n-slash of careless adventurers who do not fear death. Though that, of course, can be fun is almost the antithesis of the game - my concept of the game anyway.

So while one-offs have their place, for me they don't compare to the struggling saga of some poor characters clawing their way to leave some mark in their world.


  1. I agree, having played and DM'd more one-offs than campaigns. I think some genres do one-offs better than campaigns but at the moment I've two very different campaigns on the go. I like the feeling of character growth and further immersion in the fabric of the setting.

  2. I like how you mentioned that the mix of levels in a party can lend itself to a sense of history. We had three players join our Changeling chronicle. They are well behind the other players in terms of experience, but their entry has been smooth and not unlike a, "Welcome to the neighborhood, kid. Let's get you caught up." sort of experience.

  3. The one-offs used to be the scourge of my existence. I played the first 4 years in a deep and complex homebrew campaign, and played my first one-off at a lame Lincoln, NE game con! Talk about the worst of the worst. Con gaming can be really bad and the one-off adventures are so railroaded, other players dont mesh, it left me feeling sick. Major elements of RPGs are immersion, comradery and story telling. All those things have one key element: Time. PCs need time to gel personalities, learn each other shorthand, jokes and play styles. Immersion takes time for PCs to learn whos who, where things are and the relationships between groups (lord Osric and the Black Hand have a secret love child?) once immersion can be obtained, and the PCs feel like a group, they begin being able to interact with the setting, creating story as they do so. Its a beautiful thing sir!

  4. @clay - exactly true! (about Lord Osric's and the Black Hand's love child that is!)