"Black Dougal gasps 'Poison!' and falls to the floor. He looks dead."

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A Day in the Life or When We Next See Our Heroes?

Over at Tankards & Broadswords the subject was raised of Episodic vs Campaign focused games. This came at a interesting time for me as I am finding myself increasingly focused on episodic style games. I know that this is a result to all of the heavy lifting I have done for my Northern Marches campaign and prior to that the work I did for my Castles & Crusades campaign.

I am enjoying the Northern Marches game immensely! It has been great to see so many things come together into a very enjoyable campaign and I am hoping it goes on for quite some time. But I have been discussing getting my old C&C group back together for some gaming and the thought of putting together another long-term campaign does not interest me. If they were interested in the Northern Marches game that would be great but they are not.

Ideally, I would like to run a series of short "arcs" each one taking approximately 6 sessions - micro-campaigns if you will. Each micro-campaign could be kicked off with a collaborative brainstorming session. What does everyone want from the game? What flavour? Epic or gritty? Sword & sorcery or high fantasy? Political or dungeon crawling?

This would also allow for players to say, "Hey, remember Oscar the fighter I played a couple of months ago? He was fun. I want to play him again and try to kill that rat bastard wizard that fireballed his horse...". Or they could say, "I have always wanted to try a political game set during a war. How about we roll up various advisors to the king and try to win a war?".

Favorites could be revisited or new things could be tried.

Now admittedly these small mini-campaigns would be slightly railroady but I don't have a huge problem with that as everyone would have agreed during the brainstorming session as to the goal of the game.

The ideal of having a finish line is attractive to me right now. The Northern Marches game scratches my ongoing campaign itch. To mix my metaphors, the horizon of the Northern Marches is vast and unexplored. I can't wait to see what is over the next hill. But for starting a new game, I want a light at the end of the tunnel.

What type of games do you prefer? what type do you usually play? Are there any pitfalls to watch out for in an episodic game?


  1. Very interesting post! I like aspects of both types of play, probably leaning much more towards campaign play (I find players seem to enjoy this method the best, one reason I think episodic type play is inevitably difficult to keep going for any length of time). One solution is to have an "over-reaching" arc, and small mini-missions/adventures/modules that may or may not lead to a final campaign resolution. I have a long-going campaign style game (http://norvik-campaign.blogspot.com/) that sometimes takes huge sidetracks (heck, we've spent entire sessions with wandering monster encounters!)but usually they keep drifting back to the main plotline by themselves (I don't like to overtly steer them anywhere as to keep the railroading down to a minimum).
    I like the aspect of letting the players "choose" the type of adventure they would like; however, there can be dangers there also if the players aren't mature enough to handle it. I would advise kind of a mitxture; let them choose the tone or milieu; then go from there, adding bits you know would appeal to that particular group. In my case one of my long-time players mentioned he'd enjoy a "northern" campaign featuring barbarians, giants, and mountains...from that tiny bit I fashioned the entire campaign we've been running for the past two years.
    The mini-campaign setting is interesting and would allow you to visit many different sorts of campaigns/adventures that you wouldn't normally invest an entire long going campaign (Underwater adventure with everyone playing mermen; all dwarven campaign under the earth; explore and map the Isle of Dread, etc).

  2. Thanks for the nod here.

    With regards to BadMike's concern about maintaining an episodic game, I can totally understand that. However, my current state of gaming for the last 3-4 years now has been pretty episodic itself - pretty much a session once per month is about all myself and the people I game with are willing to get into. So maintaining interest in an "arc" or whatever is already something of a moot point.

    For a group that meets more often, I can see an episodic campaign as being more about breaking things up for the sake of variety - perhaps the episodic game gets run by someone other than the groups "primary GM" - and allows the players to still game when the conditions aren't optimal for the "regular" game.