#RPGaDay 2017: Day One – In Praise of Short Campaigns

RPGaDay is back with some really cool questions. Today’s is: what published RPG do you wish you were playing right now?

My answer to this question is usually either a list or whatever I’m most fired up by at the moment. There are a few constants: I pretty much always wish I was playing more Monsterhearts or other Powered by the Apocalypse games, particularly Urban Shadows. Maybe I’ll get tired of Monsterhearts someday, but that point has clearly not yet arrived! I would dearly like to play the new 7th Sea, because it looks amazing and I’ve never actually played a game set in Theah, despite my love of the Swashbuckling Adventures D20 adaptation. I backed the Kickstarter and have the book for 2nd Edition, but currently it has to go on my huge list of games to play. I’d also really love to try running D&D 5E as it, surprisingly, really sparked my interest in heroic fantasy games again after years of being more interested in dark fantasy and atypical fantasy. In terms of more improvisational games, I desperately want to play Dead of Night, Heroine and Unbound.

In Praise of Short Campaigns

Sometimes I look at the list of games I want to play or run and despair. It isn’t an actual list (well, it’s more accurate to say it isn’t a single definitive list, more scattered attempts at a list that quickly fall to the curse that it will stretch on forever), but between writing novels and running and playing a lot of live-action games, I haven’t committed to running anything for years (until my recent Masks campaign). Part of the problem is that committing to one game means putting the others aside for the length of the campaign, and that immediately makes them shinier. I’ve been putting a lot of this stuff off by saying that ‘when I’m no longer running a live game, I’ll run so many tabletop games’.

Well, time to put my money where my mouth is. Now that my stint as a live game Storyteller is coming to a close (in less than a month), I really want to maximise the number of games I can play, run and experience. My Monsterhearts group has shown me that campaigns don’t have to be long to be epic (and besides, I’m in two expansive campaigns right now, and have been running two lengthy live games across six years). The tabletop campaigns I ran burned out, and I would much rather have been able to round them off. A short campaign can be just as satisfying, potentially more so. It allows you to tell a self-contained story, a brief narrative with a beginning, a middle and an end. Sure, you could tell lots of those stories over several years of campaign (that’s what my D&D group is like) and string them together, but I’m yearning for some flavourful little stories rather than potentially unwieldy and incomplete narratives. Plus there are so many games that don’t work for campaigns – improvisational story games, designed to give a flavourful session or two per arc and not more, or gorgeous little pieces like Lady Blackbird, that benefit from being self-contained. I want to make space for those too.

My plan is to continue with the groups I’m currently in  but also try to make more regular gaming times in my life. Weekends generally get very full, but I’m personally often at a loose end when I can’t game with my usual weekend group. That seems like a great time for some improvised RPGs that don’t require a pre-set or regular group, or much planning for that matter. I also want to set up a weekly or biweekly short campaign group where the campaigns are effectively ‘a season’ or less, i.e. one large arc (in Masks terms), down to one shots or games that last just a few sessions.

Don’t get me wrong – I love a good epic campaign. The Eberron game I’m in, where we’re playing through the Day of Mourning and what came after, is likely to stand out for me as the best D&D game I’ve played (I’ve loved other D&D games, but this one is something else). But I think for someone like me who wants to pack as much gaming into my life as possible, short campaigns are a lot more practical, and they’re easier on the anxiety, planning-wise.

So this is my love letter to the short campaign, like a single novel that doesn’t need a sequel or a brilliant TV show that bows out before it loses its lustre. Right now, to play and run everything I want to, I have to make space for both epic commitments and concise experiences.

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