One-Shot Games in Long Campaigns
Recently I had the privilege of running a Monster of the Week one-shot for my partner Lauren and co-host Jimmy, and it had me thinking about the nature of the quick "one-shot" gaming sessions, and their place in the role-playing community.
While role-playing has come to the fore in the last few years, thanks to media paragons like Critical Role or The Adventure Zone, it's remains difficult to really bring new fans into the fold. Take, for example, one of my favorite podcasts Friends at the Table, which I've been trying to get Lauren into for over a year now. Because the show has been going on for years now, the emotional beats rely on at least being generally aware of the history of the characters (some of which have been a part of the story for years).
The hosts do a good job ensuring that enough of the relevant plot points are known even to new listeners, but there's something missing there when you just hop in mid-story. Not to mention each episode is at least an hour/hour-and-a-half long, which is reasonably restrictive for a podcast where you're coming into what's effectively the middle of a years-long conversation. This is similar to the reason I haven't truly started watching Critical Role on a regular basis-- why am I going to settle into watching a 4-hour video, just for it to be mostly in-jokes that I don't get?
Conversely, we run into the opposite issues with media focus on one-shot games. While it's easier to see the start and end of the story, getting the "in" on the in-jokes or character arcs, the brevity restricts how close we can become to the players and their characters. While the lows of a one-shot adventure are much higher, the highs are much lower. You see this in podcasts like Party of One, the latest mini-arcs of The Adventure Zone, or the aptly-named One Shot Podcast. While moment-for-moment these pieces give a decent overview of a game's mechanics, and all are produced to a level of quality that deserves attention, they lose the emotional impact provided by longer-running campaigns.
For example, things like player banter, character deaths, or plot resolution tend to have more weight behind them when you are given the time to really flesh out the characters, the world, and the relationships. The same is true while actually playing the game. Longer campaigns, while more difficult to start and maintain, provide more opportunities for moments of genuine celebration or mourning. There seems to be an inverse relationship between length of a campaign and its lasting emotional impact, and if there's a sweet spot somewhere between the two, I don't know that I've found it yet.
So, back to the game I ran the other night: as a group, we fell into what seems like a decent compromise between campaign length and emotional depth. For the last few sessions of Monster of the Week, Lauren has been running a larger adventure for Jimmy and myself, which had just wrapped up for the RPG equivalent of a mid-season hiatus. We decided that we wanted to play something, but didn't want to go through the trouble of establishing whole new characters and a new universe to romp around in. We wanted to know what we were dealing with off the jump, and make it mean something.
We decided to keep the universe of Lauren's original campaign (which, due to a good roll and a few poor choices, we have coined "The Agents of DIPSHIT (Department for Internal and Public Safety and Health: Inspect Taskforce)"), and Jimmy continued to play his current character Deke, the over-paranoid conspiracy theorist. Rather than continuing the current story, we reverted to a flashback, exploring some more of Deke's earlier life and time with his mentor, a character named "Sunshine" that Lauren rolled up on the fly.
Thanks to making it a flashback, we were able to do a lot of things that ultimately didn't affect the world at large (Guy Fieri is a Flavor Vampire, for instance), but allowed us as a group to set up some fun things that happened in our regular game. For instance, Jimmy failing a big magic roll at the end gave me a space to introduce my main character, the ghost of a K-Pop star named Donny Spektre.
The whole thing only took about three hours of total playtime, and by the end of it we all felt pretty good about our contribution (while some of it was admittedly just silliness for silliness' sake).
Perhaps there's something there, running one-shots in a single Marvel Cinematic-style connected universe? What do you think? Are there any podcasts or video streams that do this that I should get into? Should we make one together? Let me know.