Infrequent gaming

Perun

Mushroom
A bit less than a year ago I moved from my home town and my gaming group. It seems I was the spiritus movens for the group, because they stopped playing after I left. I go home about once every two months, and we usually meet for a session then.

We tried a couple of one-shots, to see how paragon and epic gaming looks like, but the experience wasn't all that great, mostly because we don't have enough experience with 4e, and we weren't really familiar with our characters and their abilities.

I'm thinking of attempting a sort of slow campaign this time. But, I don't have much, if any, experience with "slow" gaming.

I can see doing a series of short adventures, one for each session. (I don't think my players would be able to go through more than 4 or 5 encounters (if that) in one session.) But, how do you tie so many short adventures in a campaign. It's not like you can do an attack on a goblin fortress a 4-encouter short adventure.

Doing the standard campaign with exhaustive re-capping at the beginning of each session probably wouldn't work for my group. Ending one session in mid-adventure and then coming back to it in two months would be very, very difficult.

The third option would be to just go with the above-mentioned short adventures, but only very loosely connected (as in, players always use the same characters).

Any suggestions/ideas?

Thanks in advance!

Regards.
 
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Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
One tactic I used (for both sporadic AND regular games) even before the advent of the Internet as a ubiquitous tool of everyday living was to hand out or post (on a bulletin board) some kind of newsletter on the campaign's status. Usually, it was in the form of an "In house memo" from the agency for whom the PCs worked, or a scroll from the party's client or a local herald.

Such things kept the campaign fresh in the players' minds and virtually eliminated the need for long, drawn out, fun-sucking rehashes of what has gone before, all those months ago.

With the Internet, that's much easier.

Beyond doing what I described, you could even use emails to handle significant "off screen" advances in the campaign, certain role play scenes, interactions with some NPCs, rule & campaign-world detail queries and so forth.

That way, when you finally get together to game, you'll be able to get right to the game after saying your salutations.
 

Herobizkit

Adventurer
The easiest method I use for short campaigning is the TV serial method. In short, run your campaign like a weekly TV show.

A basic adventure will have:
a) a goal
b) an obstacle
c) a complication
d) a climax
e) a resolution

There is also a 'twist' that can be added to any of the above, but to keep things simple, only add a twist to one of the above.

At the start of your campaign, have a series of (essentially) one-shot adventures - something nice and neat that can be run from start to finish in one session of 4-6 hours. It sounds hard, and it can be, depending on how willing your players will be to 'get on with it' as each scene changes. Down the road, you'll want to sprinkle in a few hints at a greater plot which will culminate on the season finale.

As your campaign progresses, be sure to include one showcase 'episode' for each PC. Each showcase will feature one of the PCs as central to whatever the plot-of-the-week happens to be. This can be any kind of drama or up-front combat, so long as the focal PCs gets the greater share of camera time.

About 3-5 sessions before the season finale, start tying in those loose ends and point a big "PCs go here" arrow towards whatever BBEG you happen to have.

Most 'standard' TV serials have 13-22 episodes per season; I'd stick with 13 to keep it simple. For structure, I'd strongly suggtest watching season 1 of shows such as Supernatural, Buffy, Smallville, Hercules/Xena, or even The Vampire Diaries (it's actually got a decent plot structure).
 
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pawsplay

Banned
Banned
Rather than trying to treat it as a TV series, I would suggest running a slow campaign as though it were a series of movie sequels. Each session would be relatively self-contained. Characters level once per session, and they might start new sessions with new gear or new pieces of backstory about less dynamic things that happened in between.
 

I agree with the posters who have said that each session needs to be self-contained and satisfying in its own right. The "middle of the adventure" sessions in a normal campaign where stuff develops and the plot moves along and character is explored, but nothing is resolved, make for terrible games in an intermittent campaign. In my experience, the players feel dissatisfied. So you need to make each session have its own narrative arc, with a compelling beginning and a satisfying end.

You can have a longer scale arc, but again, think about the TV show model: each episode needs to stand on its own even if there is an arc plot for the season that really delivers.

I would also suggest aiming for longer sessions. it's hard to have much momentum if you play once every month or two for four hours. If you play for 8 hours or a weekend at a time, you can maintain momentum even if you only play a couple of times a year.
 

Side note.. regardless of which method you use.. if you are stuck with a once a month game... expect people to forget the story line, where their character are at, what they have on the character sheet, and why they are there in the first place.

This isn't because you have 'bad' players... its just the way it works.

I do recap and warm-up emails, encourage between session 'play by post', and usually spend the first 30 minutes of the session getting everyone settled and ready to game....

and last session the Bard forgot something I told him, put in the recap, put in the warm-up, and had in a side-bar email conversation with him.... sometimes you can't really hint easily without putting flashing neon signs on it.... :-S


But yes, try to have each session close well, regardless of if its mid-adventure. Avoid mid-combat closing whenever possible... and have fun playing a game where nobody really needs to be precise on what happened last month!
 

delericho

Legend
Any suggestions/ideas?

1. Stick with a system you know well. It may be that 4e (or 5e, WRFP 3e, SWSE, whatever) represents the best game ever made, or it may even be that it is the perfect game for your group, but if you don't know it well, and if you can't play more than occasionally then you'll end up fighting the system more than you really want to.

2. If at all possible, adopt a regular (albeit infrequent) schedule, and try to get people to commit to it with the same seriousness as they do any other 'important' event.

3. If people will read their emails, try to do the 'recap' bit of the campaign by email before the session. The less time you have to spend recapping the details, the better. (That said, you probably don't want to require lots of in-depth recaps. Too much detail means too many people will forget.)

4. Bear in mind that with infrequent games, you have a fairly tight "time budget". Spend it wisely. Unless everyone in the group really enjoys such things, you probably don't want to spend lots of time on shopping trips, identifying (minor) items, what I term "frustration encounters" (ones that the DM inserts to slow the PC investigations, often to provide a sense of versimilitude), and so on. Basically, skip to "the good bits", however your group defines such things.

(That's not necessarily a bad recommendation in general. However, IMO, a diet of nothing but "the good bits" tends to get a bit stale after a while - one can only eat premium steak so many days in a row before even that sickens.)

Rather than trying to treat it as a TV series, I would suggest running a slow campaign as though it were a series of movie sequels. Each session would be relatively self-contained. Characters level once per session, and they might start new sessions with new gear or new pieces of backstory about less dynamic things that happened in between.

Yes, this. Try very hard to keep every session self-contained, and give players lots of leeway to 're-envision' their character between sessions. If they want to swap out all of their equipment between times, then that's fine. (Good, even - it means they're interested in the campaign.)

But I'd go further than that, and allow them to actually retcon their characters between sessions - if they want to drop a couple of levels of Rogue for a couple of levels of Fighter, then I would allow that. All I would require of them is that the basic 'core' of the character remain the same - Legolas should remain fundamentally an "Elven Archer", but he can swap out levels of Fighter, Rogue and Ranger pretty much however the player wants to build that concept.

(In-game, I would suggest putting some time between adventures - perhaps a game year passes between each real-world session? This should give ample scope for the characters being not quite how they once were.)

One more suggestion: In Dragon issue 216, there is an article entitled "The Auld Alliance" that is very useful reading for this topic. If you have access to this issue, it's well worth taking a look.
 

haakon1

Adventurer
I've been running infrequent campaigns for many, many years.

1) Write up a summary and highlights of what happened immediately afterwards, so you can remember in detail.

2) Email the summary to the players.

3) Read the summary at the start of the next session. I actually reread a summary of the entire campaign, which takes maybe 10 minutes. It definitely helps to remember where you are.

4) Play normally.

5) Do NOT switch editions. You really don't need to and relearning rules everyone has memorized is a huge waste of time and downer. I've only ever run (for D&D) AD&D and 3.0/3.5.

6) Do shopping, leveling up, etc. over email or in one-on-one meetings. Don't waste table time on book keeping.
 

haakon1

Adventurer
Try very hard to keep every session self-contained, and give players lots of leeway to 're-envision' their character between sessions.

(In-game, I would suggest putting some time between adventures - perhaps a game year passes between each real-world session? This should give ample scope for the characters being not quite how they once were.)

I agree with most of your advice, but I don't follow these three points you made -- self-contained, redoing characters in between sessions, and long game time between sessions.

Self-contained:
Instead, I run it like a normal game, where we'll look for a normal stopping point, but it might take 3-4 or more sessions to finish an adventure. I think players would rather than get a fully satisfying game (played slowly) than a quick drive through experience and an unconnected experience the next game.

Long game time between adventures:
You could do this, but I don't think it's by any means required. I have a game where 8 months of game time have passed in ten years of play, and no one complains about that.

Redoing characters between sessions:
I'd caution against this. The main difficulty in infrequent gaming is remembering what's going on and continuity. The secondary difficulty is lack of time by the participants. Neither of these is served by putting emphasis on rebuilds.

Which comes down to a keep point: I think infrequent gaming works for people who are interested in story and in action.

For players who are interested in tinkering with new builds and new rules, it's going to be frustrating, since they won't get to use them much.
 

delericho

Legend
Self-contained:
Instead, I run it like a normal game, where we'll look for a normal stopping point, but it might take 3-4 or more sessions to finish an adventure. I think players would rather than get a fully satisfying game (played slowly) than a quick drive through experience and an unconnected experience the next game.

I dunno. With my regular campaign, I feel free to run the game, and stop when we run out of time. The players will generally remember much of what's going on, and so we can pick things up again without problems. With big gaps between sessions, though, they would forget much of what was going on, and we'd spend a lot of frustrating time trying to get back up to speed.

That said, it might work differently with a different group - if they're all good at keeping track, or someone does a detailed campaign log and everyone reads it, I guess it would work.

Long game time between adventures:
You could do this, but I don't think it's by any means required. I have a game where 8 months of game time have passed in ten years of play, and no one complains about that.

This only really applies if you're allowing the redoing of characters between sessions. It suggested as a means to justify whatever changes are made.

Redoing characters between sessions:
I'd caution against this. The main difficulty in infrequent gaming is remembering what's going on and continuity. The secondary difficulty is lack of time by the participants. Neither of these is served by putting emphasis on rebuilds.

Sorry, I didn't mean to emphasise rebuilds, but rather to allow them.

My thinking here is really that if you're playing infrequently, you're probably not playing much, and the last thing you want is to find yourself stuck playing a character you don't like, or who is inferior to the rest of the group. At the same time, due to the continuity concerns you mentioned, you don't really want people changing characters if you can help it. Hence my suggestion to allow people, if they want, to build an idealised version of the character, without being stuck with any decisions they've made in the past that they may now regret.

YMMV, of course. :)
 

Sorry, I didn't mean to emphasise rebuilds, but rather to allow them.

QFT
I converted mid-game to 4e {for my sanity} and have to allow tweaks to characters as new material comes out and as players get a better grasp on the game. We are in our second year of play and every PC has been revised/tweaked a number of times.

I see this as important because a} the players are paying attention to the game between sessions, and b} they don't get annoyed with playing a character that they now know has a critical flaw.

I allow one full rewrite without an explanation, tweaks as needed, and have a relatively open 'replacement' policy for when a character has to wander off.
 

haakon1

Adventurer
I dunno. With my regular campaign, I feel free to run the game, and stop when we run out of time. The players will generally remember much of what's going on, and so we can pick things up again without problems. With big gaps between sessions, though, they would forget much of what was going on, and we'd spend a lot of frustrating time trying to get back up to speed.

That said, it might work differently with a different group - if they're all good at keeping track, or someone does a detailed campaign log and everyone reads it, I guess it would work.

As I said, you need to take notes and read it back at the start of the new session.

What I've found, with limited infrequent gaming time, is that starting a new adventure is much more time consuming than continuing an existing one, getting straight into the action without the elaborate set up, exploration, NPC interaction, etc. that goes into starting a new scenario.

So I recommend against the idea of short (which to me means lacking in depth and unsatisfying), self-contained (which to me means requiring set up and introduction) adventures for each seating of the game, and instead recommend running it as a normal campaign.

My thinking here is really that if you're playing infrequently, you're probably not playing much, and the last thing you want is to find yourself stuck playing a character you don't like, or who is inferior to the rest of the group. At the same time, due to the continuity concerns you mentioned, you don't really want people changing characters if you can help it. Hence my suggestion to allow people, if they want, to build an idealised version of the character, without being stuck with any decisions they've made in the past that they may now regret.

None of my players is interested in builds, and I don't see them competing amongst each other to see whose character is inferior or superior. I think if that's what a player wants out of D&D, infrequent gaming isn't going to make them happy, since they won't power up quickly and there won't be as many chances to try new builds and new rules.

Certainly, playing with my group isn't going to make them happy -- we're story and action driven, not out to "win" against each other but against the environment. And my players complained bitterly about the move from 3.0 to 3.5 being complicated and requiring new books, so we're anything but crunch-centric. Also, using a multiple sessions to run an adventure and 3-5 times a year pacing, that means even if I did encourage rebuilds/swapping out for new PCs, it would be a year at a time between character re-envisioning . . . so "fun with builds" really isn't a feature in my game, at all.
 
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Merkuri

First Post
None of my players is interested in builds, and I don't see them competing amongst each other to see whose character is inferior or superior.

You don't need to be a powergamer or have an interest in the best "build" to get frustrated with a character's abilities. And you don't need to be explicitly competing against the other players to realize your character isn't able to hold his or her own in a fight.

I don't know if 4e is prone to this sort of thing because I don't have much experience playing it, but I know in 3e that it's possible to build a character that's just not a good fit for the type of campaign you're in. You may not find this out until you've played the character for a session or two.

For example, I once played a 3e bard in the World's Largest Dungeon and soon learned to regret it. While there were some roleplay encounters they were few and far between so the majority of the bard's toolbox was left to get rusty while I spent battles saying, "I inspire courage... again." I might have been a useful member of the party, but the lack of combat options I had made for a pretty boring combat experience and I soon realized that this was not the right character for this game.

If the DM had offered me the ability to completely switch around the "crunch" of that character while keeping the personality and background the same I probably would've taken him up on the option, and I am in no way a power gamer or interested in optimizing my PCs. Luckily we were near the end of the campaign when this character was introduced, so I didn't end up stuck with the bard in the WLD for very long.

This could go the other way around, too. One of your players might have created a PC that's geared towards fighting only to find out that they're no good in the RP sessions of the campaign, and those come up more often than fighting, so the next session that player might want to retool their PC to be more effective at diplomacy.

But my point is that even a non-powergamer non-optimizer player can get tired with the mechanics of their PC and want to try something different, so I think giving players the option to rebuild their PCs in the long gap between sessions is reasonable for any type of group. You don't want to end up with a player who's dissatisfied with their character because they could spend those two months between sessions dreading the next game instead of anticipating it.
 

Janx

Hero
A couple other ideas:

hand out more XP when playing less frequently. Speeding up advancement will make the players feel like they are accomplishing something. wouldn't go faster than 1 level per session, however.

Making some game time pass between sessions would also help, it'll make what's happened last time be less important to remember as if it were last week (which it wasn't).



I agree with others to cut to the chase, don't waste game time on stuff that doesn't matter. I'd make travel be as easy as, "you guys head out the city gate and in 3 days time, arrive at your destination."

Speed up combat. Read my blog for my "make combat faster" article or search these forums for threads on the topic (of which my article sums them up). If your group dawdles at combat, you're achieving less in the session.
 

vagabundo

Adventurer
I'd forgo XP altogether and let them level up in-between session - or every two sessions. If the sessions are self contained they can tell of their own mini-adventures as stories to their companions (also a good RP warm up).

You should also have lots of time to prep your game, so it could be awesome.
 

haakon1

Adventurer
You don't need to be a powergamer or have an interest in the best "build" to get frustrated with a character's abilities. And you don't need to be explicitly competing against the other players to realize your character isn't able to hold his or her own in a fight.
. . .
For example, I once played a 3e bard in the World's Largest Dungeon and soon learned to regret it. While there were some roleplay encounters they were few and far between so the majority of the bard's toolbox was left to get rusty while I spent battles saying, "I inspire courage... again." I might have been a useful member of the party, but the lack of combat options I had made for a pretty boring combat experience and I soon realized that this was not the right character for this game.

"Lack of combat options I had made for a pretty boring combat experience" may not be about power-gaming or one-upping other players, but it's not the complaint of someone who's focused on the story or on roleplaying the character.

I think my players ARE focused on story and roleplaying the character. I've seen them intentionaly make "suboptimal" character decisions or builds because it's who they want to play and the story they want to tell. I've got a player with a monk with an Int 18, because the player wanted a very smart, scholarly monk. Makes sense story wise, but it's crazy "build" wise.

And I don't think the variety of combat options is a problem. Most of us played AD&D, where combat for fighters was essentially "I roll a d20", "OK, roll for damage" -- there are way more options for any 3e character, so I don't think they'd be depressed by a 3e bard.

Actually, I think of bards as jack-of-all-trades characters, rather than just background musicians -- can rogue a little, wizard a little, heal a little -- so lack of choice doesn't seem like the problem to me. Not being as effective as a full-time character at any of these, so lack of EFFECTIVE choice, that I can understand.

The other issue for you is, World's Largest Dungeon really isn't a good campaign for someone who IS interested in their character's personality, social interactions, etc. From what I've played of it (never DM'd it), it's purely hack and slash, with no civilians to interact with, which is half the fun of a high Charisma character like a bard. So I get it that you might get bored, but I wouldn't think combat options were the problem -- just the lack of anything to do but combat.

I was playing a dwarven cleric -- optimized for survival underground, with high Con, high Dex, defensive spells, and infravision -- but I got bored because there didn't seem to be a point to it all. (And yes, I enjoy the defensive/supporting role of a 3e cleric.)

This could go the other way around, too. One of your players might have created a PC that's geared towards fighting only to find out that they're no good in the RP sessions of the campaign, and those come up more often than fighting, so the next session that player might want to retool their PC to be more effective at diplomacy.

My view is that not every character gets to be the star in every episode. Some of my adventures are geared to put one of the characters more in the spotlight, just like a TV series with an ensemble cast would do.

To use a Star Trek: The Next Generation analogy, if I'm doing a Worf episode, I don't want the guy who's playing Data to suddenly say, "Wait, now I want to be a great warrior too! I want to drop my feat in 'computer lore' and replace it with 'Klingon sword fighting'." That kills the campaign for people who do care about the story and the roleplaying.

But a good DM will build a good campaign, one that keeps it overall interesting for everybody, with a mix of challenges and situations.
 

Merkuri

First Post
"Lack of combat options I had made for a pretty boring combat experience" may not be about power-gaming or one-upping other players, but it's not the complaint of someone who's focused on the story or on roleplaying the character.

Heh, ask anybody in my group what they think I like better, combat or roleplay and they will resoundingly answer "roleplay". I always flesh out my characters (sometimes too much for their own good), and even my WLD characters had at least a full page of background written up about them. I make up funny accents and draw up portraits for my PCs. I make choices about how they level up based on what happened to them in the plot, the most memorable of which was when a single-class 3e cleric of mine had so many friends die around her in gruesome ways that I decided she had lost faith and could no longer advance as a cleric.

But combat is a big part of D&D and I enjoy it as well. If my character is ineffective in combat or if my options are so limited it's boring, then I can start to get dissatisfied with the "crunch" of the character.

My point is that a lot of players aren't binary about combat and roleplay. You can enjoy them both, and even if you're having a super fun time with the roleplaying aspect of your character you could start to dread combat if your PC turns out to be really sub-par. And in rare cases like that if it's a very long time between games some of the players may appreciate the ability to swap out levels or abilities for something they think might be more enjoyable. I'm not saying this will happen often. The players may never take advantage of it. But I think it would be a good option to know is there.

To use a Star Trek: The Next Generation analogy, if I'm doing a Worf episode, I don't want the guy who's playing Data to suddenly say, "Wait, now I want to be a great warrior too! I want to drop my feat in 'computer lore' and replace it with 'Klingon sword fighting'." That kills the campaign for people who do care about the story and the roleplaying.

I believe it was implied that you were allowed to change your character as long as the concept and the character itself stayed the same. If the group really is full of players that value the story and the roleplaying then they will probably not make changes which are that drastic. However, if Data's player realized that he was never using his Andorian Empathy feat and he wanted to swap it out for the "Ability to use my severed head as a stapler" feat, or maybe the Vulcan Neck Pinch feat, then sure, those still fit with the character, so go ahead. (Data may not be a Vulcan, but I could see him learning this move. It fits his style.) But if Data's player is really into the character he would probably not even try to pick up bat'leth proficiency unless there was a good RP reason for it, and he certainly wouldn't be replacing "computer lore" with it.
 

delericho

Legend
My view is that not every character gets to be the star in every episode. Some of my adventures are geared to put one of the characters more in the spotlight, just like a TV series with an ensemble cast would do.

If you're gaming only a few times every year, I would strongly recommend not focussing a session on any one character. In a regular campaign you can do this because everyone will get their turn in the spotlight in fairly short order, but if you're gaming only a few times a year, surely you want everyone fully involved in every session?

I believe it was implied that you were allowed to change your character as long as the concept and the character itself stayed the same.

Yep, that was my intent.

However, if Data's player realized that he was never using his Andorian Empathy feat and he wanted to swap it out for the "Ability to use my severed head as a stapler" feat, or maybe the Vulcan Neck Pinch feat, then sure, those still fit with the character, so go ahead. (Data may not be a Vulcan, but I could see him learning this move. It fits his style.)

If I recall correctly, Data actually did learn the 'neck pinch' (from Spock), in the episode "Unification". :)
 

Garmorn

Explorer
As far as setting approach, try something like Stargate where each adventure/session is self contained verses. the normal continuous adventure model. A city campaign that used the party as trouble shooters is another ideal. Steal plot form Traveler or other SF games, where each planet is a seperate adventure might work.
 

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