The One-Shot – Campaign Spectrum

I read today Wil Wheaton talking about playing in a Gamma World game at PAX, and he mentioned something that got me thinking:

My takeaway from Gamma World: I wouldn’t want to play an entire campaign, because it’s just a little too gonzo for me, but I think three or four sessions (would you call that a mini-campaign?) as a break from my regular game would be perfect. 

I found it somewhat interesting not because of what he says about Gamma World (one wonders what he’d make of Mutant Future), but rather because of what he says about mini-campaigns. I’ve done one-shot games, mostly at conventions, and I’ve of course done long campaigns, but I’ve never actually set out to do a game that would only last three or four sessions.

How about you? Am I just too caught up in the sandbox/megadungeon paradigm to see the appeal of the mini-campaign?

Written by 

Wargamer and RPG'er since the 1970's, author of Adventures Dark and Deep, Castle of the Mad Archmage, and other things, and proprietor of the Greyhawk Grognard blog.

13 thoughts on “The One-Shot – Campaign Spectrum

  1. Only once have I ever set out to run a short campaign (it was a homebrew D6 Aliens campaign), other than that, I have always had the best of intentions of making it an 'epic' campaign. But of course, most of those came to an end long before 'epic' was achieved. Still, I rarely set out to run only 3-4 sessions. I like more depth than that.

  2. I like the 3 to 4 sessions as a break from a regular campaign. There could even be multiple story arcs, using the same characters, but only played for 3 or 4 sessions every 6 to 12 months.

  3. I did this once with Call of Cthulhu – it ran just long enough that my plot and the atmosphere kept up, a total of 5 sessions. D&D is not a game written for this – but there are plenty of others that work just fine at that granularity.

  4. I ran an intentionally short campaign (6 sessions) for a Savage Worlds-powered gangster game. I felt like a handful of sessions was all I needed to say everything I wanted to say.

  5. Now that I think about it, it'd be pretty cool to run a game that goes no more than six sessions. Maybe something along the lines of "here's one goal for your party, do or die", like playing Inglourious Basterds the RPG. Kill Hitler in six sessions or you lose, you know?

  6. Mini-campaigns are the building blocks of Epic Campaigns!

    I have tried keeping some adventures to a few sessions, but the tenacious curiosity of the players will not be denied. They always manage to involve themselves in situations that just beg to be continued. . .


  7. I've actually run a number of mini-campaigns over the years. I usually refer to them an mini-series.

    They end up pretty awesome and fairly epic because they largely consist of only the best parts of what would normally go into a full length campaign.

    Usually they last something like 6 sessions but I've run several designed to last one year of monthly sessions.

  8. Running a four week campaign of Marvel Super Heroes Adventure Game (SAGA) right now.

    My group likes to use a shorter campaign to give the DM a chance to recharge now and again/it also gives someone else a chance to run something (or allows us to try a different system for a bit) without ending our other campaign.

  9. Hi, I've never played D&D and neither have the 3 kids and 1 adult I'm writing a 4 session mini-campaign for.

    I'm planning a pretty straightforward quest-for-a-magic-item game and I'm intentionally reducing the complexity of everything so that we can all cope with the steep learning curve we'll be making. I think within 4 sessions we should have mastered most of the basic game mechanics and concepts and be ready to pile on more complexity at level 2.

    We'll be focusing more on role-playing over min/max-ing so for example the characters will be 3 halflings and a half-orc – and all will be martial except for one primal shaman. This should keep the amount of info I have to cope with within reasonable levels.

    The 4 sessions also gives the kids something to aim for within a time frame they can handle. And if they all hate the experience and quit, designing 4 sessions wont be much of a lost investment.


  10. While I've run longer campaigns, most of my old players preferred the freedom and flexibility of short runs.

    Our group also had a slight lack of good DM-ship, I wasn't always too thrilled to do it, usually pining away for the player's side of the screen when I was, so we resulted in cycling through a few DMs each running their own style of mini-campaigns. We got a good variety of bashing, old-fashioned RP and even intrigue from our various devious minds. We'd usually continue forward with characters that we had rolled for previous campaigns with each DM, meaning I'd have two different characters to play (one for each other DM) so in some regard maybe the sessions weren't mini-campaigns but treated more like modules of epic campaigns that we played in 3-6 week slots, before switching to a new campaign for a fresh break.

    Anyway, yeah, I love to resolve things as much as the next guy, so short-term campaigning is just as fun for me as the long haul.

    Anyway, it's 5am and it's far too early to write sensibly – ask me later about it and I might be more erudite!

  11. gregory, what you are describing is exactly what i did this summer (only difference is i made it "hunt the bad guy").

    i made a 3 part mini-campaign for my 9 year old nephew (the only player with a bit of rpg-experience) and 2 of his friends.

    i created a short dungeon crawl, a wilderness exploration scenario and a city-based detective story and linked it all together. i wanted them to be able to do as much different stuff as possible (and i was a bit worried that the detective stuff would bore them. luckily it didn't).

    i believe for beginners such mini-campaigns are a great way to get a feel of what they can do without overwhelming them.

  12. A mini campaign needs to be a little more then a single adventure, or at least it should look that way. A clear 2 or 3 problems to solve that don't exclusively depend on each other. I find 6-8 sessions does the trick.

Comments are closed.