One-shot games vs Campaigns

A few months ago myself and some friends (some of whom don’t have the time to game as much as they used to anymore due to family and other real-life commitments) decided that we would run a series of one-shot games on a Wednesday evening every couple of weeks or so, so far we’ve had a Mongoose Judge Dredd game run by myself in which the players tried to track down perps smuggling narcotics from the wasted earth into Mega-City One, a Star Trek hombrew game run by my wife Hannah where the crew of a single federation ship attempted to stop the Dominion in an alternate trek-timeline and a game run by a friend where we played ourselves in a semi-apocalyptic future setting where an evil villain from a RP world had taken over the Earth and our only hope lay in creating characters that could battle him on his own footing. Recently we played a Hunter the Vigil game run by Barry (my description of the session can be found at http://wh40krpg.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/hunter-vigil-session-write-up-agent.html) that I very much enjoyed and am looking forward to the second concluding part, since exparently we spent so long chewing scenery and exploring our characters that we’d only actually reached the start of the main plot at the first session. The game started me thinking about the potential positive and negatives of running one-shot games over the more tradition (in my case anyway) campaign games.

Character Creation
During the course of a normal campaign game we generally try to avoid characters that are too stereotyped since we know that we’ll have plenty of game hours and sessions to further develop the character and explore him in greater detail, this is not the case in the one-shot where you want to get into playing the character as soon as possible, and you want other people to be able to react to him appropriately; in my experience this leads to creating character based more on easily recognisable archetypes. In a one-off session you want to be able to jump straight in, since you know that you don’t have the (often) more leisurely pace of the campaign game – i’ve found that either creating a history from well known tropes that the other players can immediately pick up on is one what of handling this; for example my character in Hunter, Agent Frank Dublowski, is a hard drinking ex-cop whose partner was killed/disappeared on an investigation that was then covered up by the Bureau – not a bad little background for a few minutes work but one that other characters can easily relate to.
Another method of easing this process is the use of games that already involve this process to some degree in the character generation, this was useful during the character generation for the Judge Dredd session, the MGP Judge Dredd rules use their version of the Traveller rules system, which involves making choices on a life-path system to define a character. Using such systems means that, by the time your character is generated, you already have several major points of their life defined, allowing you to crack straight on with the game.
Plotlines and GMing
Convoluted plotlines tend to be a bit of a no no for the one-shot game session, since time is at a bit of a premium (most of our games tending to run for either one or two 3-4 hour sessions) players will want to jump straight into the action and begin working through the plot; I have observed in our games that the one-shot game tends to lead players to have a more ‘solve the puzzle’ mentallity concerning the plot, it is something there to be solved and progressed with. I suspect that this occurs because the characters are less “unique” (although no less fun to play for this) and therefore there is not the extensive background and character details present to elaborate on, the element of personal development and discovery is lessened in pursuit of progressing with the game plot.
The same applies to NPCs and foes in the game, such people tend to be slightly exaggerated or more easily recognisable as one or the other in a one off game, because there is fairly little chance that the NPCs will crop up further down the line (beyond the one or two sessions of the game); when I have been GMing one-shot games I tend to divide NPCs into two camps, the disposable mook and the memorable NPC. Disposable mooks are just that, they are there to provide a brief speed bump to the players, a small combat or obstacle to overcome but they have fairly little character to them beyond their immediate role; one example of this would be a street gang of thugs that menaces the players but inevitably flees should the fight go against them. Memorable NPCs are everyone that the players talk to or that play a major part in the plot, I tend to create some quick stats for these NPCs (focussing on what role I expect the NPCs to play in the session) and give them one or two distinguishing characteristics or hooks that the players can immediately identify them by; these characteristics could be anything from a certain way of speaking, a physical characteristic or perhaps even a piece of equipment or a location associated with the character, as long as it causes the NPC to stick in the player’s minds and as long as it says or implies something about the NPC.
Conclusions
None of what I have written above should be taken to mean that I favour either one game style or the other, they both fill a valuable gaming niche; whilst a long running campaign can be very satisfying and rewarding if done well (and can go places that one-off games cannot), it is far more difficult as time goes on (and real-life commitments intrude more and more on precious gaming time) to muster the players and planning time necessary to do a campaign game justice. This is where the one-shot game comes in, they can be run in a handful of hours with easy to play characters and plotlines that, whilst perhaps not the most complex or convoluted, are good fun and fast-paced.
I would urge anyone who has not run a one-off game to give it a try and find out what a different experience it is.

Using FATE Core Rules 31-03-13

Overview

The 31st March session was my first Rogue Trader system (using the FATEcore rules) to have all of the players present; following a discussion on one of the G+ RPG communities that I am signed up for, I used my laptops webcam to record the audio from the session, this has (as well as being great fun to listen to) helped a lot with filling in some of the gaps in my written notes. A write-up of the actual session events will go up on the blog in the next few days, but I thought it worth putting up a post about how the FATE rules worked within the game.

Overall the rules seemed to work really well, there was an initial few minutes with me explaining the basics of the rules and handing out character sheets to people – for the sake of jumping into the game quickly, I had translated the players characters from the Rogue Trader rules to FATEcore myself with the proviso that the players could tweak them as they saw fit (with my approval) after they’d seen how the translated characters played under the new rules set. For the first session with the full player complement I wanted to ease the players into the new rules so it was kept fairly combat-lite and had plenty of opportunity for the players to make basic skill tests, become familiar with fate points and get used to how aspects work.

Aspects & Fate Points

Most of the players seemed to have no problems getting to grips with this and were soon spending fate points with merry abandon to utilise their aspects, the discussion about tagged aspects onto scenes and gaining fate points for having plot-complications arise connected with aspects was a little longer, after a short while though the players got the hang of it and were soon suggesting complications to earn fate points (two of which lead to the new wife of Captain Black taking a strong dislike to the socially crude Navigator York Benetec and to the final session encounter with the Eldar guardians of Caliban IV).

Skill rolls

This seemed to go fine, the game using words to represent different levels of skill seemed in particular to be enjoyed.

Stunts

Generally worked very well, with the player of the Navigator making use of his psychic stunt (allowing him to substitute in his Will score in certain tests) at various points to increase his chances of success, as yet the Enginseer has not really made use of his stunt (that works in a similar way).

Additional

One other aspect of the game that worked far better than I could have hoped was the use of the time scale taken from Diaspora to determine travel times through the warp (as discussed here), this particularly highlighted problems with having a fleet (albeit a small fleet of two vessels in this case) travel in convoy through the warp. Our player character Navigator York Benetec was at one point able (due to his high skill and good roll) to cut the travel time of the ship he was on down to three hours, however the NPC Navigator with a slightly lower skill was only able to cut their trip down to three months creating some interesting interpersonal RP whilst the players discussed what they were going to do as the second ship caught up to them.

Next session

Next session i’m planning to start bringing in the combat rules to introduce players to those, and also to start exploring the advancement system listed in the FATEcore rules.

Warp travel times in Rogue Trader FATE

I’ve been looking at the times that I would use to travel through the stable warp corridors on the system map that we had generated for the House of Black Rogue Trader game (a copy is printed below for convenience).

Originally I had planned to make it so that  each line on the map took 3 months, however looking through the Diaspora rules I decided to use the Time Track that was presented on page 10 of the book.

The time track runs something like this:

  • Instant
  • A few seconds
  • Half a minute
  • A minute
  • 3 minutes
  • 15 minutes
  • 30 minutes
  • An hour
  • 3 hours
  • 12 hours
  • A day/24 hours
  • 3 days
  • A week
  • 3 weeks
  • A month
  • 3 months
  • 4 months
  • 6 months
  • A year
  • 3 years
  • 10 years
  • 50 years
  • +each step beyond this adds 50 years
The first thing that I wished to resolve was that several of the measures listed were slightly nebulous so I defined them further (changing ‘a lifetime’ for ’50 years’ for instance); I decided that the for a distance of a single line on the map the normal time taken would be 3 months, each additional line traveled would add one step on the time track (so a journey of 3 lines would take 6 months by default).
This time period can be modified by the ship’s navigator making a Fair Will roll on 4DF with each degree of success or failure adding or subtracting from the timescale as appropriate.
So if our ship was making a non-stop journey from Sycorax to the Undred Undred Teef (a journey of three lines on the map) then the standard distance would be 6 months; our Navigator York Benetec has a great (+4) Will score meaning that he already has 2 degrees of success before rolling the dice, lowering the time taken to 3 months before making the roll.

If York rolled +4 then this would give him a total of 6 degrees of success and lower the time taken to 3 days; however if he rolled a -4 this would give him a total of 2 degrees of failure, raising the time taken back to 6 months.