Short Form Games as Campaigns

Running shorter sessions of games can be a good thing. We’re all busy adults and carving out 4 hours of time to play pretend can be tough. Shorter sessions help ease that pain. But how does it affect play?

Talking Games

Senda and Phil covered this topic on today’s episode of Talking Games. It’s good, you should really listen to it. They even include an AP of a Fate game. This is mostly Senda’s wheelhouse, as she runs one-shots at conventions and often runs games of 2 hours or less. Phil’s talks about pacing, structure, and shared spotlight in campaign play. I think he left a lot out of the conversation.

How Short Sessions Affect Mechanics

The mechanics of a lot of games refer to sessions, either as a measure of time for special abilities or as a meta-measure of when things trigger. The most common is that XP is often given out at the end of a session – see DungeonWorld and FFG’s Star Wars come to mind.

The phrase “once per session” pops up in games quite a bit. This is all over the place in 7th Sea Advantages. Those are powerful abilities that let you take a big action in the fiction. If you have 1 hour long sessions, the characters in your game can often be much more powerful than if you were playing a 4 hour sessions.

Gaining XP is another consideration – if you give out XP after every hour of play, characters will ramp up much more quickly than if you give it out after every four hours of play. That is, unless you do something to alter the amount of XP per session. Another thing to consider there is that characters will be more fluid and less static when this happens – the amount of time any given character stays at a certain XP level is going to be reduced. Consider DungeonWorld and its handling of end of session moves. Doing that every hour of play is going to alter the flow of the narrative.

The last thing I wanted to point out, and something that actually needs to be addressed if you’re playing FFG’s Force & Destiny, is that certain mechanics only work if your sessions are long enough. The Force & Destiny Morality mechanic just doesn’t work in short sessions. It’s designed that through a session a character will have enough rolls and enough choices to make that a significant amount of conflict will have built up before the Morality check at the end of the session. That just doesn’t happen in a single hour. It’s probably best to do your Morality checks after a few short sessions (or, to be very gamist about it, once the character has earned 5 Conflict).

About PK

PK Sullivan is a game designer and writer living in Chicago.
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