RPG Rant: New Beginnings – Running shorter RPG system arcs instead of traditional campaigns in a single system

This entry is part of the RPGA Blog Carnival, which hosted this month by Kobold Enterprise and has a theme of New Beginnings. That brought me to the idea of running an RPG group focused on experiencing new systems and playing shorter story arcs. 

I don’t get to play tabletop roleplaying games nearly as often as I would like anymore. Which is ironic because – with the advent of Skype, roll20 and Table Top Forge – I should be able to basically work around my schedule to find three to five people in the entire world who have similar tastes to me and can work on a similar schedule.

Hopefully, that will change soon since I had the idea (which could totally work in person as well) of a gaming group that runs its campaigns in arcs, rather than full-fledged campaign. I have no doubt that the idea has been considered before, but I have personally never tried it or tried to sell it. Basically, it’s that a roleplaying group could basically play RPGs in arcs, like comic books. A single game/ruleset is run for about six sessions, at which time a new system is picked up and started anew. A new world to explore, new characters, and new rules to learn and explore (yes, that sounds like fun to me). The biggest problem I see is that many people are adverse to learning new rules, much less every six sessions.

The perks, however, in my opinion greatly outweigh that disadvantage. By running your RPGs in an arc system you keep your games fresh, since you’re changing games every few months. If you’re anything like me, you can also burn through some of those read-but-not-played games that you love but have never gotten to the table. The sessions after the completion of an arc are also perfect for inserting a one-off game like <em>Durance</em> or whatever other interesting one-parter you’ve been holding onto . If you really loved a certain setting or arc, you can always revisit it later, but – in the meantime – the controlled arc structure (I picked six as a good average for setting up a story, but it could really be any length or depend on the game someone wants to run) also encourages tighter storytelling, asking the person running the game really consider the pace that the game is moving forward so that the current story wraps up on the last session (of course you can always tack on an extra session or two if the story demands it. I also think that it is easier to work together to create three different arcs in different worlds of six sessions each than it is to create an 18-session campaign.

I’d love to hear thoughts on this. Has anyone tried something similar to this, with rotating campaigns and/or systems? How did it go? Do you think you could get a local group together who would be willing to learn a new set of rules every couple of months (assuming you are running biweekly)? I would love to organize something like this, but I am all-but-certain it would have to be over Google Hangouts or some similar platform where I can find other system-loving indviduals. Do you think six sessions would be enough to run a campaign cycle? Or would you rather see longer cycles, like eight or 12 to put a little more space between each instance of learning new rules?me roleplaying as not.

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About Michael

Michael is an enthusiast about a lot of things, including indie games, roleplaying games, board games, and comic books that wanted to help create a place where he could bring things to the attention of those with similar interests. Futile Position is a true labor of labor, which he hopes continues to grow through the support of the great readers who have come upon this page.

15. January 2013 by Michael
Categories: RPGs | Tags: , | 2 comments

Comments (2)

  1. Michael,

    My play group found using Skype and roll20 to be ideal for gaming. We have been doing this for over a year and think it’s wonderful.

    The group is comprised of people from all over the world (well, the US and Australia, but whatever!) and by using the tools you mention in your article we have had some amazing adventures….which you can find at http://start.d20radio.com/ under “Real Gamers” or just go straight to iTunes –> Podcasts –> and find our first campaign. It’s all free, but we don’t usually edit and Skype + Audacity (the recording/editing solution) does cause problems (like losing complete episodes!)

    Essentially, what you are talking about DOES work and forces the GM to be very descriptive while keeping players not physically in front of them engaged.

    We are in our 2nd Season right now (a Pathfinder campaign) and once that ends we are looking to do smaller campaigns or arcs to have more GM rotation (oh yeah, in our group EVERYONE has to GM at some point).

    Great article and hope to see more!
    -Brev

    • Brev,

      Awesome stuff. It’s cool to hear you’re having a lot of success with long distance gaming as well as looking Ito rotating campaigns to keep things interesting. I’ll have to check out your podcast in a little bit. I’ve found there’s almost no better way to get ideas for how to improve your own gaming than hearing what someone else does.

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