The greatest challenge of playing Dungeons & Dragons is scheduling the damn game. This was true in high school, it became more difficult at university and in adult life the problem is almost insurmountable. I played the game a handful of times in 2018 and when I tried to schedule for 2019 — planning ahead, you know — only two dates seemed realistic.
The unfortunate thing about this is that campaigns need a certain energy that is lost if you don’t play often enough. Players start forgetting details, rules or even the ambitions of their characters. The DM can’t capitalize on an inspiring after-session buzz, loses sight of long-term plans and may get demotivated if the plot moves too slowly — and it will if there’s infrequent play.
One solution to this is to tighten the story arc. My group of 20 years ago did this at some point. If not everybody could make it, we would play a one-shot adventure: a flashback session for one of the characters where not all players needed to be present. This was a creative solution and we certainly had fun sessions because of it, but the idea ultimately fell short. The problem was that we came to D&D looking for a story that was influenced by the decisions of our characters. We wanted consequences to our actions, we wanted to be able to scheme and plan ahead. One-shots did not offer this, but felt like isolated adventures.
With my group having such poor availability, I wanted to revisit the idea of one-shots, but give them more purpose. What I thought up was to do the following.
- We should conclude one of the on-going story lines and leave some minor hooks
- Afterwards, I speak to each player individually about whether they’d like to continue the story of their character and what their general idea of plot and character development would be.
- Then we plan one-shots in which an individual player, the so-called spotlight player, gets to set the scene for his character. They can choose whether months past and they may have even accomplished some minor goals – the one-shot is a just a glimpse of the adventuring life of the spotlight player’s PC.
- Other players who can make it that day can provide supporting cast. They can base their attendance and choice of class and character on a small teaser provided by the spotlight player. We can create connections Fiasco-style.
- I make a special effort to have the one-shots reveal lore or current events in the game world.
What I hope to accomplish is that players can see their beloved characters grow despite impossibility of an intensive campaign. It may even work better than a campaign does in this regard, as normally there is no spotlight on single PCs and a regular campaign often does not do justice to all characters. But the biggest goal here is to play more often — even if not everyone can make it, a one-shot is always an option and it’s easier for new or very irregular players to jump aboard.