I recently found myself chatting about my RPG glory days when I had little responsibilities and plenty of time to game. Up into high school (I started gaming at 9) it wasn’t unusual for me to play daily. These tended to be short sessions (under 3 hours), and there was a time when, in addition to the after school game I also ran an in-school group through a module during lunch breaks.
Even through college, I managed to play regularly. I always had at least one weekly game and sometimes two or three. At one point I even worked in a monthly LARP (which quickly expanded into daily chat sessions, as the internet made its way through our group). It wasn’t until new stages of life (more demanding jobs, dating, marriage, kids, etc) began eating away at my time that I finally loosened my grip on gaming to a weekly fix (still short sessions) and then a bi-weekly fix.
With these shifting times dedicated to gaming I’ve learned over the years that GM and player expectations need to change in order to keep a campaign viable. Tearing through a dungeon crawl that takes 10 sessions is a very different experience if you can accomplish it within two weeks versus half a year. Players with dynamic characters* are more tolerant if their characters are growing regularly rather than being stuck at, say, 2nd level for four months.
On the other side of the screen, I’ve found myself finding that even the most interesting dungeon crawls become tedious if they take too long. If we’re playing bi-weekly I find that my mind wanders after 3 or 4 sessions. I’ve lost interest, and sometimes I can’t even remember why the group entered the dungeon in the first place. From a narrative standpoint, it’s like the story (I know, I know – I’m not arguing that dungeon-crawling isn’t “story,” but I hope you can understand my point) was put on hold for 4 months while the group took their lumps and gathered treasure and bennies before picking up the plot again.
Campaigns with static characters have their own challenges. In my experience players get bored quickly with static characters and are ready to move onto something new after a handful of adventures. Having Captain Awesome and Aerial Wizard beat up on supervillains with their invulnerability and weather powers is fun for the first couple of sessions, but rotating through the same 2 or 3 powers gets repetitive and there’s only so much you can do to maintain interest with subplots. Static characters certainly seem better suited in campaigns where the group meets less frequently.
That said, players with static characters are looking more towards the adventures to maintain interest and this puts a burden on the GM. Such adventures tend to be heavy on investigation and intrigue and, the less often the group meets, the more time is spent in-session re-educating everybody (which risks losing the tension that built up before the last session broke).
Finally, it’s worth noting that the less frequently you meet, the more regularly your campaign gets disrupted. Cancelling a bi-weekly session could mean a month between sessions. Also, if a key player can’t make a session it’s not that big a deal to cancel if the group will meet the next week. If the game is bi-weekly or monthly then the group is more likely to soldier on without the player, consequences to campaign continuity be damned.
I’ve recently come across this in myÂ Dungeons & DragonsÂ campaign. Initially, I wanted a low-powered setting where the PCs would level up gradually and there’d be lots of intrigue. This would be awesome if I were running a weekly game, but given that I’m running a bi-weekly game that sometimes only meets once a month, I’ve had to adjust my expectations. I’ve slimmed down my grandiose plans to be more easily digestible (individual plots are resolved within a session or two and over-arching plots don’t require the players to recall much) and collapsed my campaign arc to involve quicker resolutions from Point A to Point B to Point C. I’ve also allowed my players to increase power level faster than I’d intended, understanding that they’re also hitting campaign benchmarks more quickly than I’d anticipated.
So how about you? How often does your group(s) meet? Are you happy with your gaming frequency or are you having to adjust? What changes have you had to make to your GMing style to accommodate the new perspective? Are you finding yourself enjoying the change or would you prefer to return to your original style? Is there another frequency that you’d like to try and why?
*Throughout this article I use the terms “dynamic” and “static” in regards to characters. For purposes of this article, a “dynamic” character is one that typically starts out weak and experiences regular “power-ups” throughout the campaign. An example of this is “zero-to-hero,” where farmhands and blacksmiths eventually become demigods during the course of their adventures.Â
“Static” characters are those who don’t change or who change very slowly over the course of the campaign. They are generally competent right out of the gate, occasionally only raising an attribute or skill or gaining a new power after accumulating experience over several sessions. An example of this is found in most superhero games, where the character starts with a full suite of powers and changes little over the course of the campaign.