You don’t always have to raise the stakes.
Recently, I got a call from an old gaming friend who was coming to town for a few days and wanted to game with “the old group” again. As it happens I am able to pull everyone together for a one-shot session and I dusted off the characters from a favorite campaign. I fired up the old computer and began musing about the epic adventure I was going to write.
Unfortunately, the characters had been on so many adventures together that is was tough to think of something that could top them all and not feel like a retread. Did the group really need to stop yet another earth-shattering threat? They’d already saved the world at least a couple of times by the conclusions of previous campaigns.
That’s when I remembered that I didn’t have to raise the stakes. The players weren’t coming together because I had an awesome adventure idea; they were coming to celebrate the reunion of a treasured cast. The adventure is simply the excuse for them to slip into some comfortable old shoes and enjoy playing characters that had been put away for some time.
That said writing an adventure that echoes the old campaign doesn’t mean there can’t be new jarring elements. By its nature, a one-shot enables me to explore such elements without worrying about their impact on a continuing campaign.
Here are a few ways to make a “one-shot reunion” stand out without going all epic in the adventure.
Tying up a loose end. Sometimes a campaign ends prematurely or ended with one or more loose ends (this is one of the dangers of winging it). A one-shot is a great way to tie things up.
“I’d really love to help, but…” One or more PCs now has a job or other circumstance that makes it difficult for her to participate in the adventure. Part of the fun is getting that PC involved.
A Friend in Need. Simply putting a friendly NPC in danger is enough for the band to get back together and share memories of the past.
Good Guy Gone Rogue. A friendly NPC from the past turns rogue in the current adventure.
A Death in the Family. A friendly NPC (or PC, if you couldn’t get all of the old band back together) ends up dead or missing and this forms the crux of the adventure.
“We’re getting too old for this…” The PCs are long past their prime but they’re the only ones the victims can turn to for help. Obviously any aging rules apply; you can also assign experience-related disadvantages to the PCs or, better, yet, have the players decide what types of disadvantages their PCs now have.
The Origin Story. If your group started fully-formed, then a reunion one-shot is a great time to run a prequel that showed how the band got together.
Fool’s Gold. Perhaps one of the characters wanted to acquire something during the campaign and finally received it. Before the one-shot begins, however, the character was disappointed and this disappointment fuels the adventure. Perhaps a relationship went sour and the NPC involved now needs help, or the space vessel that the PC purchased was stolen by pirates while it held a special cargo and the PC needs to get both back.
I can’t wait for my group to get together this weekend (I’m using “the Friend in Need”). How about you? Do you always try to make reunions epic, or have you tried a more “lower stakes” approach? Do you find “lower stakes” reunions as fun or satisfying as epic reunions?