Just thinking about one-shots

Burning Wheel: I realize this is a no-duh kind of thing but man, playing that game short-term misses out on character growth, trait votes, seeing Beliefs evolve, the things that make this game sweet. I am still tinkering with an essay about playing this game for a few years in a solid campaign and will get around to posting it up somewhere soonish.

Dogs in the Vineyard: Ya know, this game isn’t about judgment. It is about how rendering judgment changes these poor kids who are told to make the world a better place with only a book and a gun to guide them. Those changes take anywhere from three to half a dozen games to really start to see and then suddenly that blond cherub you started out with is a different creature all together.

Primetime Adventures: Despite a one-shot of PTA being one of my favorite games ever, it really shines in entirely new ways with a season of play. I’d have to have at least a 5 game season to play that again and honestly, I’d want two.

Sorcerer: Man, but this means not playing Mu at cons and I am sure I will get a hankering for doing that before too long. Still, even with the very best con scenarios of Dictionary of Mu, it is always that next session, that next four hours of play that would have been really keen.

I am noticing something similar with the Mouse Guard games I have played. The first game is about getting comfy and learning the rules but that second mission grows organically from the first. Either Gwendolyn sends the guards-mice out on a mission to cover up some holes created from their first time out or the players don’t go back to Lockhaven in order to make the Territories a better place. The second session is where things start to really heat up, where the mission is suddenly quite personal.

Maybe I am just in the mood to state the obvious today.

14 thoughts on “Just thinking about one-shots

  1. Adding to the list, I personally feel that D&D is a just plain terrible game to run as a one-shot, especially with the 3rd and 4th Editions. That game is 100% about character advancement and ability synergistics, and I can’t fathom it being fun as a one-shot game.

  2. In a recent Voice of the Revolution I talked a little bit about a related issue. Learning the rules for a game takes time, and if you only ever play a one-shot, you never get the chance to become proficient in a game and thus don’t get the full experience.

  3. behind on my podcast listening

    I haven’t been able to listen to podcasts at work and so I am really backed up on my listening.

    I haven’t even listened to the stuff Jeff posted recently from Gen Con yet.

    Yeah, games with a learning curve and games with parts and gears that take a long time to move fully are what I’m on about.

  4. Leveling UP

    I could maybe see 4e being fun if the dungeon, the party and encounters were really well wrought.

    But man, it’d have to be a hum-dinger of a dungeon.

    I agree, though, leveling up is crazy-fun.

  5. Leveling UP

    I could maybe see 4e being fun if the dungeon, the party and encounters were really well wrought.

    But man, it’d have to be a hum-dinger of a dungeon.

    I agree, though, leveling up is crazy-fun.

  6. Totally agree, except that the judgment in Dogs really is the center. You’re given a hammer, told to go find nails, and then you judge your own character for how they deal.

  7. I’ve never done more than 2 sessions of a season of PTA. I’ve enjoyed single sessions cons, but the best PTA game I’ve seen was the Hare and Hounds game I watched the tail end of. Watching an rpg is often an exercise in boredom, but I was on the edge of my seat, despite nothing that resembled a traditional action scene — or because of it. It’s no coincidence that you guys ran two sessions in the slot.

    For PTA and DitV, as far as I know, folks create characters from scratch, even for convention runs. Does anyone do it differently?

    What makes Sorcerer more viable as a one shot than it might appear is that one can do pre-generated PCs, and, in every convention game I’ve played of it, that was what happened. Scott Lesher runs kick ass games of Sorcerer, by the way. Another edge of my seat moment from one of his games: Watching one player’s priest and another’s grade school boy having a tense discussion about morality by talking about _War of the Worlds_.

    I think Sorcerer, when it works as a one shot, does so for the same reason that Call of Cthulhu does. You don’t have to hold anything back. Go for blood. Start with the endgame.

    If we use the analogy of short story vs novel, I’ve heard that one sf author thinks of a short story as being the last chapter of a novel. Some games can use that model better than others. And, often, horror works better in short form than in long form.

    I’ve found that my taste in convention games is idiosyncratic enough that I select the games that attract the kinds of players I like to play with, and that there’s more focus on the game. I don’t mean more intensity. I’ve played games of octaNe and Inspectres which I would not describe as “intense”, but they were focused in a way that a home session may not be. All of us had shown up to play these particular oddball games which we probably don’t get to play anywhere other than a con, and that was what we were doing with our time. We weren’t drifting into gossip about the latest movie or work annoyances or anything like that.

    In a home game, that sort of digression isn’t a priori a bad thing — we have the time. We’re unwinding from the outside world. But, at Origins? There is no outside world for the duration of the convention. I don’t see anything around me that reminds me of things I want to do after the game, like I do when I’m at home. Dishes? I can toss the empty containers into the nearest trash.

    All that said, there are games that work best in long form. At a con, the usual way around this is to schedule a multi-part event. For PTA, I could see a four day event, four hours each. Even if the entire first day is only the pitch session, you’d get at least three “episodes” done. I’m guessing you’d get four. You could do six hour slots, or you could do two four hour slots a day, if you think you’ll get folks dedicated enough to do pretty much nothing but PTA during the convention. That would be intense.

    The same thing could happen with DitV, I am sure. Sorcerer… that’s trickier. You don’t have the shortcuts you have with the other two games, and unless you set things up very carefully, you have to prep a lot between sessions, which is going to be hard to do at a convention. Oscar Rios could run his three CoC Ravenar scenarios on three consecutive days with the same players playing the same vikings, but I just don’t see anything like that being possible with Sorcerer.

    The Nobilis larp at Origins last year was awesome and intense, and a lot of players wanted it spread over two nights, as they found themselves pressed for time. I disagree with that approach, but it highlights the challenge of doing a convention game that has real character growth over a long period of time. How much time will people give you? How much of your own convention will you spend on this?

    But, given player buy in and a certain amount of insanity on your part, you can work several sessions of a game in at a convention.

  8. Word. I very carefully picked the games I’m running at Dreamation for exactly that reason.

    Geiger Counter – I designed it specifically to do one-shots, emulating a movie.

    Mist-Robed Gate – also emulates movies.

    The Murderland Games – all meant to be played in an hour or two.

  9. Judgment and then Change

    I still say that judgement all takes place around catastrophic change to your character.

    When you want to judge, you get into conflicts and these conflicts cause fall-out and the fall-out causes change.

    When you judge your PC, you do so through assigning value and words to that fall-out.

    The change is key. To me, the game is about how that kind of power over a community changes a person. How it does so is up to each player.

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