Compressed Campaigning

by Ian Eller

It started about eight years ago, following a long hiatus. Prior to that unintended break, I would travel out to Pittsburgh, PA from the Northeast a few times a year. We would visit and party and manage to get in a few days of gaming. But then my son arrived and I did not go back out for seven years. When I did, it was just once a year. What had started as a more-than-weekly college age campaign in Savannah, GA and had evolved into a few-times-a-year game became then a Once-A-Year-If-You-Were-Lucky game.

Back then, we did not play on-line (although we tried some play-by-email without success) so this group that had been together for years and years tried to cram a full year’s worth of gaming into a single long weekend. Amazingly, we kind of succeeded. I would arrive and we would have non-gamer friends converge and do the visiting and whatnot, but the next day we would get going. Over the course of a long weekend (4 or 5 days) we would get maybe 36 or so hours of table time in. It both recalled marathon sessions of old and also created something new -- the compressed mini-campaign.

Fast forward a few years and the Pittsburgh annual mini-campaigns (all still continuations of that now two decades old game) were still going strong. I started running games at both Carnage on the Mountain in Vermont and TotalConfusion in Massachusetts. Something did not sit quite right with me those first couple years, though, and I could not put a name to it until I ran my first two part, continuing event at Carnage (a little Mutant Future piece called Out of the Fridge and Into the Freezer, for those of you that may recall it). Even though it was only two sessions long, it clicked: single slot games at cons weren’t for me. I needed something more, something with continuity and stakes and player investment. I needed to run mini-campaigns at conventions.

Now these style of games are a staple for me. I generally dedicate my entire convention schedule to a single ongoing game, four or five or six slots throughout the weekend. It has taken some fiddling with the format, but these games allow traditional con players to drop in for a single session, while those looking for more can sign up for multiple or even all of the slots and get a deeper, more complete experience. It is very rewarding for me as a GM to run these kinds of games and see players -- especially those without regular home campaigns -- get excited to explore the Valley of Tombs or the Isle of Dread, or get entangled with a rogue AI as the Dropship Murphys or fight for galactic freedom as Rebel Scum.

But this is not my super power, and it isn’t a style of game that belongs only to me. The purpose of this post, in fact, is to convince you, dear reader and GM, to give it a try for yourself. I don’t mean necessarily at a convention (although, of course, you should do that too) but rather I want you to try it with your home group. In particular, if your group is one of those that has been together forever and has trouble getting a regularly scheduled game going, I implore you: run a compressed campaign. You and your players will thank me.

Here’s how it works: first, you set aside a long weekend to get together. I suggest finding a venue where you won’t be an imposition on your spouses or roommates, maybe even renting a place by way of AirBnB or a similar service. Bring everything you need, from racks of ribs to cases of beer to extra toilet paper. Pick the right game for your group, either your long stalled campaign from college as I did or a game you have been dying to play. Whatever it is, make sure everyone is one board for some intensive play. Then, play it. All weekend. Take breaks to cook, shower, maybe watch a single favorite movie together, and sleep, but that’s it. Of those 96 hours you have (minus travel time) put in 40 at the table. Game like you were 19 again.

If you consider that you are managing to squeeze in maybe a single monthly four hour session over the course of a year, and half of those sessions’ play time are eaten by catching up and getting back into the game, then 30 or 40 hours of continuous play is essentially what you would get out of a full year’s play, but with the added benefit of everything being fresh and immediate and continuous.

One shots are fine. Weekly campaigns are really great. But nothing quite matches a marathon compressed campaign for a sense of accomplishment, camaraderie and immersion.

Good Gaming!