Tuesday, June 15, 2010
Episodic Play - Part 1
Not having a weekly group since 2008 or so, I quickly learned the value of Episodic Play, that is to say: each session is self-contained, with a beginning and an end. Obvious difficulties arose when playing long adventures or epic plotlines when the group would sometimes not play for weeks at a time - details were forgotten, immersion was nearly impossible, interest levels waned, precious table time was lost recapping the last session, etc, etc. Bringing each session into the scope of episodic play went a long way toward keeping the interest level high, imparting a feeling of accomplishment, and making it easier for players to jump in and out of the campaign.
For anyone with an interest in Pulp Sword & Sorcery literature, this style of play can hold a strong appeal - even without the need to keep an inconsistent play schedule entertaining. Pulp Sword & Sorcery, be it Conan, Fafhard & the Gray Mouser, Elric, the Dying Earth, and so on, was most often presented in the form of short stories linked to together. Also known as "picaresque" (which JM at Grognardia discusses in a great post here), the heroes of these adventures are often sitting in a tavern with a tankard in their hand and a wench on their knee when adventure comes knocking, be it welcome or not. Cliffhangers, contrived at the best of times, are happily unnecessary!
The three most important elements of Episodic Play I've noticed are Adventure Style, Session Structure, and House Rules, each of which I'll try and cover.
There are five pretty distinct Adventuring Styles I've found work well with episodic play: Relics and Ruins, Tiny Dungeons, Monster Hunting, Megadungeons, and Random Generator Travel.
More to come...