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...


  1. Very eager to read more on the Adventuring Styles, as I my group is highly fragmented these days (people moving or having, for a variety of reasons, less time to play). My campaigns used to be more "epic," but now I embrace the sandbox. Lead the way, Al. Lead the way!

  2. I've been running a Buffy The vampire Slayer game (buffy.velvet-edge.com) for about 7 years now, so episodic play is an absolute must. But I have yet to incorporate episodic elements into face-to-face D&D-style fantasy gaming. I eagerly await further posts on this subject.

  3. Also looking forward to this, as I have recently been enjoying reading The Dying Earth for the first time and in love with its bite sized chunks.

  4. Sounds promising. I'm a fan of the episodic play myself.

  5. I haven't had much of a chance to catch up on these articles you've been working on regarding Episodic Play, but it is my favored campaign style (and I'm writing my Tankards & Broadswords RPG to focus on Episodic Play - see my "Inter-Session Events" article in the new issue of Fight On! as an example).

    Like you, I discovered that without a regular gaming schedule, it was very difficult to keep a rolling, linear narrative going. Better to have a "a few weeks after your last adventure..." sort of campaign, in my mind.

    Going to have to catch up on your other articles post-haste!



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