Back in '81 I started in this crazy hobby with a nerd-inclined psychology and a copy of Moldvay's Basic D&D. One of the hardest concepts for my elementary school/junior high age group was the Ongoing Campaign. For the first couple years we pretty much played D&D like we did Chess or Stratego or that Star Wars boardgame my buddy Dave owned. We'd roll up some characters and I'd attempt to run them through the upper level of the Haunted Keep or part of the Caves of Chaos for an hour or two. Then we'd forget about the nascent campaign, lose the character sheets, and start all over again a couple weeks later.
We had a crapload of fun during that period. When I think about those days I sometimes wonder about all the focus grown-up gamers sometimes place on persistent settings and preparation. How much stuff that DMs do is actually over-preparation? Imagine that an online acquaintance or one of your old gaming buddies calls you. He and a friend are in town just for a day and they want to play something later this evening. What do you do?
When something like this happened to me earlier this year I was able to throw together a fun run with maybe an hour or two of prep time. I wrote an initial situation, half-assedly stocked a dungeon map, we diced up some characters using the rules in the back of my OD&D adventure, and off we went. No big whoop. That session was a resounding success. And it went better than a lot of sessions where I prepared a helluva lot more or planned campaign arcs and crap like that.
So why don't I do more of this? Why don't we just get together to play an RPG, without sweating what happens after that one evening? Do I take the concept of the campaign too seriously? Or is it that I'd feel weird ringing up a DM and saying "Hey, run a one-off for me and some friends"? If, as Jamie Mal is always telling us, D&D has its roots in Pulp Fantasy, then how come we emphasize long form gaming when a goodly portion of our inspiration comes from short stories?
A Question of Scale
2 hours ago