Playing Outside The Session

I’ve been experimenting with different ways of playing Dungeons and Dragons lately. Not in a “these are the rules of the game” kind of way, but in how the sessions are formatted, how time passes, what kind of activities are available during those times. That sort of thing. I was prompted by my desire to run three d&d groups combined with my inability to run three groups every week. One game stayed weekly, another is monthly, and the third is sort of every two or three weeks, depending on people’s availability during the one time each week we all had available.

The weekly game is run in what I would call my “normal” way. Time moves pretty slowly, as experienced or described in-game, downtime happens as it happens (dictacted by pacing, plotting, and player demand), and very little is done outside of session except for asking people to prepare or the rare side-session when there’s some solo stuff that needs to be done without other players present. It feels more “natural” compared to most D&D modules and adventures, so it requires little to no effort to adjust based on the time between sessions. But “natural” pretty much just means it matches the way I’ve run games in the past.

My every-few-weeks game is a different matter. Though I’m planning to get to something a little more “standard” once we get a few sessions deeper into the game, I’m still planning to keep it a bit more episodic. Focus on action (combat, puzzles, big change and plot developments) during the sessions and spend the time between sessions doing character work, leveling up, picking magic items, doing small side-quests in this strange sci-fantasy world we’ve all made together. I’m giving my players a lot more narrative power, pushing them to come up with more details for their downtime activities and to author more parts of the world. I told them they can put anything in the game that they like, when I’ve given them a downtime assignment, but that I still have to adjudicate the results. There’s rolling involve, but low numbers don’t alwasy mean failure. Sometimes that’s just more resources that need to be spent, more time consumed, more opportunity for interference from outside forces.

This is the most fun, though it is taking a bit more encouraging and prompting than I anticipated. Some take to this style of play more readily than others, and some are more interested in exploring the world and the complexity of their characters than others, so I have to do a lot of modulation as I work with my players to acheive what I want between sessions. During the session, all of this prep works leaves me more prepared to pull in character-specific elements and helps give the players a deeper sense of connection to this world.

The monthly game is the one I’m struggling with the most. I’m having a difficult time achieving the episodic, almost chapter-like form I think would fit best since this game used to be weekly. All of the plot and character work is set up in the slow burn style of a weekly game, but I need to change it to be faster and more active in order to keep things rolling noticeably enough that people remember things from one month to the next. Fifty small details that can be added up to a dozen big pictures is too much for a game like this, but they already had forty-seven of those small details, so I need to complete the existing images, given them time to puzzle it out, and then I can hopefully move to a more episodic style of play. I’ve thought about trying to increase the frequency of this game, but part of the reason it is monthly is because we’re all busy people and I don’t want to be still playing after nine pm on a week night. I need time to unwind after a session.

Really, though, I just like experimenting with different ways of telling stories and these three different games are a way to do that. Ultimately, if I’m enjoying myself and my players are enjoying themselves, then nothing else matters so long as both of those stay true.

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