Short campaigns are like other DND campaigns, but they have a hard deadline. This gives shape to your adventure. Their unique size gives opportunities to explore new styles, genres, and approaches, without locking yourself into a years-long spanning campaign. For Game Masters, they’re great for developing specific skills and techniques. As players, they give you a chance to explore interesting character concepts, with just enough to develop the character, without tying yourself down to a character long term.
I love short campaigns.
I’ve been running them for a while now. I’ve done some in partnership with Spark Behavorial Health too. They’re the perfect size for getting new people into the hobby. They’re also great for developing specific skills or ideas together. It’s a flexible format that, by design, fosters creativity.
How it's Different?
If you’ve listened to Podcast Episode 006, you know that each adventure length is like a rope. Longer adventures have larger ropes, which give more opportunity for flexibility in the middle. Short campaigns don’t have all that length. They’re longer than a one shot adventure, so you actually have time to develop themes and stories. You don’t have a ton of time though, and the rope length can’t change, so you have to work with what you’ve got.
You must end on time.
That takes some specific skills. There are 3, specifically, that help you run effective short campaigns.
3 Tips for Amazing Short Campaigns
- Outline your Adventure
- Combine Multiple Motivations
- Mange Pacing through Clues
Outline Your Adventure
Your adventure must fit a specific size. If you want to create a meaningful story, you need to be sure the adventure you’re building actually fits. Ask yourself, what major encounters do you want to explore? What dramatic questions outline each major encounter? Highlight the main settings and scenarios you want to explore, then string them together with plot threads. This gives you a clear map of your adventure. Is it going to fit? When it’s all laid out, it’s easier to see how much time each area needs to take to finish on time.
Provide Multiple Motivations
Motivation drives good stories. Every adventure needs them. Clearly define your adventure’s goals. If it’s a published adventure, the module should have the motivation clearly stated. Short campaigns need more than one. You have a schedule to keep. Add more motivations, all pointing in the same direction, and you’ll have the momentum to finish on time.
Give your players a related motivation they can tie into their backstories. In one campaign, I told all my players they were part of an archeological expedition traveling to the arctic north to find an ancient relic. This dovetailed with the campaign’s published adventure to find a cure for an ancient sickness up north. This also gives characters a strong reason to work together. I reinforce this by giving them 2-3 weeks in game time spending time building relationships together. In the same adventure, they were all traveling by boat for 3 weeks to get to the starting town. At the beginning of the first session, I asked them all what they did and what bonds they formed together.
Each motivation keeps everyone focused on accomplishing the tasks at hand. You don’t have time for mistrust among the characters, so build motivation for them to like each other and you can focus on meaningful stories that happen between trusted friends. Also, it doesn’t hurt to remind the players that the game ends after the last session, so everyone needs to work together if they want to finish the story on time.
Keep Pace with Clues
You don’t want to railroad, but keeping pace is vital. As a GM, your job is making sure the structure sets everyone up for success.
The Alexandrian talks about how scenarios are connected by clues. As players find clues, they follow the trail to the next meaningful scenario. You can check it out here. I like the idea of clues. You can use clues to manage the pacing.
Timing ebbs and flows in a campaign. You want to enhance that experience, and you can do that while still finishing on time by managing clues. If things are dragging, introduce more clues, or plot threads, that help drive them to the next major scenario. Throw in a letter or journal in the goblin’s loot. Let the bandits come to the characters when they catch wind that they’re on the trail. When they’re searching, give them more opportunities to find and follow threads to the next meaningful scenario.
If things are going well in a scenario, and great stories are being told, then continue supporting the exposition. Ease back on the clues, then make up the time with “shortcut Clues” after. In one game, my players loved engaging with the denizens of the arctic prospector town. They helped with a yeti problem and forged a relationship with the quartermaster. They spent a lot of time there. To compensate, I needed to shortcut the time spent traveling to the final destination. I introduced “shortcut Clues” built from their story choices. Their actions got them thick yeti-fur coats and a dogsled team, that shortcut them to the final dungeon with ease.
Remember, no obstacle is so important that it takes precedent over the final dramatic question. If you’re strapped for time, let them find a map of the facility in the library, so they can skip the minions and get right to the epic finale.
Try it Out!
You’ll learn a lot running Short Campaigns on a time limit. Plus they’re flexible and fun.
Also, If you’re interested in honing your TTRPG craft, we’ve got upcoming mastermind.
And, we started a Patreon! You can check it out here.