Dungeons and Dragons? I ain’t got time for games!

In this week’s bonus blog B. asks for advice on DMing D&D for the busy family man:

Hey DM,

I am a DM for a 4e Dark Sun game. We have had 1 game night so far, but because we are almost all family people we only have time for 6 & half hours once a month. I would like to find a way to deal with somethings maybe through e-mail outside of the nightly game night. Any suggestions or ideas how to expand gaming for busy family people?

Thanks,
B. Lynn

It seems the older we get the less time we have to play.  I remember sitting in my parents basement everyday after school playing D&D.  Now it’s a challenge to get everyone together once a week.  Add kids to the mix and things only get harder.  For me, one of the biggest problems with playing too infrequently is forgetting.  The more players forget and the more you have to recap, the less invested they’re going to be in what’s going on.  You want your players to be thinking about last weeks adventure.  You want them to wonder what’s in store for them, strategize for the next session, and be fully immersed in the game as soon as you get rolling.

There are a few different ways we can approach this.  First, you can just go ahead and scrap the long-term campaign idea.  This is the easiest solution, especially if you have a solid day of more than six hours of play.  You can design one-shot adventures without having to worry about overarching themes and plots.  You can accomplish quite a good amount of playing with six and half hours of game time.

If this isn’t the most attractive option, you can still keep some larger campaign elements intact.  It requires more effort on your part, as you’ll really have to think about what can fit well into one session.  At first it might be a challenge, though you may already have a good idea of the pace of your players depending on how long you’ve played with them.  The bigger challenge with this is weaving themes throughout that aren’t going to require multiple sessions to develop, but that can still build upon each other.  I’ll give you an example:

Let’s say the end result of your campagin is to stop a sorcerer from opening a portal into the past to kill a dragon in order to stop some king from being crowned and create an alternate history, rewriting the present.  You probably wouldn’t want to even drop any hints about this for a long time.  When you’re playing so infrequently, it’s best to keep everything contained within one session, having each session lead only into the next.

For the sake of this discussion, I’ll pretend the campaign will only require 3 sessions.  If this were the case the first session might have them being hired to infiltrate a dungeon.  At the end of that session they should discover something that will lead them directly into the second adventure segment, without dropping too many hints and clues about what’s really to come in the third session (at least not a lot they have to remember).  In this way, we can have a story that will move forward in the direction you want, but won’t require the players to have to remember all the details of the previous adventure.

The second option open to us is to keep the campaign as it is, and think a bit more outside the box.  I know for me, I love writing and playing epic campaigns.  They’re more fun, more interesting, and more emotionally charged, but they’re also much more complex and involved, which makes it hard to pull off just playing once a month.  With the advent of the internet we have other options open to us when we can’t be face-to-face.  You could do mini-sessions on Skype once a week (or even every other week), if everyone could find a couple of hours to spare.  Or you could do online chat sessions, maybe even while you all are at work if you’re a bunch of slackers.

If it’s just too difficult to get everyone together in the same day, another option could be doing individual sessions through e-mail or chatting.  This isn’t really as complicated as it might sound at first if you do it right, and it opens up some new interesting dynamics for the game.  You can do very simple, brief side-quests for each character that could be completed in a single chat or maybe a short series of e-mails.  You don’t need to involve combat at all in these, or even much rolling (unless you really trust your players), and instead make them character/story development opportunities.  This can only be realistically accomplished if you end your in-person sessions at a point that would realistically allow characters to take off on their own for a bit.

The thing I like about this option is that it gives each character unique and privledged information that the other characters can’t and won’t have unless they decide to share with eachother.  This opens up an opportunity for much more complicated and interesting party dynamics, especially if you have at least one underhanded character in the group.  It can be great to see one player plotting against the rest, especially when the others are oblivious to it.  It also means that players will have more of a personal stake in things, which will help even more to keep the story fresh in their mind while they’re eagerly awaiting next month’s session.

Good Luck!
The Dungeon Master

We need more questions! Please submit if you love us.  And be sure to check out the brand-new section where I will be compiling my very own House Rules.

If you wish to submit a question to the Dungeon Master, please e-mail them to dungeonmastermind@gmail.com, or you can Tweet me a question by hash-tagging me (#askthedm) in your Tweet. And make sure to review the disclaimer.

You can also see me in action in One Die Short.

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