RPG Saturday: The Serial One-Shot – Coraline 2: Electric Boogaloo
RPG Saturday is a weekly feature which discusses issues related to role-playing games using movies, television, etc. as examples.
Note from Michael: It’s still Saturday for one hour (Pacific Time), so this still counts as an RPG Saturday post!
In my last RPG Saturday post I made a passing reference to the serial one-shot, and I want to talk about that a little more.
Unlike most RPG campaigns, a “one-shot” adventure is not an ongoing story. When the adventure ends, the story ends too — which opens the game up for all kinds of situations and outcomes that a GM normally wouldn’t include in an ongoing campaign. Character deaths, for example, are more acceptable in one-shots, as are games where the characters are the villains or are ridiculously overpowered. Many movie plots work great as one-shot games but not as extended campaigns — Jurassic Park was a good one-shot movie, but an ongoing campaign would be difficult.
A “serial one-shot” is a bit of a hybrid between the one-shot adventure and the ongoing campaign. The story doesn’t necessarily end at the end of the adventure, but each adventure is self-contained enough that if the story does end the players won’t feel like anything was left unresolved. Going back to the movie example, a serial one-shot would be a movie and its sequels.
One good thing about a serial one-shot as opposed to an ongoing campaign is that months or years can pass between adventures, and instead of role-playing that time the players simply update their characters for the next installment of the game and keep going.
…and that’s where my Coraline idea comes in.
So you were able to keep your characters on track. They explored the Other World, learned some of the history of the Pink Palace Apartments from Wybie and ultimately defeated the Other Mother. Now years have passed. The characters have grown up. They have jobs, homes and families of their own.
One day a character’s home is strangely quiet. Little Emma is gone! The character searches the house frantically, screaming Emma’s name…and then finds a doll dressed just like Emma, staring out from under Emma’s bed with black button eyes.
Each of the characters goes to answer a knock at the door. Sitting on the porch is a small package wrapped in brown paper. There are no return addresses, no postage stamps…no sign of a letter carrier. They each take their packages inside and open them to find a little doll, dressed just like them, staring up from the box with black button eyes.
No matter how you set it up, that kind of cool opening scene is tough to do with an ongoing campaign — largely because it’s really hard to role-play all the time between adventures. It can be especially cool if the players weren’t expecting a sequel to the first adventure, and since they aren’t expecting a sequel to this adventure, their tension levels will be lot higher.
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