D&D Dad: One-shots and Campaigns

I’ve been trying to get back to playing Dungeons & Dragons with my family and friends for a while now. It feels like we play maybe once a month or so these days, what with school and extracurriculars for the kids, and busy days of work for my wife and me. We’ve kinda fallen out of the habit.

I’m hoping to get on a more regular schedule. Sometimes this game is more like a sport than a hobby. I have this need to practice so I can keep getting better!

And just this past week, I think I figured out what the problem was. We’d been playing a bunch of one-shots after finishing Lost Mine of Phandelver from the D&D Starter Set. And while we had lots of fun with those short, self-contained quests, there wasn’t anything pulling us all back to the table.

We had no urgent sense of What’s Gonna Happen Next? I wasn’t doing a good job of connecting all these one-shots into a compelling narrative.

So just this past week I started reading up on how to run… a campaign!

Let’s get some terms straight first:

  • Campaign: An ongoing adventure that builds to a climactic ending, or an ongoing adventure that never really ends. Both types use the same group of characters who advance in level and power over time.
  • One-shot: A short adventure that takes 3-6 hours to complete; many can be finished in one gaming session. You can have the same characters or a revolving crew of players as needed.

One-shots are great because you can bop on over to the DMs Guild and snag a short adventure for a buck or two, spend an hour reading it over and preparing it, and then play it right away (possibly all on the same day, you speed-reader, you!).

TIP: For some short (of course!) reviews of some one shots, check out this articles from GeekDad: More One-Shot ‘D&D’ Adventures for Fifth Edition.

If you’re good, you can tie together a set of one-shots and make a campaign that totally caters to the tastes of your players and you. Sometimes the last one-shot sets up the next one-shot, but other times it’s just a whole new adventure that’s not related to what happened previously.

In any case, one-shots have been what I’ve been doing, and then “White Plume Mountain” rose up like Olympus over the Serengeti (sorry, Toto and Weezer fans).

Everyone wants to play White Plume Mountain!

White Plume Mountain is a classic adventure from the 1st edition of Dungeons & Dragons, harking back to the late ’70s(!). It’s a “funhouse” dungeon crawl, where your party has to survive the crazy traps and puzzles and other wild shenanigans in a dungeon carved out of an active volcano. When the kids saw the updated-for-5th-edition version of this module (the original was only 16 pages!) in the wonderful Tales from the Yawning Portal book of classic adventures, they were ready to start playing. And I admit, I was too.

But here’s the problem: the characters in our original party were only 5th level, and White Plume Mountain required them to be 8th level. That’s a lot of one-shots to play through to level up properly! Once you get to about 5th level, it takes a lot of experience points to level up compared to how fast you level up from 1 to 5.

I had a couple one-shots lined up, but it was still going to be a stretch to get there before the end of the year. In the meantime, we weren’t playing much, because I didn’t have a good plan for a fun series of adventures that would keep everyone rushing back to the table every week.

Storm_Kings_Thunder.PNGThat’s when I realized I could do BOTH types of adventures. The answer was sitting right there on the table next to me: Storm King’s Thunder.

When in doubt, go big with GIANTS!

This hardcover book is a serious campaign: 256 pages of quests, oversized villains, quirky allies, maps, and more. I bought this book for myself a few months ago, but I’ve been too nervous about the time commitment for learning all of this info to really dive into the campaign.

But just this past week I realized that because of the campaign’s size (and flexibility!), I could work in some side quests and yes, some one-shots. Many players call this kind of campaign a “sandbox,” where players can go wherever they like, just like a kid playing in a big sandbox full of toys.

Which of course means that… when my party hits 8th level in the “Storm King’s Thunder” campaign, we can take a trip to White Plume Mountain as a one-shot adventure! I just need to tie in the one-shot so it makes sense in the context of the bigger campaign. No problem there. I have a little bit of experience with tying together long stories…

It’s a perfect plan.

Now all I have to do is get reading and scheming my way through this huge campaign. Okay, I admit it — I’ve already started. And I’m super-pumped up about spending the winter battling giants with my family and friends! I’ll keep you posted here on how it goes, and what I did to prepare. Happy gaming!

DnDDadThanks for reading! If you’re enjoying this blog, feel free to take a look at my books at UnWrecked Press and Amazon. If something I wrote here improved your gaming experience or you just want to say thanks, buy a book or two!

2 thoughts on “D&D Dad: One-shots and Campaigns

  1. Update – we started our Sunday afternoon playing schedule this past week, and it’s working out great. Got half-way through “The Secrets of Skyhorn Lighthouse,” and it was a lot of fun.


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