Another week, another canceled session. No one's fault, really. We've each been the missing player at least once. We all have other things going on: work, family, travel, social lives, other hobbies. I'm not going to bore you with the details to a story you already know.
So when this week's session fell apart, I made a suggestion. Next time, instead of cancelling when one player can't make it, maybe we play pick-up. We could just pause our ongoing campaign, and whoever is available can play something fast, lightweight and self-contained for that week's session. Throwaway characters. Procedural scenarios. The indie scene suffers no lack of games geared for quick-and-dirty, single-session play.
Not a new idea, I'm sure. Pick-up-and-play is a popular conceit in the indie scene. The trick to playing pick-up is having everything arranged so that making the transition at a moment's notice is easy. A go-bag for one-shots.
So now I'm sorting out what I'll need. First of all, some games. This seems like a perfect opportunity to introduce DURF into the rotation. Possibly Cairn, too — though… do we need two medieval fantasy options? Maybe for switching tones, one breezy, the other grim. Yokai Hunters Society is a strong candidate. FIST for something modern? Sci-fi? Something with cowboys? I'm sure I'll find more.
What else? Watabou's One Page Dungeon Generator simplifies things immensely, so let's keep a folder of those on hand. There are literally hundreds of tables for rolling up enemies and loot — though, I'll probably cobble together my own, for aesthetic reasons. Yokai.com is an essential resource for quickly spinning up a YHS scenario. I can keep a notebook of prompts, toss-off characters and random details that occur to me, or that I find floating about in the culture. The aim is to have a liberal mix of ready-made elements that I can draw from the moment they're needed.
At some point, I'll have my players make up some back-pocket characters — just a bundle of stats and character traits that they can whip out any time there's a pick-up game. Moorcockian Eternal Champion types that (with a little conversion) recur throughout the settings of our little pick-up game multiverse. No point in burdening them with the demands of a character arc. They're out for adventure, or blood, or treasure. That's good enough; now cut to the chase.
Most of all, we've got to keep the stakes low. Nothing carries over into the following session. Sure, the heroes can die, but go ahead, revive them the next time we play. A little plot can be fun — but only a little. And coherence? That's for long campaigns. The epic saga will still be there, ready to pick back up when everyone's at the table. Maybe next week.