I’m generally not a fan of missing sessions. If we’re not having a campaign in a given week there has to be a pretty good reason, and the most common reason is lack of quorum. That is, if we are missing more than a third of the players the session is cancelled. We can sweat one player in a four- or five-player campaign, but if we’re missing two, that’s a problem. The plot progresses without its stakeholders, encounter balance goes out the window, and writing characters out from a story perspective is a chore. I don’t like, it, but skipping the session for a week is the best option in most campaigns.
But Faith is not most campaigns. We’re not running a series of D&D adventures, we’re running an anime. And when an anime finds itself in a situation where it can’t do the episode it wants, it does something else instead. So we’ve decided to play around with filler arcs.
I discussed filler briefly a few years ago when I talked about sidequests. As a refresher:
Filler: A sidequest that has nothing to do with the plot at all. There are no long-term consequences, no rewards, no real threat to the party, and a very low chance that NPCs from the main plot will appear…a filler session exists just to fill time and give everybody something to do, and it’s common to never speak of it against once it ends. In anime circles filler is almost universally reviled. But it can give you a chance to do something totally off-the-wall or non-canon, like try a weird game mechanic or throw a one-shot enemy at the party, and if you really want to game it’s better than nothing.
That last point is key. A filler session isn’t really part of the campaign per se, but it is an excuse to play together. In that respect it doesn’t really matter what the content of the filler is as long as everybody’s having fun with it. We could have had a quick session at a weird point in history where the players met somebody famous or witnessed some event without affecting it, but I was reluctant to do anything in this campaign setting without our story accountant*. Instead we went fully non-canon, something that couldn’t possibly happen in the main arc, something fun and light-hearted.
We decided to run a session in the world of Pokémon, an idea we got from the well-intentioned Pokémon D&D 5E Monster Conversion. The players reskinned their existing characters into Pokémon: Jace, the combat-ready dominator, became a Drowzee; Liam, the occasionally-effectual bard, became a Jigglypuff; and Sarai, the secretly-a-snake-lady striker, became an Ekans. Their patron became their trainer, who got separated from them in a thunderstorm and also a mudslide and also a Pidgeotto attack, and their task was to make their way through the wilderness back to civilization and their owner. Along they way they bungled into territorial Digletts, an abandoned Koffing, and an Unown ruin tucked away in a place off a standard route, where no trainer had ever been.
Boy, does my spellcheck ever hate that paragraph.
I don’t want to say the session was wildly successful, but it was pretty great. The players went fully into reskinning, renaming and describing their abilities into reasonable Pokémon alternatives, like Jace’s mundane halberd attack turning into a Drowzee’s Pound or cure light wounds becoming a Potion. They were not only fully into gaining type advantage (something I intentionally avoided in encounter design, my bad), but we also had discussions about the colors that represented each type and how aware Pokémon are of the types of others. They tried to befriend everything they could and punch everything they couldn’t, which is more in keeping with the campaign concept than their play in the actual campaign. Of course it helped that the players were all familiar with the setting—I wouldn’t have gotten buy-in this good if I’d run a session based on Disgaea, even if I’d have loved it to death.
That’s not to say I didn’t have fun, because I did. In addition to playing with a setting I’ve wanted to run in for a year, I got to explore some interesting design space for monsters. One monster had Fury Swipes, a move that attacks opponents somewhere between two and five times. D&D doesn’t have a lot of precedent for it, but it’s trivial enough to say “as a standard action, this monster makes 1d4+1 attacks”. Another monster didn’t even have attacks, just a poison aura, and in retrospect perhaps giving the players a way to cure poison might have been wise, but whatever. We’ve started playing a bit fast and loose with monster design in general lately, and I expect a player who wouldn’t forgive a monster with Spring Attack and none of its prerequisites will change their mind quickly when the monster has a move named Quick Attack. I even got to break out the campaign’s first proper puzzle:
Using the letters at the bottom, fill in the crossword puzzle so it spells the names of seven first-generation Pokémon. As ever, the keys to a worthwhile puzzle are that it’s thematically appropriate (here, Unown are Pokémon shaped like letters who inhabit a ruin filled with puzzles) and that it’s solvable by anybody instead of relying on luck, intuition, or leaps of logic. If you’re too busy to try it yourself, here’s the answer.
For a one-shot quickly thrown together because we wanted to play when we normally wouldn’t, it was pretty fun. We’re already batting around the possibility of doing another, possibly with different characters because it depends on who’s not there and what those left behind feel like playing. A proper Elseworlds story like this isn’t something we’ve tried before, but it went over well enough that I highly recommend it. For the most part D&D players want to play together. Why let reality get in the way?
* — This is a phrase we use a lot in our sessions, and I didn’t realize I hadn’t used it on this blog. I should rectify that.