Recently I started up a mini-series, and decided I’d share my tips on how best to tackle such. With most RPGs, and tabletops in particular, it’s very easy for one to become accustom to running an ongoing series of chronicles with characters that span years of play. So the idea of running something a little more condensed can seem daunting. The one-off is especially tricky, requiring you to be at the best of your game from start to end.
With the mini-series you at least get a little bit of leeway, though you do have to be very focused on the aspects of the story you’re intending on telling, and have a firm handle on its scope.
In fact the scope will largely determine the length you should be trying to tell the story within. Stories that have lots of opportunities for plot revelations can be planned out for a shorter series of games, while games requiring extensive research might warrant additional sessions. Just remember that players are uncannily good at putting the plot together early on, or derailing your plans by following a sequence of events that you didn’t foresee, so plan accordingly, and you should be fine. That, and of course don’t panic.
Even if they are on to your story from the get go, they don’t know that.
But to give you some tools to actually carry that out, I’d suggest using Island Theory when drafting your plots. The premise is to think of the scenes more like separate islands that can be reordered as needed. Granted I’ve found that there will always be chronological requirements that dictate a given scene occur before another, but that said it gives you flexibility to rearrange the game on the fly with relatively little impact on the narrative of your story.
I’ve even seen it as an opportunity to better tailor the scene to a corresponding character, and now frequently review their character sheets to determine which parts of their story best serve the collaborative story we’re telling.