Last week, one of our players cancelled out and at the same time we had a guy sitting in for a session…what to do? Go with an NPC in the current adventure? (I had an idea that would dovetail in nicely…) Do a one-shot? Board games — I can recommend Thunderbirds for cooperative grops, and Xtronaut for competitive types. Have a movie night?

These are all good ideas when you have incessant scheduling problems (the downside of having a larger gaming group. This week, most likely, we’ll have another two players out — one’s at GenCon, one’s working. (I really need a new hobby…) So this week, the answer will most likely be board games or a movie night, depending on if the one player is stuck working.

Last week, the answer was a one-shot. I decided to do a backstory one-shot on one of the new characters in the ongoing Hollow Earth Expedition game, John Hunter. We’re alluded several times to his misadventures on a mysterious island being how he got wrapped up with the secret society, the Terra Arcanum. So, I decided to do a one-night story that would tell the tale and be done, in case the one guest player didn’t come back.

So — how to tell this story in a 3 hour block of time? Hollow Earth Expedition, while a quick-playing game system, isn’t quite slick enough, and I needed to give the players a bit more of the heavy-lifting for the story and background development. I turned to Atomic Robo. It’s the fastest, best-playing version of Fate, in my opinion, and character creation is slick and quick. Four players were crafted (for the most part) in under half an hour.

The first act/hour was introducing the characters in media res — staging a burglary on the Order of Prometheus, a secret organiation dedicated to unearthing and using ancient knowledge. One of the players was a history of ill-repute looking for Atlantis, and chasing the tale of a “vanishing island” in the Indian Ocean that a Roman traveler once identified as that mythic place. The Order has two maps — one by Marcus Maximus Tinto, said roman adventurer, and another by the only survivor of a shipwreck from 1900 that had the coordinates of the island (not shown on any map, of course.)

The other players are John Hunter, in 1926 he’s a “man who can get you anything” in Paris; a member of the Terra Arcanum who is supposedly a smuggler, and who is along for this ride to stop the revelation of the island’s position; and a skeptical geologist.

They steal the maps, do a brainstorming session to figure out where the island is, then the historian — who has “More money that sense” as an aspect, gets them a crappy tramp steamer they take from Marseilles to the island’s position. His calculation give them the most likely time the island will show, and sure enough, the isalnd arrives under a suddenly-forming storm, giant rogue waves that suck them into an inlet where they beach on the hulk of a WWI submarine.

They have limited time to explore — they don’t know how long the obviously volcanic island will stay “visible”, and they speculate that the place may be “hydraulic” in some fashion — the pressures from the ocean flor rising the island and lowering it periodically…but how are there plants and animal life, much of it from different geological eras, present? They follow trails inland in the increasingly bad weather and light, and eventually run into a native tribe that captures them in a big skirmish, dragging the historian and Arcanum agent to their villge, which is surrounded by a giant boma of thorn bushes and large bonfires.

A rescue attempt is put together by the geologist and Hunter, while the others ascertain from the natives — who speak a form of Sanskrit not heard since pre-Harrapan times! — that every generation or so, the island is pulled to another world, where sometimes the every-present sun sets.  The Hunter and the geologist stage a daring rescue that revolves around setting the boma on fire as a distraction, and using their lone Chicago Typewriter to lay down fire and scare or kill the native warriors with a spray of .45ACP.

They elude their pursuers, dodge massive creatures whose footfalls shake the ground, and escape to their steamer in time to set sail before the island disappears behind them.

We closed out the night with the Arcanum agent planning on recruiting as many of their valiant band as possible.

Scheduling getting you down? Maybe it’s time to do something different for a session or two. The one thing I’ve found over 30+ years of gaming: if you don’t meet regularly, forget campaigns…you won’t be able to keep the momentum and interest.