I've been running a lunchtime sandbox campaign with my co-workers for the last few years, and I've found that ACKS is the best system to handle such small chunks of gaming time. Other systems either have combats which take too long, or are over way too fast, leaving the Judge (me) scrambling to come up with content to cover the remaining break. (Nobody wants to go back to work early, that's crazy talk!) With ACKS, I can have a fight, some exploration, and some pleasant roleplaying all happen in the same one hour session.
A lot of the success of a lunchtime campaign depends on preparation, while not over-prepping. I usually prepare for the game during work hours, so I don't have an endless amount of time to draw maps. It took me a while to figure out the right amount of content to tackle in a comparatively short time. Here is some of what I learned over the course of my campaign. Some of these tips are useful in every campaign, but they become even more important when you only play for an hour.
- Know your group. One of the groups I play with loves to roleplay with only a slight challenge in their fights, while I have another group which loves more realistic and dramatic action. For the first group, I spend time prepping the story, organizing characters and their relationships, while with the second group I spend more time fine-tuning the enemies they will face. Of course, I still will roleplay with the second group and challenge the first group, but if I know what will be the most fun, I concentrate on giving it to them.
- Don't prep an hour of content, prep an hour of play. This one's a little hard to describe, but I often don't plan too far ahead in my lunchtime campaigns. I have the story sketeched with broad strokes, but I don't come up with specific stats, monsters or treasure until I'm fairly certain it will come up in the hour game. That way, I don't waste time prepping for stuff that will never be discovered.
- Random Encounters are great fillers. Inevitably, your group will ignore the bits you HAVE prepped, and go somewhere else. In order to keep the game moving for the hour, I sometimes force the group to roll enough random encounter rolls that a fight or encounter of some kind is inevitable. Some might call that fudging the dice, but it's gotten me through an hour and the group was never the wiser. You can use the random enncounter tables in Chapter 10: Secrets of ACKS, but it's more fun to create your own. Just be careful not to overuse this one.
- Don't penalize people for not attending. If you try this at work, make sure people know that work comes first. If they've got a meeting or are busy, make it clear they can skip out. The ease of playing ACKS characters - and the prevalence of henchmen - means players can easily grab a character sheet and play them. Also, make sure you keep everyone's character shee with you the Judge, so if someone is absent, the game doesn't become searching your coworker's desk for a ACKS character.
- Email roleplaying is your friend. If you have players with lots of lore questions or the desire to connect with NPCs one on one, you can just ask them to continue the conversation over email. That way, you don't waste everyone's hour watching one player flirt with a princess or haggle over a cloak.
Again, these are generally good tips for playing ACKS in any situtaion but they are absoutlely essential guidelines when you only play for an hour a week. Now if only I can figure out how to complete a story arc in a campaign that moves so slowly. When I got that one down, I'll let you guys know.