Postulate 2: there are more people interested in playing D&D than people who actually play it.
Postulate 3: there are more people who have played D&D than people who are currently in the regular habit of playing it.
Postulate 4: people who aren’t currently in the regular habit of playing D&D are generally considered to be inactive gamers. At least, many of them think of themselves that way.
Anyway, I think all of that is bullshit and we force ourselves into those shitty circumstances. I cannot tell you how many people I’ve talked to who, when they hear about me playing D&D, respond with something along the lines of, “Oh yeah, I got to play for a couple sessions a year back but we couldn’t keep it going. I just wish I could get a regular group but it’s hard, you know?” I have been in all-too-many frustrating conversations (with bad conversationalists) where they will keep revisiting this anguish throughout the discussion and bring it up after everything I say. Maybe they’re desperately trying to imply that they’d like to join my group or something. I’m sure I make it sound like a great time.
Campaigns are overrated. I know way too many people that have this idea in their head that playing isn’t worth it or, in some sense, legitimate, unless they maintained a campaign for years and years with the same group and went from levels 1-20. That’s an unreasonable and unfair expectation, and I’d argue that even if you achieve it, it isn’t even objectively superior to other ways of playing. It’s like television versus a movie. You have to invest hundreds of hours into a long-running tv show, but with a movie you’re done in 2 hours. Despite that, there are 2-hour movies that offer an equal or even greater amount of literary depth, creative density, and speculative possibility than some tv shows that ran for 6+ seasons. It’s all about pacing and quality. There’s nothing wrong with playing one epic 10-hour standalone session of D&D once a year and walking away with amazing stories from it. I run weekly games, oftentimes out of some published adventure that lends itself well to the frequent character add-drop needs of an irregular group, but I really enjoy having secondary adventures in the works for months at a time that I can use on their own when they’re ready, having spent so much time and effort tweaking them.
I’ve spent the last few years playing D&D at college and over the summers when I return home. Each semester or summer break, I usually DM 4-6 sessions and that’s it. Within 4-6 sessions I try to make a “full” adventure happen, almost like a tv miniseries. Characters can return from a previous semester, but by and large the beginning, middle, and end of the story all happen in a much smaller span of time and with only 1 or 2 chances to level up.
“Inactive gamer” is a faulty premise. I could consider myself to be “currently in the regular habit of playing,” but as I write this I’m actually in between sessions, and for all I know there could be unforeseen upcoming life circumstances that will keep that next session from ever coming. For all I know, the session I ran last Friday might be the last one I’ll ever run with this group. But that wouldn’t make me an inactive gamer. Because even if the next chance I get to play is a big 10-hour standalone one-shot two years from today, then I’ll still be a D&D player.
Enjoy your one-shot sessions more. There doesn’t need to be “next time we play.”