I have a situation where our group is a mix of people who are still at University and others have already graduated. Those of us who are finished all have jobs but live fairly close together and can meet frequently where The guys at Uni don't have the time or money to commit to a set of regular sessions. With that in mind I'm slowly assembling a campaign to be run over the summer holidays so everyone is around and can take part, however in the run-up to that I would still like to have a few games to try out some new ideas, get feedback, and help flesh out my main storylines.
My intention is to use these one-shot games (well, they might expand over couple of sessions, but generally very short arcs) to do various "setup" plots, explaining the situation during the main campaign and exploring issues potentially present. An example might be that a group previously set in motion some events which lead to a current-day crisis, and rather than just saying "oh yeah this stuff happened" I planned to use the one-shots to actually play through some of these significant events.
As these events could have happened a few years before I set the main campaign I was not intending on the characters used being the PCs for the campaign. Depending on their fate they might be referenced, found dead, or return as NPCs. I would be writing the main campaign based on these outcomes as opposed to having a precise script - if 3 people raiding a tomb get into trouble then I won't deliberately try to kill/help them and instead use the result as played to determine how it affects the main campaign. If one survives perhaps he knows something the campaign PCs want to find out, but if they all perished the PCs could be hunting for them and find them (and maybe what caused their untimely demise).
The PCs for the main campaign won't necessarily know what happened in these prologue stories, however OOC the players will already have played through the events themselves. Taking the example above the players would potentially know what happened to our previous tomb robbers and be able to skip a number of investigative steps, which would ruin the suspense. Granted I could have years to develop the situation, but if I mention a rumour of funny goings-on in the area around an old tomb I suspect the players will try to put 2 and 2 together. Maybe that could work in my favour, I'm not sure.
How can I make sure that I have enough ties to the main campaign in these games without giving my players too much information which would unduly influence the main campaign? Are there ways in which I can design my "prologue" to attempt to not give away too much?