Saturday, July 18, 2009

A Meta-Chronology of the Game World (Part Two)

A Meta-Chronology of the Game World
Part II
Part One here

After we had the blow up in the Pillar of Fire Third Continent game I decided a couple of things. First that I wouldn't run a villains game again and second that I'd put the campaign on hiatus. I still had a number of players interested despite the inter-party friction, but I knew that it would only get worse. I said I would start it again later, but I knew I wouldn't. I could have probably moved on to a finish, we'd had three major story arcs in the campaign already and I could have just headed for the wrap up, but I'd lost enthusiasm. At that point my scorecard for complete versus incomplete campaigns wasn't good-- two complete versus four incomplete.

I eventually decided I wanted to head back to the Second Continent-- both because I wanted to run Gurps again, and because I wanted to draw from material I'd already created rather than starting from scratch. At that point I was running the Game Room and needed regular games to fill nights out. In retrospect I probably should have been pushing more on the miniatures and ccg angle, but I had separate days and nights for that. RPGs are a hard commodity to keep a revenue stream going for. But that's an entirely different story for thinking about later.

I decided to run two parallel campaigns on the Second Continent. The first game would be a mix of new players and old players from the Thonak Campaign. The second game would mostly draw from the collapsed Third Continent game-- although a number of months, maybe even a year had passed since then. I had an idea for an arc which would reference the First Continent and solve a couple of problems I'd been thinking about-- primarily the removal of classic Games Workshop style Chaos from the world. I also knew that I wanted to pull back threads from the last Second Continent game-- unresolved plots, characters and settings. More importantly, and I still don't know exactly how this came to me, I wanted both games to begin with a pretty serious natural disaster-- in the end a massive tidal wave which swept the western coast. I think that was a reaction to Paul having a hurricane in one of his games and, while it had a massive landscape impact, it was more like heavy rain for those of us traveling through it.

In any case, those games got running and went along smoothly. I set up a couple of events that lay in the future and joined up the timeline for both. Then we had a set of parallel supers campaigns, ambitious but not well thought through, collapse. I took most of the players from my section of that and offered them a straight fantasy campaign, what would end up being the third parallel campaign in that set. We had some shake out among all of the games-- players switching between groups, PCs dying, some players leaving and others added over time. I managed to coordinate all three groups arriving at the same event at the same time-- they shared notes and I advanced the plot pretty significantly there. After about two years of play I wrapped up all three campaigns over the course of two weekends.

Each campaign had a very different feel to it, and they all went different places. One group focused more on one region while the others traveled heavily. Most of the PCs deaths ended up being fairly heroic and a number of former PCs appeared, some as good guys and some as bad guys, with heaps of death all around. I think they really helped define the world as a real setting, both for me and for the various players. More people gained a sense of the backstory, culture and the ethos of the setting

I was getting into the last third of those Gurps campaigns when I played in a terrible Rolemaster game. More properly I should say I played with a terrible gamemaster. He had that strong sense of players being in opposition to the GM-- and that the GM should do his level best to kill the PCs. That went for a while and then when we got too powerful (like level five) he rebooted, at which point I dropped out. Eventually he stopped running at all, thank god, and I offered to run a RM campaign for his players. At this point I'd decided that Rolemaster really only worked in the context of the Third Continent for me. It is easy to see the difference between something like a supers game and a fantasy game-- the genre really drives the system engine. It is less easy to read how much of a difference that system makes if you're doing straight fantasy. Rolemaster lends itself to an epic nature, even when you're doing more conventional stuff. Gurps, on the other hand, always keeps one foot in the real and the dangerous, even when the stakes are epic.

The campaign, which ended up being called the Pavis campaign, profoundly helped me change my perception of the Third Continent. I'd had time to really look at the cosmology of the Glorantha stuff and how they dealt with the constant presence of the Gods. With that in mind I slowly began changing things. I'd started out with a heavy focus on the Lythic pantheon from Harn, but gave that up-- making those cults far away and more background. At the same time I pretty literally used most of the Gloranthan adventures I had. I set it some ten years after the last Third Continent game and, at the time, imagined that it took place roughly parallel in time with the Second Continent games I was running (which meant I had four campaigns set in the same world running at the same time).

While the group traveled quite a bit, Pavis as a place became very real and important to the players. We had some missteps in the game-- I ended up introducing some side plots which took away from the main thrust of the narrative. I learned an important lesson there, don't go all over the place. If you've established a location as significant and the players have invested in it, don't drag them away halfway through. You can do that, but it should be a powerful move-- consider the raising of the stakes at the end of Harry Potter 6-- where it becomes clear we're not going immediately back to Hogwarts for the next book. We do end up going back, but their time spent away is a singular event which gives more power to the scene when they do return.

That RM was especially interesting in that it carried over from the end of my time running the game room. We moved the game to another location and kept playing for probably another year after that. I'd say we played for over two years in that game, if not longer. Its also interesting in that I've pretty consistently run for that core group on alternate Sundays since then. That's at least thirteen years, with a few breaks in between campaigns; we're on our fifth campaign right now.

I took a little break between the end of the triple Second Continent games, especially because of the career shift and general screw job I'd gotten from my employers. Eventually I decided to start two new Second Continent games, again trying to run parallel games. One, I believe started even before my job finished. I think, in retrospect, I should have probably waited a little longer before beginning those campaigns. One game went for about a half-dozen sessions before it became clear that the player dynamic wasn't working. I like to think I'm a little better about managing those things now-- and figuring out player needs. However for the life of me I can't remember what exactly put the dagger in that game. We had some interesting characters and plots, but a couple of the players really seemed out of it-- disinterested or just generally hostile to the setting. I ended up just not running it anymore, which I think was a loss-- we had some great characters-- Mark Base's Thief “Pooky”, Sherri's character Auzumel and Scott's Dwarf.

The other game had a rocky start at first as well. We ended up losing over time three players, but eventually added some others, ending up with a solid table of six. Scott moved over from the other campaign after it ended which added something. We also had Sharon joining us for the first time, which ended up being probably the best thing we could have hoped for. That game ran for a couple of years. Timeline-wise, I'd moved things forward about thirty years from the last triple set of Second Continent games. Some NPCs existed who'd been former PCs but I ended up being lighter. I wanted to add some new stuff and I also began to very consciously began to change and eliminate material on the Second Continent which had been borrowed too wholesale from other sources. By this time I'd established a pretty clear cosmology for the world I'd resigned myself to the Lythic Pantheon there, but I tried to make some subtle changes and bring in some of the mythic flavor from the Third Continent. I'd eventually give up on that and stick with a more High Medieval and Early Modern conception of the role of the Church.

It is also worth noting that we had another game take place during all of this-- Scott's Rolemaster campaign set on an alternate and very distant take on my setting-- a world which had been destroyed by the actions of certain forces, notably the Ardorans. Scot had absorbed quite a bit of the history and used it as a kind of spice to flavor his game. Though not my game, I do count it in and among those set in this world. He did a full and complete arc with it.

Current score then-- eight complete campaigns and five incomplete.

Next-- Still more campaigns, some sidebar trips and the timeline starts getting really wonky.