Thursday, February 27, 2014

After the After: One Campaign Ends, Another Begins

What happens after the end of a campaign? I’m usually torn between walking away or playing out the epilogue stories. The former leaves imaginative space at the cost of closure. The latter runs the risk of drawing out the narrative or undercutting the final scenes. I’ve seen that happen both ways. My friend Dave ran a multi-year fantasy campaign that ended with one of the PCs torn out of time and witnessing the events of the future. It worked and remains among my favorite final sessions. On the other hand, I’ve played  campaigns where the GM imposed a postscript on the story which destroyed what we’d done, made players choices look foolish, or showed the PCs making character-violating decisions. Generally I’ve tried to err on the side of not saying what happens. I want the players to imagine those tales for themselves.

That’s easiest in a game without a sequel. If you run many campaigns in the same world you have to work around that. You want to build on those past events. Direct follow ups raise the question of what former PCs are doing- the “why don’t we just call Superman?” problem. It becomes a easier with some kind of gap- year or decades. The GM can move the world forward, while still keeping some connection to the previous campaign. Legacy heroes and characters can appear. Plus you have the added advantage of being able to integrate the former PCs into the timeline and history. That’s a powerful reward for many. I used to manage a lengthy timeline- annotated and updated. The players loved being immortalized there. 

Most of the time I used small, generational shifts forward. They don’t require that much rewriting, the leave room for new plots, and maintain coherence. But I’ve also used larger jumps. We’d been playing our shared fantasy world for sixteen campaigns and nearly as many years. Multiple GMs ran in the setting across three different game-world continents. Then we had a break and reorganization of players. When we came back I jumped everything forward almost three centuries. That allowed me to make some drastic changes, show the fallout of certain choices, and introduce proto-steampunk technology to the setting. I don’t think everything worked with that shift, but it did generate two long-term campaigns (one lasting three years and the other seven years).

That seven-year campaign wrapped in December. It will be at least another year before I’ll want to return to that setting. At that point I’ll have to decide how I want to shift time forward: just a few years? a generation? a century? perhaps I ought to do a campaign set in the past? We’ve talked about using Microscope to fill in that gap of time. I’m torn- on the one hand I want player participation, on the other it is a world I’ve managed for almost thirty years. The group I’m playing with knows it almost as well as I do. I’ll have to consider what I gain and what I lose from that approach.

After the campaign ended I tried something new. Usually when I return to work on the next game I have to re-read my notes. I desperately try to piece together what happened in the last sessions. I’ll usually have a decent write-up of that, but less on the broader world and problems. This time I sat down a week after the game and inventoried open plot points. Some of these arose from the climax and some simply happened and hadn’t fully resolved. I’m hoping they’ll help when I prep the next game. You can see my list below as an example. It probably won’t mean much, but you can see how I structured things and how minimal I kept my questions. I suspect other GMs do this as a regular technique, but it is the first time I'd tried this immediately after a campaign wrap. 
  1. What permanent change(s) did the Ardoran Terrat affect? How much affected the Elvish homeland and how much elsewhere?
  2. Which Elves left and which remained behind? How many and what kinds of fragmented Elvish peoples remain?
  3. What’s the status of the Ardorans? Did the Patron banish them all or were some spared? What about Morgandine and his expedition to the planes to rescue some of the Ardorans?
  4. What will be the fallout from the appearance of the World Forest? Did it remain? Did it vanish? How does that affect the climate?
  5. What’s happened to the Shaddai? Has the rulership wheel shifted? Has the Orb been lost or restored? What about the three renegade houses and the Pyramid?
  6. What happened with Atlantae and the Vampires?
  7. What about the Dwarves now that the situation seems to have shifted with the Undead?
  8. What’s the aftermath of The Chaining and the Mage Wars? How extensive was that? Were the staff of Libri Vidicos able to stop that before it got out of hand?
  9. What’s the role, power, and form of the five new Elemental Dragons?
  10. Do the cracks to the other world remain in the Dry Plains? Did something bleed or fall through from or to there?
  11. Are the barriers between the continents still in lpace?
  12. Are new powers in control in the Wild Lands? Who is in charge there?
  13. How does Caldumaran succession resolve? Are the two crowns still united?
  14. Does Aoniae return? Is there a new Aoniae?
  15. Will there be more contact with Khinsai or does it remain isolated?
  16. What are the repercussions of the events on the spirit plane within Rhaglai? What’s going on with the ancestor possessors there?
  17. Do the Nithians hidden away still have power or some form of restraint?
  18. What’s the status of Libri Vidicos now that it has been exposed?
  19. Likewise, what’s the status of Codici Malefactus?
  20. What are the roles of the ring bearers in this new era?


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  2. My friend William's Champions campaign universe is possibly my favorite setting for running Superhero games, one of my favorite genres.

    The last time I ran this setting, the campaign started out amazingly awesome, but it end badly. Frustracted by two or three of the five players and clearly not getting through to them not matter what I did or said, I pretty much threw in the towl about three or four sessions before the last.

    This past weekend, in need of a one-shot/fill-in game and very much in a Supers mood, I revisited that setting in a game of Champions that featured two of the old players and their PCs and one new player with a brand new PC.

    Invigorated by this session, everyone voted to start up a new Champions campaign, but they wanted to keep the setting the same. So did I to be honest, but I also wanted to retcon the entire last 'season' and certainly the finale.

    Instead we came to a compromise; Most of the events during the last leg of the campaign happened but the last two villains escaped and have not been seen since. The new campaign takes place three years later with the new PCs as members of a Justice League/Avengers type team instead of being a part of the SHIELD-like organization that originally existed in place of a superhero team (which the previous campaign focused on),

    I often find it very difficult to revisit old campaigns and continue them, though not so old settings or worlds. Those I can go back to again and again as long as I can come up with a new angle on things and get some time and/or spatial distance away from the previous incarnation.

    Great post Lowell!

    1. I saw your post on that. Good to see that it sparked everyone's interest. Superheroes are an interesting genre for the question. I've seen some setting where it would feel really easily to drop back in after a gap and others I'd have a harder time with.

  3. I'd let the characters have a bit of time to describe their actions and then leave it at that normally if it's more of a Game rather than a Character-driven story. If the group was really in the psychological mind-set, I'd probably run a session or two consisting of scenes they want to play out. The triumphant return to their father, the engagement and marriage of two PCs, meeting again in that tavern they first visited all those years ago....

    1. That's interesting. I'd hadn't occurred to me to do a separate "epilogue" session for a campaign (One Year Later or something of that sort). My only concern would be about momentum- but thinking about it, that might work as a decompression technique.

    2. Use Shannon's idea and do a series of one-shots. Each episode wraps up each individual character...even though the other characters would be present. Don't fade into and out of the different episodes. Let it be jarring. Yes, you traveled half a continent to get to Edige's home, we're not covering that. We are simply diving straight into what happens upon your arrival and wrapping up things there.

    3. I ran a zombie (Romero style) game for 2 years. We played 1 session every week. We rarely missed a session. Everyone loved it, my most successful game ever. But it was getting repetitive for me.
      So at the conclusion of another fun chapter, I pulled out the Microscope book. They were unaware this would happen.
      I said to my players "Where are we next? What has happened? Did the world recover? Did it get worse? You tell me."
      We, mostly they, just finished creating the sequel. It picks up 20yrs later from Z day. New life in a campaign about the Undead. (-: