March 23, 2014
It’s Over. Or is It?
Sometimes games end.
And sometimes they come back from the dead. Just because a campaign is finished does not always mean it’s finished forever. Players will often love returning to old characters, seeing how they have grown, how they and the world they inhabit have changed. Other times the characters may change, but the setting remains the same, creating a continuity that I have found players really enjoy.
For example, my longest running campaign was a three-year-long game of Dungeons & Dragons 3rd and 3.5. When that campaign ended, we took a break from it, then came back and resumed the game later with a different story, like a series of books. Later, we played a different game in that same world – this time playing Dungeons & Dragons fourth edition – where the players took the part of the children of the original characters. That game went on for about a year and a half. Now, we are looking to play yet another installment of that same chronicle, only this time set several generations in the future, and likely running it in either G.U.R.P.S. or Pathfinder. Characters change, and even some players, but it all fits into the same ever-growing world, which gives the players a real sense of history and belonging.
However, as with almost every aspect of running a game, this can also go terribly wrong. This is especially the case when bringing in new players who were not a part of previous segments. They lack the same nostalgic viewpoint as continuing players and will sometimes feel left out of certain in-game references. There is also the risk that new characters, even in a whole new segment of the chronicle, will feel underwhelming when compared to the possibly legendary exploits of the previous characters. That is not to say that you cannot make it work, of course. You just have to keep this in mind. Remember, the game is always about the player characters you have now. Not previous ones. Sure, they may have had their impact on the world and even come around for cameos, but they cannot hog the spotlight. Doing things like having the previous characters seek out the new characters, or find something they cannot deal with but the new characters can is essential for giving this new generation of heroes their own chance to shine.
In terms of returning to an old game that has been put on hold or even ended previously, you also need to really think about how you are going to challenge them. Sure, you can always weaken them somehow – either by having them loose gear or even character levels/experience, but players are often not too happy about seeing all of their hard earned loot and experience just whisked away by a Gamemaster’s whimsy. Even if it works for the story of the game, if it does not work for the players you should not do it. After all, players can get really invested in their characters. Sometime to the extent that they just want their story to be done so they can finally have that well-earned reprieve. If that is the case, then you might be better off starting a whole new segment of the chronicle rather than dragging back old characters. On the other hand, some players are more than willing to let their characters suffer for the chance to play them again, but this must be a choice made by the players – though you can encourage them however you like. This is currently going on with a character in my Shadowrun game who had to lose everything and re-learn how to do what it is he used to. Within the story, it works. He was a hacker and now, thanks to the changes in Fifth Edition, the whole Matrix is a brand new beast, making all his old tricks obsolete. It’s awesome, but more importantly, it was his choice to bring the character back.
Still, despite all the ways in which it can go wrong, it can also go very, very right.
As always, thanks for reading and I wish you all good gaming, be it with old characters or new.
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