Sometimes you finish a super fun roleplaying campaign, and all you can think is that you want more. MOAR. So why not run a sequel campaign, or at least badger your GM until they do it? That’s what we’re talking about today. Listen as we discuss the hurdles to such sequels, how you can best succeed, and why a certain GM who shall remain nameless* should really run part two of their campaign already.
Generously transcribed by Anonymous. Volunteer to transcribe a podcast.
You’re listening to the Mythcreants podcast with your hosts: Oren Ashkenazi, Wes Matlock, and Chris Winkle.
Oren: This episode is brought to you by our patron Kathy Ferguson, professor of political theory in Star Trek.
Chris: You are listening to the Mythcreant podcast. I’m Chris and with me today is…
Chris: And today we are doing a sequel, talking about sequels to roleplaying campaigns.
I kinda have a hypothetical sequel campaign that I think someone should run, maybe Wes can help me out here, but I feel like if someone had run a game where we were teenagers and had magic powers we should definitely have a sequel to that. Wes, do you think I’m onto something here?
Wes: Yeah that sounds like something that I would have enjoyed playing so much the hypothetical first time that I would just be almost begging whoever ran that game to run a sequel adventure.
Oren: Right. Because it feels like since we were teenagers, we have completed one character arc, but the rest of our character’s lives were still ahead of us, and there was hypothetically more to learn about the way the magic in that setting works.
Wes: Right, and more to learn about how our characters would grow and develop with their relationships and deal with the fallout from the previous adventure. [Laughter]
Chris: Okay, so, theoretically if someone ran what was only their very first campaign and their players were still demanding a sequel to it a year later, maybe like say on a podcast, what would they need to know before doing it? Just asking for a friend.
Oren: Right, okay, right. If we’re done with our giant in-joke reference, the first thing I can recommend to people who want to do sequel campaigns is be in college. [Chris laughs]
Wes: That’s expensive!
Oren: Well, advice isn’t always cheap! [All laugh]
But okay so I used to run sequel campaigns all the time. For a long time that was actually the default of my gaming group — that we would run one campaign and then we would run another campaign in that setting. We did that so much with various games that I seriously started considering getting abilities to make my character immortal so I could play the same character over and over again.
Wes: Sorry to interrupt but, did you just not want to play a different character?
Oren: No I just thought it would be kinda neat!
Chris: To have a character that lasted from campaign to campaign, especially if the other characters change over because that would make them special.
Oren: I did this primarily when either I was in college or when my GM was in college – I was in high school when this started. But during that time period, everyone had lots of free time, and sort of reliable schedules and we were all in the same place. So it all worked out. Then suddenly we were done with college and we all got busy schedules that, you know, were not that reliable, and suddenly running sequel campaigns became way harder.
Chris: Mostly because of just the logistics of getting everyone in the same room together.
Oren: Right yeah, because it’s hard enough to get people together for one campaign. [All: Right]
Wes: I found in my own situation now that it has been harder to get people together, that I tend to be able to get people more jazzed about new campaign, new characters — that seems to force them into it a little bit easier.
Chris: Right because it has a certain novelty if you’re starting something new.
Oren: Let’s put it this way. In order for a sequel campaign to be something you really want to do, if that’s not your standard, there’s a few things you need. First you need the players to want a sequel campaign. [All: Yeah]
Very often at the end of even a successful campaign there’s a certain like ‘Well that was fun! But I’m kind of done with that now.’ – right? Even if you had a good time, it was fun, but you’re not really eager to go back. So you need to have that.
And then you need to have somewhere for the campaign to go. Because – and this is one of the main reasons I don’t run sequel campaigns much anymore, because in conclusions I tend to pull out all the stops! Just because my goal is to make everyone have fun at the climax and I don’t want anyone to feel like they came away from it like they didn’t have the greatest climax they’ve ever had. So I just make everything happen, and I resolve all the plots, all the plot threads, and everything is resolved now.
And it ‘s like, well we could play a sequel to that game, but what would we do? Right? Everything is finished now.
Chris: Yeah that makes sense…
Wes: Yeah, that’s something we see in ordinary media, right? If something’s called a sequel but the events in the first one have almost no relation to the events in the second one, then it’s not really a sequel, right? We talk about ‘oh it’s like a spiritual sequel — it’s like, the same ideas’, I’m thinking True Detective here, but that’s a series or, you know, anthologies in stories and stuff.
Chris: Kind of like in Mad Max where technically it’s sort of the same universe and sort of the same central character, but we don’t actually have to adhere to anything we were doing before.
Oren: Yeah Mad Max is more of an anthology story in the same way that True Detective is. Where this can really become a problem is if you end the story with the main character riding off into the sunset with their sweetheart — then you start the next one and it’s like, well… What are they going to do? And I just finished reading a book series where that happened, where the first book was really good and at the end they resolved all of the problems and ride off into the sunset. Then there’s a sequel and they basically do nothing for most of the book!
Wes: “We’re really happy!”
Oren: But they tell other people of the plot of the previous book, because everyone wants to hear about their old adventures. That could be an issue in a campaign as much as it can be in media.
Oren: You can make things a little easier for yourself if you run an indirect sequel, where this is in the same world, but you’re not playing the same characters. Like time has passed and you’re dealing with different problems now. This gives you the ability that you can show the effects of what your characters did. Maybe we’re not playing the same characters, but hey, we founded a business in the last campaign and now that business is everywhere. We buy stuff that’s branded with our logo, right!
Chris: We brought the moon back into the sky and in the next campaign in the same world there’s a moon there now. That’s not a real life example at all.
Oren: You can do stuff like that, and you can have different levels of connection. You can have a story that technically takes place in the same world, but so far away that it might as well not – or you could have it take place in the same area, 50 years later. In that sort of scenario one of the things you have to keep watch on is, it’s surprising how often a setting is time dependent.
For example, if you set your campaign during the period of a certain level of firearms technology, where firearms are advanced enough that they use them but not advanced enough that it has completely outmoded swords, that window is not a big window. And it’s very easy to find yourself where, okay, I’ll run another campaign in that setting, but then okay, did time just stand still and the guns didn’t advance at all, or what? And that can be a little weird. Something else to keep in mind.
Chris: I have to say I have not actually played in very many sequel campaigns. The one that I did that was closest to having a problem with, it was like a mixed group problem where some people are from the previous campaign and some people aren’t. And it creates this dynamic where the players that were in the previous campaign have history together that they spend time building on and making their in-jokes and, you know, it makes the other players feel kind of left out of the fun. And the GM too. It’s really easy to favor the characters that they have history with — that they’ve played previous games with.
So you can have a very lopsided experience where some players are getting a special experience and the other ones feel left out. I do think that you can probably solve this by putting an extra effort in to make sure the new characters feel more central, particularly to the plot of the new campaign. I think that’s probably the best correction there.
Oren: I mean that’s something the GM has to actively work at. If the GM is passive in that scenario, then it’s going to be a problem because the story will naturally pull in the direction of the characters who are already established, even if you’re not playing the same characters, right? This was something that, during The Rising Tide play test that I did, I had the second group of playtesters that I ran were playing the kids of the first group, and I had one or two new players and I had to make sure, even though they weren’t playing the same characters, all of these players had played together in the setting before except for this one person. I had to extra to bring them into the fold and make sure they felt included.
Chris: I wasn’t in that campaign but I do remember those players would share notes and histories for how they came from their parents and stuff like that, so they were definitely leveraging the history of their previous characters a lot in their gameplay which is great and fun for them. But it creates basically the same dynamic as if they were playing the same character.
Oren: Right. And that player made it easy for me because his whole shtick was that he wasn’t from around here and so he didn’t know anything about these weird shenanigans. He was constantly in a state of, ‘Wait, really?’ and being like ‘You guys are so weird’, and that was his thing. So that fit naturally into the meta context of him also being a new player to an established group. But yes. That’s definitely a thing that the GM has to be on the lookout for.
Unfortunately I have been the player who was in the previous game and gets too much spotlight and, I mean, it was kinda fun for me but I felt bad for everybody else.
Chris: Yeah. I think how you do this here is actually not too different from what you see in a lot of TV shows or, in continuous streams of movies, where you have a cast of characters that everybody’s familiar with. Then when you introduce a new character, that character is really relevant to the current plot, right? We see these main cast members in a show, and then when we introduce a new character in a specific episode it’s because that character is tied in with the episode plot. And that gives them a reason for being there, and that’s kind of… you know, you have to make them a more central character than they usually are if it’s if it’s just one NPC in a TV show.
Oren: I am also a big fan of time jumps, assuming you’re playing the same characters, I’m a big fan of having a long enough period of time pass that you can do a couple of things. You can justify changes to your character if there was something about them you didn’t like or you’re not interested anymore, you can say that yeah, at the end of the last game my character was really into baseball cards and it would be kind of weird if he just suddenly wasn’t — but let’s say this game takes place 10 years later, then he’s over baseball cards. It happens. And that provides justification for that.
Mechanically it also provides an easier justification for redistributing points, or just making your character do something different than they did before – because ‘yeah I spent all that time training to collect football cards, and I’ve had good luck with that’. And then it also lets you reset the story a little bit, so you’re not constantly playing in the shadow of what happened last time. [All agree]
And fun fact? This strategy also works for NOT roleplaying games. Example A, see The Legend of Kora, which has a time jump between seasons 3 and 4, and it is really well used. They used it to do all of those things I just talked about.
Chris: Yeah I know for that campaign that I ran, it was definitely like a small town supernatural high school game, and one of the reasons it has so much sequel potential, is that I specifically designed it so that there were a group of teenagers who would be going through a transition and then the game would stop as soon as that transition was finished. It wasn’t like a stop-when-they-ride-into-the-sunset exactly, it was just supposed to just focus on the transformation aspect.
Also it’s definitely a situation where there’s only so much I feel like I can do in a small town. I don’t want the Buffy situation where there’s like hell mouth and everything happens in this small town. It’s, you know, this small town is tapped out so maybe it’s time to move to college.
Oren: Or we could get a castle.
Chris: Suddenly a castle appears in the town! You know it was just hidden in the woods, nobody told us before.
Oren: The last time that I’ve ran a really successful direct sequel where people were playing the same characters — this was years ago now — the first part of the game was the players were starting off as basically factory workers in this steampunk industrial city. The story was them fighting the power because the evil robber barons who ran the city were oppressing people and doing bad stuff. In the end they rise up in revolution and overthrow the evil robber barons and take over the city. Then I did a time jump because I knew that from there the natural advancement was, you took the city, now you have to run the city. And the time jump gave me a few things that let me sort of settle things down so I could figure out what story I wanted, but it also allowed the players to get some new abilities that would be relevant for their now-we-are-in-charge-of-the-city position.
If I had just been like, well, now you have to run the city, they’d be like, we don’t have any running-the-city skills. All of our skills are revolution skills. And while that is sadly realistic, it is not really the game I wanted to run. And there was also an out-of-game pause. We played something else for three or four months, and during that time period I made a bunch of fake newspaper clippings to keep people informed about what was happening in this setting during this time jump.
Chris: Very nice!
Oren: You don’t have to go that far! That’s pretty elaborate!
Chris: Glad to hear that!
Oren: The reason that I did that was that the characters in that game had a serious interest in newspapers — it was just a thing that they did. Weird theme in a lot of my games, actually. A lot of people like newspapers.
The thing to learn from that example is that sometimes the story will have a natural place to go and sometimes it won’t. In fact I should actually preface that. That game was technically a three part game. The first one I ran way back and it was when they were in a tiny village and I played that and then the next game picked up like… a hundred years later and the village was a giant city, everyone was playing different characters, we had a mix of people who’d been there before and people who hadn’t, and then that escalates further to now we have to deal with the whole country.
Different campaigns will have different levels of escalation. Compared to that I just ran in Torchbearer, where at the end the players literally defeated an evil god, and also defeated the giant evil Elvin empire, it’s like, there’s really nowhere to go from that.
Oren: It’d be like, now we’re fighting the GALAXY, right?
Chris: I think you pointed this out on one of your posts on sequels. The conflict either needs to escalate or it needs to change in nature. So going from being revolutionaries to trying to manage – to rule – is a very different kind of conflict that keeps it fresh. But if you have room to escalate that does open up another option.
Oren: Very often this sort of stuff will happen by accident. Like, you can plan it if you want to, if you’re ambitious or very confident that your group will still be available for after this game, then you can plan that sort of stuff in. In my case it’s usually more often like, ‘Oh look, that campaign would make a good sequel. I didn’t mean for that to happen, but let’s do it’. In particular, the thing about Chris’s game was that that game was super character driven, and I got really attached to my character to a certain extent, I just want to inhabit that character again. [Laughs]
There’s a certain level of, like, RPG fan service going on here, where it’s like, even though there are all the things in place to make a good sequel for this game, I almost just want a sequel even if it’s not good, just to see that character do stuff again. [All laugh]
Chris: That is a really good point though, if a lot of times moving to a sequel campaign means you’re starting a whole new plot again, sometimes you’re moving forward in time, changing place, but the thing that really stays the same, that makes it an official sequel, usually is some level of characters.
We could talk about whether another campaign that is in the same world, but doesn’t have any of the same characters, really counts as a sequel or not. But if you spend a lot of time in a campaign, investing in the characters and setting up the character emotions and the character interactions, that probably does set it up better for a sequel because that’s the thing that carries over.
Wes: Something else to consider is if when you are bringing new people into the group, you have to be extra careful to match the right type of player, because if you’re just running a fresh campaign from scratch, you get your group and you kind of design the campaign around them as you go – or at least that’s how I do it. Where I’ll start off some general ideas, but I don’t usually plan too much in advance until I see what parts my characters are interested in and how my players want us to go. But if you’re doing a sequel campaign, even if it’s not a direct sequel, there are certain things like themes and ways the world works that you have already set and if you bring in players who don’t share that expectation and have the wrong expectation and think the world should work a different way with different dynamics, that can be a disaster.
And I’ve had that happen too, where the new players that I brought in just… they did not get the dynamics of how this world worked and the mood that I was going for. That was a horrible experience and I wish I’d never done it.
Wes: That’s just something to be aware of.
Chris: Right. There’s also play style. I mean, the campaign I ran, a lot of it was almost like slice of life, where we were doing a lot of roleplaying with emphasis on the characters – there was just a lot of scenes where it’s like, ‘Hey, let’s talk to a teacher now’ or ‘Let’s talk to my parents’, you know, and –
Oren: One of them is a vampire. [Laughter]
Chris: – if we brought in somebody who was very mechanics focused and wasn’t into roleplaying, that would be a really, really bad match. If they had come in at the onset I probably would have changed the campaign to make it more conflict based and more mechanical. But coming into a group that expects those kinds of lotsa, more easy going roleplaying scenes for fun, wouldn’t work very well.
Wes: So based on all this there are a lot of factors to consider, and, Oren, you have a lot of experience with this. Have you ever thought or maybe considered, I don’t know, almost doing like an exit interview with the players after the first campaign? Or, I’m thinking, I guess my question is: For a sequel campaign, how much of the burden for the events and the planning should be solely on the GM?
Oren: That’s the sorta thing I think would be good if your group was in a position to make it work. One of the main reasons I don’t do a lot of sequel campaigns anymore is that by the end of the campaign, what’s usually happening is that my players’ schedules have changed – since they change a lot, we’re millennials, that’s what our schedules do – and I figure out that my players in a lot of cases are fighting their new schedule to be able to keep coming to game.
On the one hand, that’s incredibly flattering that they like my game enough that they are willing to have less sleep because their work schedule changed to still make it to a session, or to find a babysitter or whatever. But that also means that they are looking forward to the relief of not having to do that anymore. Which is why I find it can be a challenge to put more of this on the players, just because very often they’re already doing everything they can just to show up.
Wes: I see, yeah.
Oren: That has been my experience. I’m not saying that you can’t do stuff like that, like, having a session afterwards where you talk to everyone and ask if they are interested in continuing this game — I’m not saying it can’t work, just in my experience that would’ve been difficult.
Wes: That’s a good point.
Chris: I think for me it’s interesting, the question of how do you assess interest in the next one? I do think that especially right after the campaign has ended, it would be really hard to ask people if they are interested in another one because I think there’d be too much pressure to say yes because of the suggestion that if you say no, that you’re saying that you think their campaign was bad or something.
I do think it’s a little easier if you wait a while and then ask people, ‘Hey do you have the time and interest in a sequel?’ – and then if they say no, it could easily just be because they’re too busy now. It doesn’t feel like it has as much commentary on whether or not they’re opting or not opting into a new campaign.
Oren: Yep, I absolutely agree. It’s also important – and this is where a certain amount of group participation is required – that everyone has to go into a sequel with the understanding that it may not be exactly the same.
Oren: – as the first one. Because, RPGs, sometimes they’re really fun for reasons that are hard to replicate. Sometimes the beauty of what happened was the result of a mix of factors that aren’t going to happen again, and if you go into this new campaign and rather than make it the most fun, you’re trying to make it exactly like the old one, ehm, that’s just unrealistic. That’s something to keep in mind, and that’s useful for the GM and the players to know. Just so that everyone has fun with what they’re doing, but don’t insist that every session has to be like the previous ones. [Sounds of agreement]
Wes: Have you ever run or participated in a prequel campaign?
Oren: UHhmmmmmmm. Hm. Hah. Hm. Maybe?
Chris: That’s a good one, trying to think…
Wes: I haven’t.
Wes: Not a true prequel.
Chris: No, I think I wasn’t actually in roleplaying campaigns during my college years, so I haven’t had the same intense campaign history that Oren has had. I roleplayed before I went to college with my family, and then I roleplayed after college with new friends that roleplayed. So I have had actually very few prequel and sequel and those kinds of campaign experience.
Oren: After some thought the answer is yes.
Oren: I have actually – not like super direct sequels, but, back in my high school gaming groups, which was bad for a lot of reasons but did have some pretty epic long-term campaigns, we had one GM who ran a three-part campaign. We started with the first campaign that he ran when he first showed up, then he ran the sequel which we were all really excited about because we all died at the end of the first one. So we were like, ‘We gotta get revenge on that bad guy’. And then he ran the third one where we’re like, okay, the bad guy has won and we have won, now it’s best out of three, and that was cool. In those games we have sometimes gone back and run games that took place earlier in the chronology than the main campaign.
They weren’t super direct – we didn’t try to do things where like, ‘okay, so you remember how that boss at the end of the first campaign had the super special red sword, well you’re going to play the game where he gets that sword!’ We didn’t do stuff like that because we all know that roleplaying games are really unpredictable and setting up your timeline like that is a recipe for disaster. Instead we played stuff where we would occasionally meet:
‘Hey, this is the grandfather of your character. Say hello.’
‘Hi, granddad of other characters’.
You know, stuff like that.
Wes: I feel like a prequel is like… you can run a campaign, and from there you might be able to identify enough of the things we’re talking about to run a sequel campaign. I feel like doing a good prequel requires a lot of forethought. It’s just anticipating so much and assuming that there’s going to be more. Like it’s a big burden on planning for sure.
Chris: Or, it needs extra room away from the original story. We already talked about how it’s beneficial to set the sequel some years away sometime, you just need a change of characters etc. Well now a prequel, because of that whole predetermined effect, it needs even more space.
This reminds me of… Oren, didn’t you run a campaign that wasn’t a prequel to another campaign, but it was a prequel in the Avatar universe? The idea was it was in this whole period of time after Kyoshi’s death or something. And that gives it a lot of space from any of the events that actually happened in the Avatar storyline.
Oren: Yeah it was more or less completely cut off from the events of the TV show. Although even then at the end I did kind of imply that because of the character’s actions the Fire Nation war never happened. [Laughter]
I couldn’t resist. But that all definitely happened…
And Chris, speaking of prequels, I think for your game we should run a version where it’s the same characters but we’re all five, – [Chris laughs]
Wes: Grade school shenanigans!
Oren: And whenever anyone thinks, ‘How come this never came up in oiur first campaign’, we can just employ Star Trek Discovery logic where it’s like, we just never talked about it. [Laughter]
Yeah, whatever, Spock totally has a sister who is famous across the entire Federation and had visions of a weird death angel with him. That’s fine. He just didn’t talk about it. It just didn’t come up. You know he never said he didn’t have a sister who said these things!
Alright, alright… we are out of time, so I need everyone at home to cross your fingers and send us positive energy for Chris to run this campaign that we’re publicly badgering her to run, and otherwise if anything we said piqued your interest you can leave a comment on the website and Mythcreants.com, otherwise we will talk to you next week.
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