It’s unlikely when starting a new campaign that you begin with the end in mind. If you do, great, but for the majority of us we start at the beginning and let the end define itself over the lifespan of the campaign. Now, not all campaigns have an ending–I am certain that many of our readers will attest to campaigns lasting years, if not decades, or are even still progressing. As the lifespan of the campaign draws on, these stories can begin to span virtual lifetimes. So what concepts help define this generational campaign?
The Mechanical Conundrum
A handful of systems over the years have looked to incorporate or define the mechanics of a generational campaign within themselves. Probably the most readily quoted is the venerable Pendragon RPG, where each adventure spans a year. Between adventures (“seasons”) the players and GM are taking care of bookkeeping activities, courting, or healing near-mortal wounds.
As the years–and adventures–roll on, age takes its toll upon the characters, births and deaths take place, and the players are invested in not only their character but conceptually the entire family of their characters.
Other examples include Aria, Exalted: The Dragon-Blooded, or A Song of Ice and Fire RPG to name a few. (I’m certain our readers can share a few more in the comments section as well.) In some cases (Legend of the Five Rings), the death of a character can provide some small benefit to a new character of the same clan, reflecting the storied history of the family.
Truthfully, the generational campaign doesn’t require these mechanical trappings. You can turn any campaign into one that spans centuries or longer.
The Roll of Years
In general, there are some elements to keep in mind should you desire to have your campaign span multiple generations.
- As the World Turns (Albeit Slowly): Towns grow, cities burn, political boundaries change and leaders change. The world should change around the characters, reflecting the passage of time. Or, perhaps as an interesting element, a campaign remains frozen as in amber, a mystery unto itself.
- Mapping the Tree: A basic family tree should be on your to-do list to help keep track of who is who. Speaking from experience, running A Song of Ice and Fire would have been near impossible without a detailed family tree for the PCs, one of which sired twelve siblings! A minor in genealogy is a bonus.
- Technology Marches On: Much like the physical aspects of your world should change over time, so should the common elements and technology that characters interact with on a day-to-day basis. Based on the technology level it could be as simple as the introduction of gunpowder or in the far-future campaign, the use of metamorphs and clones. See also, Moore’s Law.
- So Go the PCs, So Must the Villains: Nothing should happen in a vacuum, so while progressing the lineage of the player characters make sure to not overlook their foils as well. The legacy villain, if you will, that transpires the years, fueled by whatever wrong the PCs may have righted in the past.
- Do It With Style: Your visual descriptions should adjust to reflect the changing of the times. Social convention, slang, and clothing within your game should slowly change, engendering a sense of time progressing. A memorable game that I played in based in the 80s was made more vibrant by the GM’s use of slang and clear descriptions that harkened back to that time period.
So whether you’re using a game that inherently supports a generational structure or creating your own, expanding the campaign to include these elements adds an additional layer of depth to exploit. For my part, I’ve been party to very few generational games although I would like to play (and run) more.
Any tips or extremely long campaigns that you’d like to share? Tell us below!