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Clone a Great Campaign and Make It Your Own

Posted By Martin Ralya On September 14, 2009 @ 1:03 am In GMing Advice | 10 Comments

I’ve never tried this, but it seems like a logical extension of the fact that GMs should be raging kleptomaniacs.

Over the years, I’ve played in some great campaigns — including some that were truly amazing and sublime. They all had one thing in common: they ended.

That’s not a bad thing, mind you — campaigns should end. But why leave it at that?

If you loved a game from 10 years back, why not try to recreate it? The mix would be different, and you’d be different, too, but I suspect a lot of what made it great the first time would carry over for the rerun.

Ranking your top 10 campaigns (an idea floated by a good friend of mine, who’s also in my gaming group), in addition to being fun and instructive in its own right, could produce some good candidates. If you want to steal a former campaign — yours or someone else’s — it would alsmost certainly be one that appeared in your top 10.

Importantly, if you looked at a campaign that was:

  • Run by another GM
  • Years ago
  • With a different group

…you’d be safe from repeating something that your current group would recognize. You’d have to acknowledge that they’d be different, but there’s a lot of room between “different” and “sucky remake.”

You’re a confident, sexy, new-age GM — you know how to tell something that was awesome a decade ago from something that would be awesome now. I bet most GMs could pull this off.

For me, I’d try to recreate my friend Stephan’s Twilight:2000 campaign from 2001 (oh, the irony). It’s my #2 campaign of all time, it was an absolute blast, it meets all of the criteria above — and its awesomeness isn’t just nostalgia. It was short-lived, so I felt like there was so much more I could see.

I could take the same building blocks — tense firefights, a delicious language barrier between comrades in arms, and, best of all, the incredibly evocative picture it painted of a world sliding inexorably into complete chaos — and use them to kick off a longer-running game, one that explored everything we never got to do back in the day.

I wouldn’t worry about recreating every detail — in fact, that wouldn’t be my goal at all. I’d be trying to replicate the feel, the big picture, and make my own small stuff. In movie terms, it’d be a remake with a different ending, not a shot-for-shot remake.

I think this could work pretty well, actually. How about you?

About  Martin Ralya

A father, husband, writer, small-press publisher, former RPG industry freelancer, and lifelong geek, Martin has been gaming since 1987 and GMing since 1989. He lives in Utah with his amazing wife Alysia and their awesome daughter Lark in a house full of books and games.




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10 Comments To "Clone a Great Campaign and Make It Your Own"

#1 Comment By Zig On September 14, 2009 @ 9:14 am

I think this is an interesting idea that could work nicely.

I’ve never attempted to re-create a former campaign in its entirety, but I often “re-purpose” bits and pieces from former campaigns, both ones I ran and played in.

For instance I have an NPC named Jedediah Randolph who appears in multiple campaigns. This particular one was used in both Shadowrun and D&D campaigns. He always owned a store named something like “Jedediah Randolph’s Emporium of Everything” where the PCs could find all kinds of items and especially information as Jed filled in the role of “Fixer” in any campaign he has been part of. I enjoy playing this particular NPC a great deal so it’s fun for me to include him, plus the players always like him and it gives them an obvious place to visit when looking for adventure or information.

I wouldn’t mind re-running my Shadowrun campaign that ran for several years, but the problem is my gaming group is pretty much unchanging so my players would have played the campaign the first time. So, in that case, it wouldn’t work, but I would love to try that sometime with a new group of players. Would be very entertaining to me to see what kind of solutions the players come up with compared to the first group to run through the campaign.

#2 Comment By Kurt “Telas” Schneider On September 14, 2009 @ 9:34 am

I’ve been kinda-sorta doing this all along, with everything from scenes to items to entire plot arcs. “Remember that? It was so cool, I’ll have to use it again.”

Does this mean I’m unimaginative, or just lazy? *scratches head*

#3 Comment By Troy E. Taylor On September 14, 2009 @ 9:37 am

The best example of this I can think of for D&D is the Temple of Evil / Village of Hommlet. I’ve been back with a different character and the same DM, and I know DMs who go back to this mega adventure again and again. Certainly, TSR/Wizards has capitalized on this by offering some version of this setting/campaign for every edition of the game.

But I was also part of a game where the GM had sought permission of a another GM to run an aspect of his homebrew because it was so compelling.

#4 Comment By Scott Martin On September 14, 2009 @ 10:17 am

Like Zig I’ve brought things back in bits and pieces, but rarely do I take big identifiable chunks. That’d be a nice way to work some structure in– but I’d have to be wary, and sure that I didn’t bring in too many assumptions.

Besides, we all know no plan survives contact with the PCs. No matter how similarly the game started, it’d probably go down very different paths– making it a fun and different experience the next time.

#5 Comment By Lee Hanna On September 14, 2009 @ 2:12 pm

This is something I have done a very few times, and will do again, notably in Twilight:2000. I ran the Polish campaign 3 times in the late ’80s (high school and 2 different colleges), but I never got the chance to repeat it (or explore many other modules) before the end of the Cold War sucked the interest out of that setting. I’d jump at the chance to repeat that again, depending on the players.

In 2nd & 3rd D&D, I’ve had one each really good campaign, and I would like to revisit each of those places. Not a campaign repeat, but a sequel for the same location and perhaps some or all of the same characters. There are at least 2 players wanting to restart one of them.

There was some discussion of replaying the G-D-Q AD&D series last week, but it was shot down.

I am warming up to replay some of the Star Frontiers, Star Wars and Traveller adventures from back in the day for my sons in the next few years. I hope to build a nice campaign out of that.

My wife has promised me that I can read her book of the Shackled City adventure path someday, when we’re really ready to declare it over. I’ve already constructed an outline from my player-character notes of how I might strip it down and re-run it in a pulp-’30s or Age of Piracy setting.

Maybe I’m unimaginative or stuck in nostalgia, but I think it can be a lot of fun to revisit things like this.

#6 Comment By Razjah On September 14, 2009 @ 6:11 pm

I wish I could do this, but at college we have an RPG club where we talk about the good and bad we had in the past. The networking is great, but the story time is killing me as I can’t steal as many ideas as I would like. Although stealing from the 4.0 game I play in to use in my Iron Heroes game is great fun, especially since the GM for 4e plays in my game. But I need to be a really sneaky bastard about that.

#7 Comment By Martin Ralya On September 14, 2009 @ 9:08 pm

I definitely don’t think this technique — or any variation thereon — equals a lack of imagination. Unlike movie remakes — which, when they come in a big rush like they have for the past several years, DO seem to signal that — reusing cool stuff as a GM just makes sense.

Who here has as much time to prep, or do anything, as they did during high school? I sure as fuck don’t. Why not save some time with a remake? ;-)

#8 Comment By Matthew J. Neagley On September 14, 2009 @ 9:35 pm

Remember also, that unlike movie remakes which often tend to be very similar (except when they’re excrutiatingly different!) The rule 0 (one of the many) of RPGs (nothing survives contact with the players) means that your remake game has about a snowball’s chance in hell of lasting two sessions without someone monkeywrenching the hell out of it (in a completely different way than they did the first time) and it’ll never be the same again.

#9 Comment By Martin Ralya On September 15, 2009 @ 7:44 pm

@Matthew J. Neagley – Yep, I agree. But as long as slavish reproduction isn’t your goal, the tone, feel, and awesomeness have a good chance of surviving contact with your players. ;-)

#10 Comment By manodogs On September 18, 2009 @ 8:11 am

@Kurt “Telas” Schneider – I do the same, Kurt, and I don’t think it makes either of us lazy. In fact, the campaigns I post online are all built on games I’ve played over the years. Whenever something happened or was handled nicely, I wrote it down and incorporated it into my own games later. This was especially true for Cyberpunk.


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