In any GM’s career there are those special campaigns that were so awesome that we carry a piece of them in our minds. At times, when our campaigns turn out to be more work than fun, or when we are between campaigns, we start to fantasize about what it would be like to play that campaign again. In most cases we only entertain that as a thought, fearful that a second trip into that campaign might not be as good as the first time; that it’s impossible to recapture that magic. Is that true? Is it possible to play in one of your great campaigns again? It just might be…

Fan Mail

I had the chance to hang out the other night with the Happy Jacks crew, and there was a fan submitted question which asked about restarting an old campaign. We had a good discussion about the topic on the mic’s, and I mentioned that I was doing this myself with my Elhal campaign. The question got me thinking more about the idea of restarting old campaigns.

Raising The Dead

In OdysseyWalt talks about ending campaigns, including suspending a campaign as well as formally ending a campaign. In both cases there may be the opportunity to bring the campaign back from the dead; to play in the campaign once again. Depending on how you ended the previous campaign and how you want to return, there are a few different techniques you can employ:

We’re Getting The Band Back Together

This is when you are getting the original players back together to reprise their characters from the previous campaign. You can re-start the campaign either right after the point where the campaign left off, or you can start the campaign some time period after the last campaign. You can even get fancy and play a prequel game, with events taking place before your previous campaign with a little work to maintain continuity.

This technique works best when all the players are able to return to the game, and when it makes sense for the characters to have new adventures. If some of the players cannot join in, or the previous campaign was left in a state that the characters cannot return to adventuring, then you will have to do additional work to get the new campaign off the ground. When you use this technique, you have the entire previous campaign from which to draw material.

Example: You revive your D&D adventuring party after a previous campaign where they vanquished the threat of Slavers. The new campaign is going to take place several years later and focus on a plot by Giants and Drow.

Spin-off

This is when you have decided to play in the same campaign world using the same continuity, but not playing some or all of the original characters. In this case, you re-start the campaign by coming up with new characters who are related in some way to the original story line, but who will be following their own story line which is likely to be divergent from the original campaign.

This technique works best when you have players who are interested in the campaign setting and plot, but are looking to experience new characters. This also works best if there is a reason that the previous characters would not or can’t continuing adventuring. In this case you have the original campaign material to use as a starting point, but will be developing a lot of new material for the new group.

Example: In my original Elhal game, the heroes rose up and vanquished the Demon King. In the second campaign, a new group of heroes now work to restore the Emperor a few years after the fall of the Demon King.

The Franchise

This technique is used when you want to play in the campaign setting but are not interested in playing with the same characters or following the previous story line. In this technique you are not really reviving the previous campaign, but rather going back to that world, because its enjoyable.

This technique works best with any group of players, new or original, as long as they have an interest in the setting and the style of play. In this case you will have familiarity with the setting, but the rest of the campaign you will create from scratch.

Example: Years ago you ran a great Vampire:The Masquerade campaign set in Chicago. Your new group wants to run Vampire again, but this time set it in your home town.

Can You Really Go Home Again?

A few years ago I wrote an article with this very topic. There are cases where you should not revive an old game, and you can check out the article for my opinions on that. In essence, campaigns where you discover elements of the setting are harder to return to than a less mysterious setting.

The most important thing to keep in mind when you revive any campaign is that it will not be the same as before. Time has passed and you and your players are in different places in your life. Your interest and passion for the rules of the game may have changed. Keep realistic expectations as you set up the new campaign and don’t be disappointed if it is not as magical as the first time.

Closing

Bringing back a previous campaign is a great way to return to a familiar world filled with characters. There are different ways to return to an old campaign that allow for the players to interact with the old campaign on different levels. The most important thing is to remember that its a new campaign, no matter how familiar it feels.

Have you ever gone back to an old campaign? What technique did you use to bring the game back? Was it a success or were you not able to go home again?

About  Phil Vecchione

A gamer for 30 years, Phil cut his teeth on Moldvay D&D and has tried to run everything else since then. He has had the fortune to be gaming with the same group for almost 20 years. When not blogging or writing RPG books, Phil is a husband, father, and project manager. More about Phil.



7 Responses to Dusting Off An Old Gem

  1. Hi Phil,

    I am a big fan of the Franchise approach. Why create a new setting every time, when you can just wind the timeline forward, move location and keep playing in the same setting.

    You will need new NPCs, probably some new locations and a fresh story. Yet so much of the setting will endure, the gods, the cultures and the basic geography.

    Of course, this would still have to be the same genre, but you will save yourself a large chunk of prep at the start of the campaign.

    Happy Gaming
    Phil

  2. I don’t see much difference between the Franchise idea and just starting a new game. A new campaign starting from scratch with new players, new characters, and new setting, with no connection to the previous campaign other than using the same game world? Sounds like making a cake using a new flavor, new recipe, new frosting, and new ingredients, with the only connection to the last one being that they were both made in the same kitchen and cooked in the same oven.

    • I’m in the process of ending my current campaign on our game-world of Sai and will be starting a new one in a year or so. By then, my four players will have had about three years together as nascent heroes, working together to figure out the truth of the political situation during a huge war.

      As I look forward to the end, I see the ‘spin-off’ option emerging as the most entertaining and fun way to continue. By the end of the current party’s time together, the players’ characters will — if they live — have become very powerful. Given that the world war will be over and they will be (presumably) victorious, it makes sense for them to move on to other goals while the various countries reinvent themselves in an entirely new power structure (but also grown from the previous one the players know so well).

      This, to me, is the chance for the players to come up with fresh characters who will emerge a year or two after the ‘old guard’ has finished. Most of the major NPC’s of our current campaign will still be around, including the party itself, rife with history and shared storytelling…but the new party spun-off from the old game can continue the story in its own way as well.

      I therefore like this spin-off option the best — it gives weight to the stories that have come before, but also gives an exciting new window into the game world as it evolves. In fact, I can’t imagine any of the other options listed here to be as rewarding, cool as they are, especially if your players still enjoy the game world they’re in.

      Thanks for a cool article,

      Dan

  3. Over the Summer, my old gaming group revisited some fifteen year old characters for what I intended to be a last hurrah. We played vampire the masquerade using characters with wonderful coke stains and embedded memories.
    One twist rested in that this revival game was also a legacy game (my friends’ oldest son and only daughter joined in as recruits to their characters). This was their first game.
    The story went well, but it quickly became evident that this final act created something new. His kids loved gaming, buying dice by the third session. True to my group’s nature, they worked at closing old storylines while forging new ones (yes, they were in on the intention to “end” the game).
    All in all, I could write about this all night, but the moral of my post is this: you can go home again. There might be some new faces there, but the neighborhood usually fits like a glove.
    This revival definitely makes this my longest campaign by, oh, a decade!

  4. Something I did once with good results was to run a new campaign concurrently to an older one. The new characters would occasionally cross paths with the old characters doing the old campaign while the new characters were involved with their own (indirectly related) affairs.

    It was a great way to clean up some loose ends the original characters never quite got around to and it was fun to see the old characters knowing just what they were headed into next.

  5. I have actually used some of these techniques during a current, long running campaign. The group is exceptionally experienced and have got used to my ‘experiments’ over the years, so they are not usually surprised when I try something a little different to inject a little more life into our games.

    I tend to take a break from a campaign for a few months by running a different game or two; this gives me a little time to refresh the main campaign, take a little breather and get a few more ideas together. At one point I left the story at a good spot and when we returned to it a few month later I used something akin to ‘We’re Getting The Band Back Together’ as the characters were reunited for a new set of adventures.

    Later I introduced a set of pregens in a side story that did not affect the outcome of the original characters but did serve to enhance the overall campaign and fill in a few story gap from a fresh perspective. Relying on the ‘the Franchise’ method, explained by the op.

    At the height of the story, the characters had their own paths to follow, again I created a few pregens, a ‘Spin off’ storyline adventure for each of the original characters and ran adventures that lasted just a few weeks in which one of the originals led the pregens in their personal adventures.

    All of these methods have worked for me and my group, although I will be using them again in the future, I think I need to be careful not to over-do it, and I have definitely learned lessons that will lead me to take slightly different approaches in some cases i.e., less pregens and letting the players create the ‘disposable’ characters will save me a hell of a lot of work (we use Rolemaster – it takes hours to create characters) and will allow them to play class that they may have wanted to experiment with but never had the opportunity in the past.

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    […] but not least, Phil over at Gnome Stew has written up another great piece, this time on dusting off an old campaign. According to him there are several ways to do it, what are your […]

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