Last article, I showed how I had kept a game together and made a campaign reach a conclusion despite setbacks and changing life paths and guided it to a finish.
But what do you do when you are suddenly hit with real-world upsets and want to still try to keep playing because the group’s story isn’t done?
Well, that’s more complex. You need to evolve the game, make sure the story can survive and introduce new elements and players. I’m going to take a moment to introduce you to my ‘Blending of Shadows’ campaign and show you how to evolve a game into something new while continuing to keep the throughline of the narrative.
Campaign Of Theseus
So, I don’t want to spend ages describing the ‘Blended’ campaign because I’ve done that before, so instead I’m going to say that it started as a one-shot that never stopped with three players and picked up an extra one about 15 sessions in. It had a number of ‘cameo’ players but essentially was an unbroken team of players for roughly 2 years.
Then in the space of a year, one of the original players had to leave, and was replaced by another; a second original player had to drop all RP to make space for changes in his life, and we kept a cameoing player on. I then learned that the player we picked up in session 15 is going to go on an two/three month vacation, so have recruited a third new player. So the game as it stands has only one original player, her PC, Tiesa, being the only one to have weathered the whole campaign.
It’s been a difficult shuffle for me as GM. As a result, in order to keep the game feeling like it is the same narrative despite having different players with different interests and plotlines, I’ve done a few things as I have gone on to ensure its evolution and survival.
One of the things that seems to work really well if you have a player leaving a game with a plot that seems important is to pass the legacy of the plot to the next player who joins.
In the case of ‘Blending’, when Styxx Ironfist (morose dwarven cleric of the accursed line Ironfists) had to leave the group, I wasn’t sure if we as a group were done with the plot around that family and their link to Tharizdun. So I didn’t have to think too hard when the new player, wanting to play a dwarven druid, turned up. I simply said ‘Do you mind if your last name is Ironfist?’ and suddenly, Styxx’s estranged cousin Astraeus wanders into the party’s life, just early enough for Styxx to introduce him before being captured by the schemes of Lloth.
This had the effect of making a new player instantly part of the continuity and feel connected to the ongoing narrative. It created a smooth transition between the plots the crew were already interested in and the parts this new player was interested in (getting the party blasted out of their mind on weird mushrooms, trying to build a spelljammer, a new cosmic plotline).
As the new elements were introduced they fit a puzzle. The campaign has shfted focus due to the new player, with ideas and characters that wouldn’t have featured if we still had Styxx rather than Astraeus but it feels natural and part of the ongoing tale.
Cut The Deadwood, Fire Up That New Backstory
I have learned that if you want a campaign to survive a player shuffle, you have to be able to make room for an incoming player. That sometimes, it is best to identify which concerns will be leaving with the outgoing player and also instantly really focusing on the new one.
By the time we got to our third replacement, I’d done some groundwork. First, the leaving player had created a huge moral question in the campaign and was mired in a plotline about creating inhuman soldiers and demonic possession. I quickly removed those things from the game in plot and made them reach a satisfying conclusion that could be picked up again if the group ever choose to focus there again. But I also made sure that the new character came in with a deeper backstory than I usually ask and tied parts of it into the new adventure.
Hezra, the new character, had backstory connections with a Mercenary company, so I put that company front and centre in the plot. The group saw Hezra’s value but also I pivoted the game towards a new set of opportunities we haven’t touched on.
The game again evolved out of its origins, but the new framework remained relevant to everyone.
You might not be able to do this, but ‘cameo arcs’, where you have players come into your game and play a character for a couple of sessions, are a thing I do. While they were designed as a fun way for people to play together for a short time, I realise now that it also gave me a base of characters to re-introduce later on down the line.
Vesryn was a character who originally started in another 4 session game. They then cameoed in the Blending game for an arc in an ancient horrid dungeon when they ran into the party, meaning that when they rejoined the party in the feywild (out of game time over a year later), Tiesa and Trixie, characters who had already met them, already thought of them as an ally.
It was very easy to introduce them for a second time and then keep them on as the group and plotline progressed, with their new elements feeling like a callback rather than new. So I’d always opt to keep up cameos if and when you can. It’ll feel like a TV show celebrity dropping in but later on can lead to someone at least a little familiar with the plot maybe being available to help it evolve.
Keep It Fluid
And these three examples are the crux of the issue of an evolving campaign. But I can’t state enough that most games should be about the ongoing plot, not what you already decided.
Being able to accept the change is so important. The ending of this game has changed so many times in my head. Because the original ending I had became less and less relevant as the game went in new directions and players dropped out, and new ones joined.
You need to keep the options open to you as a storyteller, and keep introducing things that could lead to an ending but maybe won’t. There’s no need to decide early. I’ve made a point of only solidifying each arc as we’ve gotten to it.
I know where should be going and how I think it’s going to end right now. But Hezra is a new introduction, I’ll have to wait and see. There are several godlike threats waiting in the wings, and I can’t wait for it to all kick off in a new direction. To watch it all evolve again.
I hope this gives you a framework for introducing new characters into a mix and letting them become part of an ongoing, changing story. May all of your games evolve and change and become something else. That means the story has a life of its own, beyond you, beyond any specific one player. It’s all of yours now.
🤖AI Disclosure. Software helped create images in this post. Geek Native's AI Content Policy.
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