As you may have seen in my announcements, I’m currently running a Pirates x Mythology campaign. It’s a resurrection of someone else’s campaign from several years ago so this will be a quick post with some tips (in no particular order) for overcoming that particular set of problems.
Writing my old PC out
I’ve always felt that NPCs who act like full party members are lame. It’s basically the GM trying to play both sides of the board. I had pitched this campaign to the group as a “reunion” campaign, where the legacy characters would get back together for one last hurrah. So I had to figure out what to do with my old character, Captain Eleazar Balboa.
Thing is, Balboa was not only the captain, he was the most assertive, action-taking personality in the party. I wanted him to remain a core part of the story. So I killed him – and had him write the group a letter from beyond the grave. The first arc of the campaign would be to find a way to sail to the afterlife, pick him up, and continue the save-the-world quest he had been on his way to collect them for.
This isn’t the only answer, of course, but it fulfilled thre important things. 1) it kept him a central part of the party while encouraing the other players to form their own party dynamic without him. 2) It turned him into one of those NPCs the party has to find for help (because he has crucial plot info), without making him into a “chaperone” NPC. And 3), most important, this all fits the feel of a pirate story, which leads into my next point…
Make it bigger!
A good sequel has to bring back the stuff that was good about the original, and then make it bigger.
Scale: Last time the pirate crew sailed all over the world, having adventures. This time I planned for them to sail to such exotic places as the afterlife, the edge of the world, and Davey Jones’ locker.
Danger: the opposition should be bigger – they stopped a few demons from coming through a big weird gate to hell in the last game, so this time they find out those gates are all over the world and they might even have to go through one.
Conflict: necromancers starting small-time trouble before? This time they’re summoning a world-devouring god.
Set-Dressing: does the setting support any really cool elements that we didn’t get to in the last campaign? (and for this setting, that means such things as cannibal islanders, ninjas, and cat-girl belly dancer priestesses) In a resurrection, it’s your job to skip the mundane and get to that stuff.
Open up the floor for Ideas
Start reminiscing about the old campaign, and before you know it you’ll have a discussion of stuff the players always wished they could have done in this setting – if you’re resurrectig this campaign, it’s more than likely a setting you’re all excited about.
Don’t be afraid to use their ideas. I used to think using player ideas would rob the players of a surprise somehow, but when it comes around, I guarantee they’ll be excited because it’s their idea – and they can still enjoy the surprise of you putting your own spin on it.
…Of course, if they suggest something you’ve already thought of, just pat them on the back for it – and quietly pat yourself on the back for having a finger on their pulse.
Ask for character development
Ask your players how their characters have changed over the intervening time. Maybe one has retired from adventuring and re-enters it only reluctantly. Maybe another has lost his way in life, and this adventure’s going to lead him back to it.
A few players will take this very seriously, seeking you out to discuss their character development with you. One PC was “Savio,” a youthful and headstrong swashbuckler who laughed in the face of danger as if he was invincible. This time, the player decided his character was actually terminally ill (which would shorten his life to some undefined and unpredictable degree). On top of that, with greater maturity he had come to believe that Fate has already determined every man’s doom, and that the greatest honor is facing it courageously. Savio was still headstrong and fearless, but for reasons that led to a much different party dynamic.
Character-based plot twists
Since you’ve played with these characters before, you know how they think and what would really put a bow on their personal storylines. (As for Savio, I gave him a scene where it looked like one PC would have to die to save the group, and the player took the bait, leading to some great roleplay.)
You can also give them plot twists that really develop their characters. For example, we had a new player joining us this time around (playing a girl), and he and I decided his character should be Balboa’s brassy fiance. That’s a revelation about Balboa that shocked the other PCs, plus a new party member to shake things up.
You should also be weaving tailored plot twists into the action. One PC always been easygoing, along for the ride? This time, do something that makes the conflict deeply personal, that cuts him to the heart, or forces him to rise to unprecedented levels of responsibility. One PC always had unshakeable faith in her cause/Lord Neptune/the goodness of humanity? This time, give her something that makes her question everything. It might force you to be a bit railroady, but the tradeoff is some intense roleplay. And because this is a sequel with characters they’re already invested in, that’ll be worth it.
Be true to the original
Doing all new adventures might be fun at the moment, but there’s nothing like the sense of continuity. Make sure your story relates to what was going on before – both the basic conflict, and what was happening in the characters’ lives. After the campaign, your players will (hopefully) feel like they’ve gotten to revisit not just the same kind of game they played and loved before, but actually relive the game they played and loved before. Certain movie writers could take that to heart…
Players will remember stuff that you’ve forgotten. If you let this annoy you (“I have to rewrite my story now!”) then your relationship and your creativity both suffer. If you let this work for you (“wow, Andrew, I had forgotten about that!”) then you include him in the group and you challenge your own creativity by having to work that detail in.