Behind the Screen: The indignity of a reboot…

2011 September 12
by Dante

My gaming group is a very dedicated group of roleplayers, however we don’t gather with a decent frequency.  Even with a recap, notes, session journals and as many remedies for remembering the details our group doesn’t have a tenacity for remembering where we were last session or the plot lines, let alone specific details surrounding either of those things.  For this reason we tend to have a fairly long social time prior to our gaming session, where food is shared, laughs are had, and then we get down to serious gaming… but it’s a journey.

Let me tell you about my campaign

Yes, I know.  Deal with it, you’re going to have to hear a little about my campaign to understand the point of this exercise.  The quest began with Keep on the Shadowfell and then evolved into one of my favorite homebrew settings.  I had a grand plan, which involved leveraging the time travel hooks of the Dungeon Master’s Guide 2 to go back and rewrite the timeline of a previous campaign.  I figured this served me in a few ways, and them in a a few ways: the history of this setting is well developed, the characters were fun, and their enemy is known to them.  Add into the mix that at least one of the players had participated in the past campaign and I figured that I would be scott-free on keeping their attention and keeping them engaged.

Cue Summer of last year.  One of our group couldn’t make regular games and I had just gotten the Tomb of Horrors, so we agreed outside-of-game that we’d like to suspend any serious activity on the main plot and play some sessions of the module.  I even devised a way that it could be organic to the plot, so we did this.  This went swimmingly, and we had a few months at the end of last year to further dive into the original plotline.  All was well.

The Return to the Past

So the group tracks a cult along their plot to return back in time to prevent the destruction of the Big Bad Guy so they can bring him back to take over the world.  This goes great, and back to the past they go.  After interacting with the previous incarnation of their hometown for a bit, they follow the original threads of the plot to a few key points.  They had puzzled out the plot lines to follow, but didn’t really commit fully to one line…. instead they flipped back and forth between the plotlines and didn’t really accomplish much.

A few sessions of this go by, and before long my inability to plan a coherent way to get them back on course manifests itself… I had determined that enough time had passed that surely something must have happened.  The plotlines remaining would have stretched out for another year or so at the rate we play and the lack of general focus was annoying (at the worst) and obvious (at the best).  I decided there was no choice but to reboot the situation.

I chose a Hiro Nakamura style event to reboot.  I did a few very obvious SOMETHING HAS CHANGED time skips in the course of a single session, culminating in the group’s return to their now abandoned hometown (previously a bustling city).  The ranger and avenger opted to check out the temple, and found a man with a giant broadsword strapped to his back in strange clothes.  He was there to warn them that this timeline was doomed and they must leave it as soon as possible (they have a means to do this).  I also opted to use this opportunity to illustrate to them that excessive time travelling was detrimental, this gentleman was pretty messed up from the process.

Finally, they took the bait and we ended the session at the crossroads where they can choose where in time they want to go.

The Retrospecticus

So what could I have done differently?  Many things.  A word to the wise: when introducing time travel, have both an entry and an exit plan and give the players some real motivation to follow a plotline.  This could have easily been solved by a little more detailed planning on my part.  Also, there were many opportunities for me to nudge the group along (possibly even in narrative style) to get them down the line enough to pick up the proper path.

The other big thing that I could have done is used other means to keep the plotlines alive between sessions.  DNAPhil recently authored an excellent article at Gnome Stew entitled “Keeping The Home Fires Burning” covering this very topic.  There’s some great advice there, some I have even heeded in the past.  For the original campaign (the one that established the plot, characters, and setting that my current group returned to) we employed a group blog where the players could write articles in the form of diary entries or letters to their family.  It succeeded in giving the players another outlet to develop their characters and gave me an easy medium to collect additional side-plot ideas.

Suffice it to say I’m a little dismayed that I had to go so far as to reboot this portion of the campaign.  I can only look forward, because unlike my campaign there’s no way to go back and fix it.  More soon!

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