Ask the gamemasters

Last time around, James Senecal posed a double-question. Because it was the easier of the two, and I was flying solo, I chose the easier question for ATGMs #27. But now it’s time to bite the bullet…

How can you have substantial time pass within a campaign?

“If death is to have a consequence, if a PC dies (permanently), are there any ways to quicken the generation of a new character, and might you have any tips to integrate those new characters into the party? I’m not using DnD, this is purely from a roleplaying point of view.”

and, in a clarifying follow-up, he explained,

“The campaign recounts the development of a world that is in constant change. But because things like cities being built, Empires going to war and technologies being developed do not take place within mere days or weeks, I feel it’s only logical for years to pass. If not 2-3, then half a decade or even a full decade. At which time, the PCs will likely age. At the very least, these time skips will only happen every couple of sessions. Kind of like playing the Sims and once things are settled, you press fast forward.”

Naturally, the players will have a good idea of what’s going to happen to their characters. They’ll also likely take back their characters for one last spin before starting the next session as their character’s children (if that’s the case, or new characters entirely if that isn’t the case).”

The problem is trickier than it might seem, because it intrudes into a lot of areas that most standard rules systems cover poorly, if at all. So let’s get this party started…

Blair Ramage contributed to this article.

Blair Ramage contributed to this article.

Ask the GMs - Mike

The First Law

Whenever you are contemplating a radical campaign – one that doesn’t follow the usual regime of the same characters having adventure after adventure – the first law, the unbreakable law, has to be making sure that the players know what to expect before they start character generation.

Even if it means revealing part of the plotline, this law must be adhered to. Failure to do so will potentially spike the campaign from game one.

Players become attached to their characters. They lavish attention on them, and make plans for them, All that goes out the window in any campaign that is going to have long time gaps between adventures. Just as a player is getting really solidly into a character, they have to hand him over to the GM to control in the period between adventures, knowing that there’s at least a 50% chance that the character has now hit the high point of their lives, that – at best – their characters will experience mixed fortunes until the next adventure – and that the character may even be too old or too aged to even participate in that adventure, depending on the time frames involved.

You can’t spring that on players by surprise. The campaign premise has to be explained at least clearly enough to forewarn the players of what to expect and excite them enough about the campaign that they will accept the sacrifices required. Without that informed consent, that commitment to the campaign, it will flounder.

A key element in securing that commitment is convincing the players that the GM is prepared to meet the challenges that the campaign premise is going to pose. Some of those challenges are conceptual, some exist at a metagame level, and some are rules challenges. The remaining sections of this article will address each of these issues, before I wrap up with some sources of inspiration and reference that I would recommend to anyone contemplating this type of campaign.

Conceptual Issues: What is “Substantial Time”?

Just what is meant by the term “Substantial Time” anyway? Of course, James explained what he was planning in his campaign, but I want these articles to be useful to a greater range of people than just the person asking the question. Well, in a normal campaign, it’s not unusual to have a few days or even a couple of weeks between adventures. “Substantial Time” can be anything more than that. I’ve broken the range of likely possibilities down into four options:

  • Months between adventures
  • Years between adventures
  • Decades between adventures
  • Centuries between adventures.

Each of these poses slightly different challenges and complications, so I’m going to look at them individually in just a moment.

First, though, it should also be noted that having a long gap – even one of years – is not completely unheard of in a normal campaign, and for the most part, games can cope without the special preparations with which this article is concerned, or at least with a selective adoption of them. It’s even more frequent when you plan a sequel campaign, but once again, few special preparations are needed under these circumstances for this particular issue.

Unless you plan to run an unusual campaign, as James was, feel free to cherry-pick from the advice herein whatever is relevant to the problems you actually encounter, as you run into them.

Months between adventures

This is obviously the easiest of the alternatives. You don’t expect radical and sweeping changes to occur in just a few months, and – unless the GM has been very careful to build trends into the background of each adventure – it would even strain the credibility of the entire campaign for such sweeping changes to occur with any regularity.

In fact, it’s so straightforward that players are likely to ask, “Why bother? – just drop in another adventure or two to cover those couple of months in between”. The only rebuttal can be on metagame terms – “I don’t want your characters gaining levels in between” for example – that won’t go down very well.

However, “Months” doesn’t have to mean one or two – in fact, up to 18 would not be out of the question, and that is a substantial period of time. If you plan to run ten adventures, with about 18 months in between, that’s a fifteen- to twenty-year (game time) campaign (or more, depending on how long the in-play events take). And there certainly can be enough change in an 18-month period to be significant. By way of example, consider the events of this six-year period, broken into 18-month slices:

  • Jan 1 1923 – Jun 30 1924: Tutankhamen tomb was discovered. Lenin creates the first forced-labor camp. Germany defaults on its Versailles obligations and the French occupy the Ruhr coalfield. German inflation goes out of control. Harding dies suddenly and Coolidge becomes President. There’s a coup in Bulgaria. The USSR becomes a reality. Mussolini becomes Dictator of Italy. An earthquake and resulting fires destroy Tokyo and Yokohama. Adolf Hitler stages an attempted putsch in Munich, which fails; he is jailed. Lenin dies and a triumvirate takes power.
  • July 1 1924 – Dec 31 1925: A New Mark is issued to try and end the currency crisis in Germany and a deal was worked out to resolve Germany’s WWI War Debts. France began reinforcing the Maginot Line. Hitler is released on Parole after serving just 9 months of his 5-year sentence. Stalin moved to consolidate his power in the USSR. Chiang Kai-Shek succeeded Dr Sun Yat-sen as leader of China. Just over three months later, the country would enter a state of Civil War. Tennessee banned the teaching of evolution; the Scopes “Monkey Trial” would follow. Blacks were banned from holding skilled jobs in South Africa. Mein Kampf was published. The Charleston craze swept the world. The mummy of Tutankhamen was discovered and revealed to be a 15-year-old boy. The first successful heart surgery took place.
  • Jan 1 1926 – Jun 30 1927: Television was invented. Saudi Arabia came into existence. The first liquid-fueled rocket was launched. Hindus and Muslims clashed in rioting in Calcutta. A new dynasty began in Persia. There was a general strike in Britain, the first there in history. A Plane flew over the North Pole for the first time. There was a revolution in Poland. Rudolf Valentino, Harry Houdini, and Monet died. The British Empire became a Commonwealth. Bauhaus made functionality the dominant design style, eventually affecting everything from furniture design to architecture to music and art. Cancer began to attract headlines as a serious illness. Campbell set his world speed record. Britain sent troops to China. There was a failed coup in Portugal. Lindbergh crossed the Atlantic, solo. The soviets executed 20 people they alleged were British spies.
  • July 1 1927 – Dec 31 1928: Vienna experienced revolutionary riots, leading to a renewal of calls in Germany to annex the nation. Talking pictures arrived. Stalin further tightened his grip. The Uncertainty Principle was announced. The Thames flooded. The Chinese civil war continued. Kingsford-Smith became the first to fly from the US to Australia, while Amelia Earhart became the first woman to fly across the Atlantic. Fifteen Nations signed the Kellogg-Briand pact, banning war, including the US, France, and Germany. Penicillin was discovered, and Stalin issued the first of his 5-year plans. The first signs that Prohibition wasn’t working were recognized. Herbert Hoover became President. Stalin, having expelled or murdered his opposition, began a purge of former supporters of that opposition. Hirohito became the Emperor of Japan.

Still to come were the St Valentine’s Day Massacre, the death of Wyatt Earp, revolutions, the first Academy Awards, the invention of color television, the Hindenburg, the Great Depression, and the beginning of that minor event known as World War II. By the time a fifteen-year span was complete, it would be December 1938; Mao would rule China, England would have a new King, the US would have another new President in FDR, there would have been the War Of The Worlds radio scare, and the Nazis had marched into Czechoslovakia. Another three months sees the pledge to defend Poland, the end of the Spanish Civil War, and two months after that, the Pact Of Steel. Half-way through what would have been the eleventh 18-month period of this mini-history, Germany invaded Poland and World War Two formally began – though the Japanese had been invading China for quite some time already.

A lot can happen in 18 busy months.

That means that this is right on the cusp between “Substantial Time” and an insignificant gap, which is why I chose it as the first time-scale to be discussed. In fact, the 18-month span is just enough to virtually ensure that the seeds of what will be happening next are present “right now” and will have matured before the next 18-month span starts.

Years between adventures

Now we’re definitely into the significant time gaps. This timescale accommodates anything up to about 15 years between adventures. A ten-adventure campaign with 15 years between adventures that ends on Dec 31, 2000, would kick off in 1850 – The Crimean War and the American Civil War haven’t happened yet, and Refrigeration and Neanderthal Man are yet to be discovered. The American west is still well and truly wild, and it’s the time of cowboys and indians.

But let’s look at things another way. Let’s say one of the characters in the first adventure is 20 years, another is 30, and a third is 45. Now add 15 years – plus a year for the actual adventure. These three characters would now be 36, 46, and 61, respectively. There’s a reasonable chance that the`eldest of the three is an invalid (by adventuring standards), given life expectancies and medical care in the middle 1800s. If still alive, he is probably a grandfather, and be expecting to become a great-grandfather in the next decade! Factoring in Wars and other such incidents, there’s a fairly good chance that at least one will have been killed.

This is the time scale at which generational replacement of characters and character aging becomes important, but in which characters who were young in the previous adventure might still be able to recruit and lead a new generation. Older characters will have children or grandchildren who might know of the adventurous exploits of their forebears. It is thus almost a certainty that there will be continuity between adventures.

But unless you’re going up against a Sci-Fi or a supernatural threat of some kind, continuity of enemies is almost certainly about an organization of some kind, or an enemy nation. At best you would have a Dallas-style generational conflict. The same aging impacts on the characters would also apply to the enemy – unless age is irrelevant to them for some reason.

Equally, this could also describe a gap of two years or five years between adventures, which is short enough that an awful lot will have changed, but there can be quite a lot of continuity of characters – provided there are adequate rules for managing the intervals. So this scale carries us to the point of being right on the cusp of losing continuity of characters after at most an adventure or two.

Decades between adventures

This time interval range brackets anywhere from 20 years to maybe 80 years. That’s long enough that adventures will begin to take place in distinct eras, even at the short end of the range. It’s also the point at which relatively small increments in the average interval can accumulate greatly.

If the gap is twenty years, then a ten-adventure campaign would run something like: 1820, 1840, 1860, 1880, 1900, 1920 (WWI), 1940 (WWII), 1960 (Vietnam War/Cold War), 1980 (Reagan years), 2000.

If the gap is twenty-five years, a ten adventure campaign would start in 1750 if it were to end in 2000.

If the gap is forty years, we’re talking (working backwards) 2000, 1960, 1920, 1880, 1840, 1800, 1760, 1720, 1680, 1640.

These intervals are big enough that the world has changed fairly significantly each time around. Character aging is now a major factor; while it might be possible at the lower end of the scale for one character to participate in two adventures, three is really pushing it. Take the 25-year intervals, and start with a 15-year-old (PCs are unlikely to be any younger). In the first adventure, he is 15. In the second, he is 40, probably has children aged anywhere from young to adult, and may even have young grandchildren. In the third, he is going to be about 65, and great-grandchildren may be on the horizon or even already underfoot.

At forty-year intervals, starting at 15, he would be 55 in the second, and 95 in the third – and probably not physically capable of adventuring, even if he has survived that long. Not many people do, even today. Consider these numbers from the US Census: in 2010, the total US population was 308 million. Of those, 1.9 million were older than 90 years, or 0.62% of the current population. At the time these people were born, the total US population was 106 million (1920 census) or lower, so 1.8% of the population from that era lived to age 90+. Depending on whose figures you use, the number of 90+ citizens is expected to triple over the next decade or two, but no-one knows for sure.

How many people born before 1625 (15 years old in the first adventure) would have lived to be 95? I don’t know, but I’ll be it’s a darned sight less than the 1.8% of modern times. Probably less than the 0.62%, too. Maybe 1 in 250 or 500, maybe less.

This interval, in other words, spans the range at which generation continuity goes from possible to improbable to not-going-to-happen.

Centuries between adventures

The most extreme range category that I’m willing to contemplate is measured in centuries between adventures. It might be one, two, or nine. We’re talking about different historical eras here. 112 years is enough for the first adventure to take place in 0 AD and the last to take place in the year 2000 – in a ten-adventure campaign. At this interval, we really do reach the point at which it’s easier to think of each adventure being an entire campaign in its own right, and a series of sequel campaigns then taking place; even at the short end of this range, the weapons tables (for example) would change so radically from one era to the next that you may as well treat each as a separate campaign with separate rules that have been optimized for the era in which this particular game is set.

Metagame Issues: Interlude Detail vs Pace – a tricky balance

The amount of change between adventures poses the first challenge for the GM of a… well, I guess we need to coin a term to describe this sort of campaign! “Discontinuous Campaign” will do.

The question of how much background to provide, how much detail is needed to describe the changes that are occurring in the campaign setting, is usually something that arises only once in the life-cycle of a normal campaign. With a Discontinuous Campaign, it recurs with every interval. In part, this is a conceptual issue, because it depends on how large the intervals are intended to be, and how they are to relate to one another – what the connecting plot thread is that ties the adventures together – but there are also the metagame issues of how much the players can absorb, and how much will be relevant to the next adventure or the adventure after that, and so on.

One very heavily-metagame solution might be to measure your intervals not as a certain time-frame, but by the length of this background briefing material. You update the world until that ‘briefing paper’ reaches one, two, five, ten pages in length – whatever you feel comfortable producing and that your players will be able to absorb – and when you hit X pages of material, you pull the pin and start the next adventure.

Personally, I think that’s probably going too far, but certainly the issue that this proposes to resolve is something that the GM is going to have to grapple with.

An alternative approach, just as extreme in its own way, would be to set the intervals at whatever points the overall narrative requires, based on the connecting threads that bind the adventures together, then use a roughly-fixed number of pages to contain your synopsis of the events, employing more or less detail to fill out the space. That’s relatively easy to accomplish with a word processor, but I would not like to have tried it in the bad old manual-type or handwritten days.

Every gaming group will have different thresholds, and every GM has a different amount of time to invest in preparing this information between game sessions, so there can be no one-size-fits-all solution; this is a challenge to which each GM will have to find their own solutions. If the game is to be manageable, though, he will need to have chosen such a solution – before play starts, because it will influence what the intervals are between adventures.

The Montage Analogy

One thing that the example offered above should make abundantly clear – to be at all practical, there needs to be a threshold of significance that determines whether or not an event is important enough to get mentioned in any such background synopsis. The greater the interval period, the higher that threshold should be set.

It can be useful to think of the interval as a montage sequence in a movie or TV show, compressing time to a few key moments. The more closely the game worlds history mirrors that of the real world, the greater the shorthand that can be employed. A single iconic image or event can symbolize an entire era, if it is well-chosen. You need to hit the high points, not relate the day-to-day events, in general.

There are two exceptions to this general rule: at the start and end of an interval.

  • At the start of an interval, you will want to deal with the immediate aftermath of the adventure and the fates of the key PCs and NPCs who participated in it. This necessitates a greater level of detail.
  • Similarly, at the end of an interval, you are looking to establish the key figures and attitudes that will be relevant to the next adventure. This will also necessitate a greater level of detail.

Rather than being a flat, linear function, the threshold of significance should follow a dumbbell curve, like the familiar 3d6 results curve – though the shape may vary a little from this ideal. It can help to actually think about the interval as being in three unequal parts: the wind-down, the gap, and the build-up before the next adventure.

My GM’s intuition says that 1 page of wind-down, two pages of build-up, and no more than 3 pages covering the gap in between, would be roughly the right mixture for most groups. To be honest, though, I’m not at all sure that I could stick to those ratios myself – it would be far more likely to be 3 pages wind-down, five-to-twenty pages of gap material, and five-to-ten pages of buildup. But I’m a very literate GM – more-so than is good for my campaigns, at times. So try to do as I say, and not as I would probably do!

Conceptual Issues: The Patterns Of Change

It would be most unusual, of course, for the intervals between campaign “episodes” to be uniform in length. History isn’t like that.

Most Change comes in clumps

More often, History is lumpy, with periods of low changed interspersed with periods of rapid development. Each realm, be it a Kingdom or a Nation, has its own such rhythm, and it’s only when these are aggregated that an illusion of continuous history emerges. If these realms lived in total isolation, History would be simple to manage. They don’t; they contact one another, and rapid social, political, or technical change in one corner of the world causes ripple effects in many others, accelerating or delaying instability elsewhere. World War II wasn’t just the biorhythms of the world synchronizing, it was a avalanche rolling downhill, a chain reaction.

Some Change is a continuous stream

But some changes do occur in a more continuous stream. Although the rate of such change can vary, it never entirely stops. People keep getting older, for example. Books keep getting written and published. Music and Fashion and Politics are continuous human activities. There’s weather every day, even if that weather is notable most of the time.

The Evolution Of Language

One key item that the GM should manage, understand, and employ to help establish the distinctiveness of different eras is the evolution of language.

The way we communicate is continuously changing. Slang terms tend to be the most responsive. Its not at all uncommon to be able to recognize the era in which a TV show is set from the language alone. Fashion tends to nail it down. High School Students tend to struggle with Shakespeare because the language has changed so much. The language employed in the original Sherlock Holmes stories, and in books such as the War Of The Worlds, is still comprehensible, but is clearly different to that of the modern day.

It’s also easy to go too far in this respect.

Consider Star Trek: The Next Generation for a moment. I think that the writers deliberately tried to put a slightly different “face” on the language in the first few seasons, especially season one, as a means of instantly identifying the show as being set in a different time. It wasn’t just inserting technobabble, there was a formality to the structure and phrasing of the dialogue. Unfortunately, this often came across as stilted and clumsy; it was too far removed from the ordinary speech patterns that we were used to. I would even go so far as to suggest it was jarring. In subsequent seasons, this was slowly relaxed and people began to speak far more casually. Part of this may have been self-consciousness on the part of the actors and actresses, but it was too consistent across the entire cast for that to be the entire story, and rehearsals and script readings should have solved the problem in short order if it was inadvertent. That’s why I think it was a deliberate choice on the part of the writers and producers that misfired.

So this tool must be employed sparingly, but is too powerful to completely ignore.

The Evolution Of Infrastructure

It takes time to build things. Electricity grids, telephone lines, highways, railroads, sidewalks, street lighting, indoor plumping, cable TV, mobile phone antennas, high-speed internet, skyscrapers, mount Rushmore, whatever. Keeping track of the state of play of infrastructure is generally a fairly easy task because you don’t need to worry about it in the intervals in between games, you simply need to know how far these things have reached at the start of the next adventure.

The Evolution Of Society

Social attitudes are a similar situation, but can be infinitely more complex. What’s permitted and what isn’t has a way of being a whole heap of little rules that apply in some places and situations and not others, and there are often subtle differences between what’s supposed to be allowed and what is considered acceptable by society at large. There can be a world of difference between theory and practical reality. These things can take a long time to explain, and a lot of very wearying detail. At the same time, they can be absolutely essential.

The most practical approach to social change is to keep your briefing content on the subject as general as possible, and include specifics as appropriate in the narrative descriptions of locations. As a general rule of thumb, there are six main issues that need to be monitored closely: Women’s rights (including abortions & contraceptives), Racial Prejudice and Civil Rights, the Poor, the Working class, vices/social problems, and Crime & Punishment. Attitudes to these can and have changed markedly in a relatively short span of years, but contemporaneous attitudes are always different locally to the national trend.

You may need to do some research to understand the state of affairs at the time and place of the adventures. Some compromise may be necessary in order for the campaign to be palatable to a modern audience; for example, you can permit the PCs to have modern attitudes, but then have to decide how the NPCs will react to those attitudes. It wasn’t that long ago that being respectful to a Black Man or Woman was enough to get you beaten up, sentenced to a prison term, or illegally assaulted at night and hung – in some parts of the world. Heck, it wasn’t that long ago that teaching members of some races to read and write was considered subversive behavior – in some places. (Notice that I’m giving such places the benefit of the doubt and not suggesting that these attitudes still prevail, even though I’m sure in some backwaters and some parts of more modern locales, these attitudes endure; they are simply better hidden and more subtle).

The acceleration of populace

Change in anything never just happens. It takes people to make history. The more people you have, the more rapidly change occurs.

Take the law. If you have just one lawmaker, change will be very slow. If you have a dozen or so, change will still be slow, but progress in selected issues will be more rapid – from time to time. It will be “lumpy”. If you have a couple of hundred people making new laws, change becomes far more rapid. If you have a thousand, or ten thousand, no matter how conservative the legal system might be (and it is frequently the single most conservative force because it is bound to work within the laws that already exist), responsiveness to changing attitudes will be relatively fast.

Every case that is heard by a judge or a court sets a precedent or reinforces an existing one. Appeals to verdicts either mean that the case was mishandled by someone, or that the law itself is out of step with current attitudes and needs to be changed by a higher court. The Judiciary and the legal system in general are concerned with what the law is, not what it should be; the latter is generally left to politicians and lobbyists.

And for every lawmaker, there are thousands of people trying to find ways to benefit from those laws, seeking any imperfection that can be exploited, any loophole – and others who simply look for a way not to get caught, or to get away with it if they are caught. The more laws you have, the more loopholes you create. The more loopholes are exploited, the more laws you need to close those loopholes.

Or take technology. If you have one person researching a particular subject, you get very slow progress. If that person gets distracted by some other problem, you get no progress. If there are dozens of researchers in a field, there will be measurable outcomes generation by generation; that was the story with the early days of steam power and electricity. If there are hundreds, progress can be reasonably rapid – that’s what happened in the history of aviation in the first thirty or forty years. If there are thousands, or tens of thousands, each only has to make a very small contribution to achieve a measurable change in the world – that’s the story of the first twenty years of the personal computer. There are hundreds of thousands of people thinking of ways to use the internet, up from perhaps ten or twenty thousand when inter-computer communications was only new. That’s why the internet today bears very little resemblance to the internet of ten years ago, and is almost unrecognizable compared to the internet of 15-20 years in the past.

History proceeds at a pace dictated by the number of people that are making history.

Let’s say that one in a thousand people will have a bright idea about how to do something better every decade (I suspect the real number would be higher). Let’s say that nine times out of ten, someone else has already had that idea (I suspect that number will also be higher). Of the ideas that are left, nine times out of ten the person can’t do anything about it, and can’t communicate it to anyone who can do so. Of the remainder, nine times out of ten, the idea is blocked by someone else for what seems like good reasons, because almost everything is a compromise. Given the current US population of 308 million, that’s 308 ideas that change the world every decade. Those changes can be small, or they can be radical shifts. Now add in the potential for someone else to take an idea and add it to their own to create something more dramatic in effect. And now factor in the capacity for communication of ideas afforded by social media and the internet in general, which drops one of those nine-in-tens to something closer to one or two in ten – a five- or ten-fold increase in the rate of progress.

If the problems with which we were grappling in the modern world were the relatively simple ones of the past, such as “why do you see lightning before the thunder” or the basic principles of geometry, we would expect them to be solved in no time flat. But all the simple problems have been solved; what’s left are really difficult and tricky problems. Human problems, abstruse theoretical issues that most people can’t even understand, economic and social problems with no perfect answers, only movable lines of compromise.

People aren’t the only factor, though. You need to have the right tools at hand to solve the problem – there are problems that cannot be solved without calculus, for example, and even more that can’t be solved without algebra. You can’t discover the heavens without a telescope, and you can’t build a telescope without the science of optics. And you need a society and political infrastructure that’s willing to listen and not block progress or your idea will rest on barren soil for years or longer.

It happened to Galileo, it happened to the idea of continental drift, and it’s now happening with Climate Change science – denying Climate Change by human agency is “politically incorrect”, any research in that direction doesn’t get funding and it doesn’t get published. Recently on twitter a big deal was being made about the fact that of the last almost 4000 peer-approved papers on climate change, only one was skeptical; the climate change lobby was citing this as proof of the premise. To me, it was a statement about the effectiveness of political correctness manifesting as a form of censorship within modern society; it’s utterly meaningless when you have to be on one particular side of the issue to do the research and have your paper approved by a true believer before it gets counted. What I want to know is how many papers were rejected for no other reason than denying that basic assumption; science should never be about peer approval, it should be about what can be proven. Anything else is dogma at best and a new religion at worst. I don’t trust the reviewers to be unbiased because they all have a vested interest in pushing the party line.

That doesn’t mean that I don’t approve of limited actions to protect the environment; I think the world will be better off as a result of the heightened awareness and accountability being forced on industry. But it does mean that I am only willing to pay a lower price for those benefits. By nature, education, and experience, I’m skeptical about most end-of-the-world doomsday scenarios.

Perhaps it might be better to say that “History proceeds at a pace dictated by the number of people who are permitted to make history”.

Either way, it means that life in the 21st century inevitably changes at a faster rate than life did in the early-to-mid 20th century.

Describing the state of the art in technology, and its impact on the lives of the citizens who have access to it, inevitably becomes a much bigger headache as a Discontinuous Campaign progresses. That’s another factor that needs to be allowed for when creating such a campaign. It might be that your adventures need to become larger and lengthier as the campaign progresses, simply to give you the required prep time for the next interval!

Metagame Issues: Describing The Passage Of Time

Having looked at the sort of things that need to be included in any description of the passage of time in an interval, the next issue is how to approach the description itself. I have three basic techniques to offer; the first is purely literary, the second is more visual, and the third is more interactive.

None of them are perfect, and some blending of two – or even all three – in combination might be a preferable solution.

The Succession Campaign approach

I’ve hinted at this approach already – treating each adventure as a separate campaign and issuing a “briefing book” for the players to read. This might be electronic, or it might be hardcopy. The style should be a blend of literary prose and bullet point lists of key events – use the prose to discuss things like social attitudes, the spread of technology, and so on, while using the bullet points to list actual events. Use the prose to break up the list of bullet points when you can, a short list is far more easily assimilated than a long one. Beyond those pointers, there isn’t a whole lot to say about this technique that I haven’t already covered.

The Cinematic Montage Approach

The movies have had to grapple with the passage of time on any number of occasions, and the approach that has worked best has been the montage – a succession of iconic images that describe one key facet of the story. Replicating this using a powerpoint presentation or a home-made movie with still images presents two tremendous advantages: visual cues, which people are used to interpreting and responding to (thanks to all those movies), and auditory – you can include an appropriate soundtrack.

Going one step further, and actually producing a YouTube-style video – even if you don’t upload it – enables the use of dissolves or wipes to connect each image with the next. Use the same technique every time so that the audience – your players – don’t have to fight their way through interpreting the special effects to get to the meaning.

A single 5 or 10 minute presentation of this type can be worth a solid hour of GM narration, if you get the presentation right. That’s a huge economy in terms of time at the table. Remember that an image only has to be on-screen for 2 seconds – allow 3 to be on the safe side – and you might use 1 second for a transition between images. So 4 seconds per image – 15 images in a minute – that’s 75 images in a five minute presentation, almost 50 in a three minute one.

If you aren’t adept at such things (I’ve never had the opportunity to even investigate them), consider a slide show over the top of your own narrative, read to the players. There’s lots of software out there to let you display one image after another on a computer, no special prep required beyond getting them in the order you want.

This approach works through the power of association. Show one image and it implies everything else that was going on at the time. A headline, “wall street crashes” is enough to imply the great depression. One image of Hitler or the swastika is enough to imply all of World War II. An image of a mushroom cloud not only punctuates that war but implies the beginning of the cold war. Finding – and choosing between – the iconic images is the trickiest part.

Copyright issues can be a real problem if you post this work online, unless you have very carefully restricted yourself to public domain images. Ditto the soundtrack. If you don’t make it publicly available, not only do you have a far greater range of images available to choose from, but copyright holders can’t complain about your private use of their works (Legally, they can if they consider it a public performance or display of their work, but first they have to know about your having done so).

The Egg-timer Trick

I can’t take the whole credit for this idea, I first read about it in Roleplaying Tips, but I have modified and adapted the technique for this specific purpose. To use it, you need two three-minute egg timers. (If you players aren’t the types to interrupt this sort of presentation with questions or side-chatter, you only need one).

Take the length of game time that you want to spend describing the changes that occur during the interval between adventures in minutes and divide by four if you expect your players to interrupt or three if you don’t. Round this number up.

Now divide the span of time, in-game, measured in weeks, months, or years (as may be convenient) by the result. That gives you the period of time that you have to describe in each turn of the egg timer.

If your players interrupt, stop the first timer by laying it on its side and start the second – that’s how long you will permit the discussion to continue.

You might want to allocate an extra three-minute window to each of the players telling them about the fortunes of their PCs in the intervening years.

Remember that reading something aloud at the game table takes a lot longer than reading something aloud in the privacy of your home (up to twice as long, more typically +50%), which in turn is a lot slower than simply reading something (two or even three times). Make allowances accordingly when drafting what you have to say.

Remember, the goal is not to teach the players history, it’s to tell them what they need to know to adjust their characters or create new ones and to play in the next adventure. At least half of what you include probably won’t end up being necessary; the trick is determining which half!

Metagame Issues: Player Expectations

All the commitments players have made toward the campaign premise might go out the window as soon as the first interval starts. The GM will start describing what’s happened to the PCs after the adventure and the natural instinct of the player will be to say “He/She wouldn’t do that,” or “I want to…”.

Equally problematic will be players who are too clever by half and want to take advantage of the interval. You know the type – investing in savings accounts to get years or decades of insurance, or trying to hide their money under the mattress because they know the great depression is coming.

Both of these problems relate to how the players will connect their characters to the adventure intervals, and the GM has to be prepared to deal with them.

Player Interventions

Arguably the biggest difficulty will come from players who can’t or won’t let go of their characters. It’s incumbent on the GM to make sure that the actions of the PCs once they are in his control are reasonable, given the personalities that they have displayed. The easiest way of doing that is to make sure you get to know the characters before writing the first interval – by running two adventures back to back. This not only gets the campaign off to a flying start, it means that the GM can spend the entire first adventure discovering the personalities of the PCs, and customizing the interval events to fit.

There are certain assumptions that can always be made. PCs (even former ones) will never roll over and play dead – they will fight against any reverse or adversity. They will generally sign up (or try to) in the event of a military conflict. They will generally behave in an honorable fashion – or behave in a very dishonorable fashion, there’s little in between. They will need to be ground down over time if they are to become corrupt. They will tend to take calculated risks rather than being conservative. They get lucky at the darnedest times, are frequently at the center of events, and tend to come out on top – but only after facing massive adversity. They are usually above average physically or intellectually, or both. They will tend to do something incredibly clever or incredibly stupid – again, there’s not much middle ground.

Rort Dangers

More easily dealt with, or at least so it would generally seem, are attempts by one or more players to give their characters an advantage. Where these are obvious and overt, they are easy to smack down; but players are sneaky sorts and inclined to take on challenges just for the intellectual thrill of beating them.

You can’t even use the simple test of considering anything that does not contribute to the immediate in-game problem as suspicious as a way of detecting these threats, Players can be smart enough to choose an action that both works to mitigate the current problem and yields a future benefit or advantage.

The solution has to be two-fold: First, a warning pre-game that any attempt to draw a benefit from the interval will be caused to fail during the interval by the GM – with prejudice. If a player tries to hide his bundle under the mattress before the Wall Street Crash, his home will burn down – with the money still inside. Insurance will rebuild the home, but not replace the cash. If a player tries to invest money so that it will grow inordinately during the interval, that investment will fail and be worth less at the end of the interval than it was at the start – unless it suits the GMs plot purposes.

It’s perfectly fine to railroad the game during an interval so that it goes exactly where the GM needs it to go in order to set up the next adventure, especially if the personalities and abilities of the characters is respected. And this is even more deserved if the GM detects an attempt to rort the game by taking advantage of its unique structure.

Of course, the players should be warned in advance of this, as a way of discouraging attempts to get too clever.

Metagame Issues: The Life Of A Character

The longer the intervals, even cumulatively, the more of a character’s life will be in the GMs domain. That means that he will need some sort of metagame guidelines or system for him to employ to map out those unexpected life events. There are two aspects of life that particularly need attention: the events that comprise a family history, and the occasional need to ensure that there is a new generation of character available to be the next PC.

Family Histories

The first requirement is some sort of “family history generator”. Fortunately, there are a number of such going around, some better than others. I outlined one in The Accumulation Of Mundane Events that I personally consider better than most because (a) It’s manipulable by the GM; (b) It’s fair, despite this; and (c) It’s a little more comprehensive and, at the same time, more general than most of the others that I’ve seen.

The need for a new generation

The other requirement is the need, periodically, for a new generation of adventurers. These may come from within the same family, or be members of the same organization, or be completely independent. To some extent, certainly more than will usually be the case, the GM and the Player will have to collaborate on the creation of backgrounds for these new characters, if there is any continuity within the campaign beyond the period recruitment of independent individuals to solve a short-term problem and who will be briefed completely afresh for each adventure.

Permit me to expand on that collaborative process for a moment. The Player creates the initial character; the GM then takes post-adventure charge of that character, and navigates his fortunes through the interval, before either handing the character back to the player for updating to reflect the changes that they have experienced (if they are to participate in the next adventure) or handing the player the resulting slice of continuity to become the background for the a character.

The GM has no say over how the changed character / new character will feel about the events and circumstances that surround them; a son or grandson may be respectful, or dismissive, or cynical, or even resentful of these circumstances. To some extent, his life is not his own; it belongs to the legacy of the last adventure. During the course of the second adventure, his attitude may change, or be reinforced. He may discover that the old man wasn’t crazy after all, or find a kindred spirit, or that this is what he was born for, or be sucked into events unwillingly. These reactions should be different with each successive generation. It may help if the player tells the GM what direction he would like to take with the next character in terms of this reaction so that interval events can be influenced accordingly.

But one thing that the character should feel most strongly (if he becomes reconciled to “the family business”) is that – if the threat has not been ended for all time – the future will need a new generation of heroes to fight it, and it is up to him to make sure that at least one will be there to take up the cause when the time comes.

Some people marry for love, others for heirs; the lucky few get to do both. But for the characters in a Discontinuous Campaign, the second of those options takes absolute priority.

All this goes out the window if the connecting thread is a secret society conducting a hidden war with new recruits each time, of course – though even in this circumstance, dynastic trends will emerge.

Either way, the implication of this mandate will be an imperative to make sure that the next generation is better prepared than the adventurer was – if that’s possible. But this sort of thing can put added strain on relationships, something else that will shape the family history. Mothers are often protective of their young, and may not understand their husband’s obsessive behavior with respect to his child’s education and training.

Of course, once his successor is born and has commenced his training, the need for the ancestor within the campaign begins to fade…

One final word on this subject

I cannot recommend strongly enough that, however the GM proposes to construct the “family plotline”, he communicates this process clearly to the players so that resentments and the feeling of being “picked on” don’t manifest. Make sure, too, that the GM is steering events not for the comfort of the previous PCs but in whatever direction he feels is required to make the next adventure as entertaining as it can be.

Rules Issues: The absence of direction

I stated at the start of this article that one of the difficulties that the GM of a Discontinuous Campaign would have to face is that they will need rules that a lot of game systems don’t have, and that a lot of those that do have them don’t do particularly well.

These rules generally deal with four topics; family histories, which I’ve already discussed at length, and:

  • Aging Rules,
  • R&D/Manufacturing Rules, and
  • Investment Rules.
Aging Rules

What happens to people as they age? More to the point, what happens to PCs when they age?

They start out (generally) being fitter and healthier than the common populace, but they put themselves in harm’s way with monotonous regularity, accumulating wounds, nicks, cuts, and other forms of harm.

Even if there is such a thing as healing magic, or healing super-science, it might deal only with the superficial harm and not the deep tissue traumas that characters will accumulate.

This is as complex an issue as you will come across in RPGs, and as divisive. You can get a “gentle” introduction to some of the issues through perusing The Age Of An Elf: Demographics of the long-lived.

Related issues are discussed in the “All Wounds Are Not Alike” series:

Don’t neglect the discussions in the comments sections of these articles, either.

Before this problem can be satisfactorily resolved, you’ll be hip deep in the differences between Intelligence and Wisdom, and does the latter increase with age, and what’s a Hit Point, and Demographic profiles, and Insurance assessments, and a host of other headaches.

But, to make any moderate-to-large-interval Discontinuous Campaign work, you will need to know how aging is going to work – and you will need your players to know those answers, once again to avoid any allegations of bias or of picking on the aging adventurers. Your logic will need to be clear, and your systems for expressing that logic in game mechanics will need to be succinct and reliable. Or you’re in trouble.

R&D/Manufacturing Rules

To some extent, this can be covered under the discussion of Rort Dangers previously, but I’ve learned the hard way in multiple campaigns that these are very easy to get wrong and those errors are very easy to take advantage of. I’ve encountered infinite-XP generators in both my own rules systems and in D&D 3.0, and those were picnics compared to the complexities of simulating the process of manufacturing something on an industrial scale without giving the character effectively-unlimited wealth and resources.

Why buy shares in INTEL before the PC Boom when you have the expertise to design your own processors and become a third player in the INTEL-AMD war? Or write your own Browser and take market share away from both Internet Explorer and Netscape Navigator (which eventually became Firefox)?

These are harder to police than outright attempts to rort the system because any character competent to do these things would have sufficient understanding of the state of the art to realize that they were possible, no out-of-character knowledge necessary. In fact, arguably, such characters would only be doing what came naturally to them.

Even harder to police are attempts to manufacture tools that experience has taught the PCs are often necessary to defeating the bad guys, whoever they may be. Who knows what availability and access might be like next year? The player might know that attempts to regulate firearms will fail, but the character doesn’t. Players will be prone to becoming the ultimate Survivalists if they know the enemy has only been stopped, not defeated – and arguably would only be acting in a reasonable way, given what they know.

There are only two things that can keep such things in check: Economies of Scale unavailable to a small group of PCs, and R&D/Manufacturing rules that control this sort of endeavor.

“It’s the 1950s and my character has scientific and engineering expertise 30 to 59 years in advance of everyone else out there. I want him to build a prototype color TV transmitter and receiver, patent the results, and then approach the largest existing manufacturer of black and white TVs for investment in commercial-scale manufacturing.” Believe it or not, this is a real-life example from my Warcry Campaign.

When something like this happens, you either rule that key manufacturing techniques and tools don’t exist, that the manufacturer isn’t aware of the scientific basis for such a device because the papers have not yet been published and so will dismiss it as a trick, or that color TVs would be too expensive in real dollar terms for the world of the 1950s – or you roll with the punch and let color-TV transmission start in the 1950s instead of the 1970s.

Or you have existing rules to control and contain the situation.

This wasn’t the first time that I had encountered this sort of problem, which exists anytime you have a PC who can be described as an Inventor.

Behemoth’s Energy Batteries
The first time was when a character named Behemoth invented an “ionic momentum energy battery” which stored energy by increasing the spin rate of ions suspended in a magnetic bottle at cryogenic temperatures. This device came in three sizes – 10 Megawatts, 1000 Megawatts, and 1 Million Megawatts capacity – and would release these charges as quickly or slowly as the device being powered demanded. I threw in some teething trouble because it was a new technology, but the character had paid for the prototypes with character points as Gadgets under the Hero System, so eventually he got the devices to work. (To be honest, Steve had no idea of how the device would translate into pseudo-physics, he left it entirely up to me; I came up with the explanation, and Steve approved it).

Then he decided to manufacture these batteries commercially, as well as using them as he had been, to power various high-tech gadgets he designed for the PCs. For this there were no rules, and the character was not paying anywhere near enough character points to support the industrial output of the factory that he had inherited from his father, and fortunately, I knew more science than the player did. So I ruled that under certain circumstances – exposure to strong magnetic fields, being violently handled, etc – the “revved up” Ions storing all this energy could strike the cryogenic material, imparting a huge amount of spin on both, and sending one ion crashing into another. Some of these cases had spins in the same or similar direction, others were in the opposite direction relative to the first. Behemoth had used a mixture of low- and high-atomic-mass Ions because, the larger ones could store more power but charged up more slowly, while the lighter ones could store less power but charge more quickly; this was the secret of the different battery capacities. Some of these collisions were enough to initiate nuclear fission in the heavier materials, which in turn was enough to initiate fusion in the lighter ones, which in turn was enough to liberate all the stored energy within the devices within a fraction of a second, which was enough to cause total conversion of the battery into energy. This was discovered when a 1 Million Megawatt battery went critical in central Australia, cracking the continental plate and creating an inland sea. While Behemoth continued to use the devices for his personal projects, the inherent design flaw forced a recall of the product and the abandonment of his manufacturing scheme. No-one else ever trusted the devices again. Furthermore, the devices were too unstable to be used as weapons.

Because the player had not deliberately tried to rort the system – it wasn’t his fault that rules to handle the mass-manufacture of new inventions didn’t exist within the game system – I went easy on him. He was able to recall and safely dispose of the entire inventory with no other big explosions, and some of his other gadgets – ones that would have had a smaller impact on the campaign environment – were permitted to be small successes.

The second occasion also involved Behemoth, and isn’t all that relevant here.

The third occasion is another pertinent example, however.

The Nebula Campaign
I talked about this campaign in my recent gaming biography. Here’s how I described it:

…the Nebula Campaign that resulted was completely different from every campaign I had run before. Everything was cinematic, there was almost zero interaction with the game mechanics; it was a dialogue of ideas and responses that placed a premium of the ability to think quickly and clearly, and it was a lot of fun.

Mike W, Nebula’s player, a Min-Maxer my nature, he always looked for a shortcut or a price cut, something that I was able to exploit time after time to maintain a reasonable game balance. When personality clashes, and some dubious in-game practical jokes led to Nebula being dropped from the line-up of the main game’s roster, he was not all that unhappy at departing.

A few years later, and he was itching to explore the broad conceptual palette that my campaigns offered, especially after learning that I had written up a game physics to describe the way things worked, but didn’t want to rejoin the main campaign. Instead, he wanted to roleplay what the character had done after leaving the main team. I had a bit of free time, and thought it worth trying, because when Mike was playing well, he was a great player.

The campaign was a fun one that could turn on a dime and go just about anywhere, without warning. A business problem could lead to investigating a Martian ruin that held a mysterious gadget that was the last surviving weapon from a war that had millennia earlier; its discovery might attract the attention of some alien sorcerers who were allied to the dead society, but who were secretly even worse bad guys than the enemy, and who would attack to try and gain possession of the weapon, which might then turn out to inhabit a psychic pseudo-realm virtual reality to which the dead people’s minds had fled, escaping the destruction of their star system when they employed their ultimate weapon in the war… that was very much the breakneck pace of the campaign. Neither of us could ever predict exactly where things would go, we were both living on our wits.

Mike’s biggest flaw was that he had studied the game physics that I had supplied and thought he understood the way the world worked better than I did. Time after time, he would do something, like placing a Charged Janus Crystal in a Mana-saturated field, confident that he knew what would happen (or simply curious), only to have it blow up in his face, sometimes literally, more often metaphorically. An adamantium scalpel, impervious to anything Nebula could do, was still subject to the reality manipulation of magic (just because Nebula couldn’t affect it, Mike W assumed that nothing else could, either) and transformed it into an out-of-control golem which rampaged through the surrounding Interstellar Empire; to defeat it, Mike had to define and locate a reality in which the super-material was vulnerable, which meant understanding why it was so tough in the first place, then create an appropriate warp field and suck the golem into it.

In general, this sort of wishful thinking – that the world would work the way he expected it to, which is the way that he would have designed it if he were in charge – got him in trouble with great regularity and was a cornerstone of both the campaign and the predominant personality flaw of the character. But most of the time, these problems were no more than interesting challenges and diversions, unless he carried his min-maxing to the point of trying to rort the system.

For example, there was the time he had spent 50 character points on an organization, and then forced each of the employees to undergo weekly psionic loyalty checks – which also implanted the compulsion of total loyalty to the organization – which justified each of the 500 or so employees so purchased-and-programmed donating 5 character points each back to the organization. Half of the resulting 2500 points was used to recruit another 10,000 employees, while the rest was used to purchase infrastructure for the organization. Those 10,000, programmed in exactly the same way as the 500, then donated a further 50,000 character points for Mike to use to build anything he felt his character needed – whether it was a starship, a lunar base, or whatever. And if he needed to, he could always go out and recruit some more staff. This completely overlooked the fundamental game principle and number-one metagame rule, “you get what you pay for”. Mike’s psionic meddling left these staff completely vulnerable to a type of psionic tapeworm which threatened to turn the entire organization against its founder… especially since a psionic parasite believed destroyed, and against whom Mike thought he had provided defenses, was able to use the tapeworm as a bootstrap to evade detection and bypass Mike’s prepared defenses. (Actually, the campaign wrapped up before all of the above could be discovered by Nebula, but it’s still absolutely typical of the campaign.

More to the point, no matter what resources the character justified in terms of in-game developments and then purchased using “manufactured” points, he ended up with what the player had really paid for. Sometimes, I let him have a little more, and paid for it by adding additional Disadvantages that limited the usefulness of whatever the resource was, or the profit that could be yielded from it. This is exactly the sort of control that the GM of a Discontinuous Campaign may have to exert if a player gets too clever by half – which is why I’ve brought the subject up.

Inventors will want to invent things. Engineers will want to build things. Scientists will want to discover things. Industrialists will want to manufacture things. The GM has to have a way that permits the retired PCs to continue to operate within their professional scope without damaging the campaign infrastructure that will be needed for subsequent adventures. In particular, anything that might give and advantage to the PCs – whoever they will be – who participate in the next adventure, no matter how plausible the preparations might be from a logical standpoint.

Investment Rules

When the adventure is over and the characters return to “real life”, they are going to want to invest in things – buy a house, buy a farm, buy a business, or improve those things if they already have them. That’s what people do with their time and their money. While a certain amount of hand-waving is possible when it comes to determining the outcome of these investments, the larger the inter-adventure intervals in a Discontinuous Campaign, the less work that the GM needs to perform to deal with these things, the better.

To some extent, it may be that the “family history” already has these things covered. Adopting the system I referred to above or something similar would do so, leaving these prosperity vectors as simply another variable, a lever that can be pushed around by the GM to interpret the overall outcome determined by the system, whether it be boom, bust, or something in between.

If the “family history” system that the GM selects is more focused on specific in-game outcomes, though, this gap will need to be plugged with some principles or guidelines at the very least, if not an actual investment Rules sub-system.

These are trickier to craft than they might at first appear, because they need to be responsive to external events within the game world in a realistic way while possessing the randomness of the real world, without requiring the GM to determine each of those external events if they aren’t relevant to the overall plotline connecting one adventure to the next, and to protect from the utilization of out-of-character knowledge.

Even that last is more complicated than it appears. If a character decides to invest in Microsoft Shares, is it because it’s blue-chip stock or is it because they know Windows 98 is about to hit the market? The GM could prohibit the purchase on the basis of the latter reason, meaning that the PC is not permitted to do something that a standard NPC is allowed to do (NOT good), and ignoring the possibility that the motive is reason number 1. This decision would therefore be patently unfair of the GM, because the character is arguably not doing anything unreasonable. The GM could permit the sale and then delay the launch or acceptance of Windows 98, playing around with the game history to marginalize the benefits of any player-knowledge – but this unfairly penalizes the character who made the same purchase because it was a good investment, and risks monkeying with the building blocks that come together to form our familiar history, essential background for the next adventure and points futureward.

It’s situations like this example that show that some form of simulation system is required that takes such decisions out of the GMs hands while still permitting him the input of events that did not transpire in our world and their impact on the relevant financial markets. It’s a sure bet that even a thwarted demonic invasion (if publicly known) – or whatever the previous adventure was – would have a noticeable impact on Wall Street, and that in turn has repercussions for every aspect of life in the game world.

Of course, if such a system were practicable and reliable, every investment bank in the world would be running projections 24-7 to choose the best strategy, and governments would be using Economic Simulators to plan their fiscal policy. The real world economy is too chaotic to model anywhere near realistically. And even if you could, it might take 1 year to model a month’s transactions – so that by the time the prediction was complete, it was eleven months out of date. At best, in the real world, such a system would be a tool for retroactive analysis. To make forecasts timely, you need to take some of the realism out and substitute assumptions – so that if it took a year to generate a prediction, you would start by describing the situation you assumed would exist, eleven months from now.

At the present time, we don’t even fully understand the many modes of interaction between the varieties of market events that occur. More assumptions are required – and so you end up producing not an economic simulation, but an economic model that is only as sturdy as your ability to predict the future course of events that you aren’t even aware of.

Fortunately, a GM is not going to be all that interested in realism and accuracy. He doesn’t need the system to actually enable him to plan his investments – he just needs it to offer a reasonable description of an approximation of reality. Such a system can be devised for use in an RPG that would never be considered robust enough for the real world, and it is an absolute necessity just for dealing with situations like the one described a few paragraphs ago.

Sources Of Inspiration

There are some places that the GM can look for techniques and tools, and the information that would help to make a Discontinuous Campaign practical. Here are just a few of them that are worth investigating.

Original Traveller

The character generation system in Original Traveller included a career-modeling system. Riddled with flaws when applied for its intended purpose – like the prospect of a character dying in mid-generation – and not nearly comprehensive enough to deal with everything that needs to be addressed for the intervals of a Discontinuous Campaign, it could nevertheless provide the foundations of a set of appropriate game rules. One of the key changes that would be needed would be to take some of the randomness out, giving the GM the capability of matching the simulated progression of life to the external events that he (or history) dictate and that lead to the situation that would obtain at the start of the next adventure – but it would be a start.

Tarot Readings

The “family history” system that I linked to earlier was derived from an idea from one of my earlier campaigns, in which a Tarot Reading was made for each character in the game to determine the approximate shape of their future lives – not the outcomes, but the challenges that they would face. Such a system could easily be implemented to assist in the GMs handling of ex-PCs during Intervals.

Who Do You Think You Are?

This is a set of TV series – I know there’s an American one, an Australian one, and a British one – that have been running for several seasons in some cases. Wikipedia tells me there’s also a Canadian version, an Irish version, a Danish Version, A Swedish version and a Czech Version.

Each episode takes a publicly-known figure and traces their family tree to reveal their roots and the stories of their ancestors, especially the events at key turning points in the lives of those ancestors. Each of these key events and personal decisions adds up to producing the life and circumstances that led the individual to be the person that they are, and provide a key understanding for how history intersects with the lives of ordinary and extraordinary people to produce a personal circumstance.

I would recommend anyone contemplating a Discontinuous Campaign to watch as many episodes of this series as they can get their hands on, from every country they can find (and whose language they speak) as the best possible foundation for handling life events in the Intervals between adventures.

A campaign can be considered a series of extraordinary events separated by mundane periods of life, and that is the correct perspective to employ when creating those extraordinary events as adventures within a Discontinuous Campaign. But equally validly, such a campaign could be viewed as a continuous stream of ordinary lives punctuated from time to time with an extraordinary event. Who Do You Think You Are provides a framework of understanding how those periods of ordinary existence put people into the right places at the right time to become part of those extraordinary events, and how the repercussions of those events then shape the subsequent lives of the participants. This is must-have information for any GM contemplating a Discontinuous Campaign, and the greater the Interval Length contemplated, the more important and useful these television shows are.

Leaving out the ones that aren’t in English:

This show – and anything similar you find – makes history accessible. That’s always useful, but for a Discontinuous Campaign, it’s essential.

Radical Continuity Campaigns: The Wrap-up

The prospects offered by the concept of a Discontinuous Campaign are exciting ones. It’s an innovative idea that immediately intrigues. It’s more akin to a series of standalone novels, such as the Lensman series by E.E.Doc Smith, the Harry Potter Series, etc, than the one-big-story paradigm of The Lord Of The Rings and series by David Eddings. There are some practical difficulties to be overcome, but none appear insuperable on closer examination, no matter how difficult they might appear at first glance.

This answer has probably come far too late to help James with his campaign, which I hope did not flounder on any of the difficulties that I’ve outlined, but I’d like to thank him for the question and the intriguing concept that he proposed.

Next in this series: GM Joel takes me out of my comfort zone with a request concerning running a game for a large group of players…

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