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Creating Legacy Campaigns

Life is funny. Last month I was hacking up a John Wick game, and today I am here to tell you about work I am doing for Things from the Flood. As it turns out, my player who was going to be out for his new baby, was ready to come back sooner than we expected. So the next thing I knew, I was cracking open my Things from the Flood book and reading up. 

For our group, though, this was going to be special. We had previously run an 11 month Tales from the Loop game, where we had a large meta-mystery about one of the character’s mom’s missing as part of a revenge plot by one of the other character’s aunts. In the climax of the story, the kids were able to save the mom and get the aunt arrested. 

We all agreed that we would play the same characters in Things, aging them from where they were when we ended Tales. That is what today’s article is about. How to take the legacy of your past campaign and bring it forward for a new campaign.

The Legacy Campaign

I am fond of defining things before we talk about them, and I want to define something I am going to call the Legacy Campaign. 

A legacy campaign is a campaign whose setting is derived from a previously run campaign and uses some or all of the past events, locations, and NPCs in the new campaign. 

In my case, my Things from the Flood campaign is going to be based on the events, locations, and NPCs that were part of my Tales from the Loop campaign. Furthermore, and this is not a requirement, the characters will be the older version of the characters in the Tales game. 

Why are Legacy Games fun?

Campaigns, in general, are fun in part because of continuity. The idea of something growing, changing, or even staying the same, between sessions, gives our brains a sense of comfort, as we are accustomed to our lives having some level of continuity. 

Inside a campaign, having the barista that your detectives get coffee from evolve from studying between coffees, to graduating, to having their last day before they start their new career gives the players a sense of the passage of time, as well as seeing the growth of the NPC.

The Legacy Campaign then builds upon that by taking the accumulated stories and growth from the past campaign and using them as seeds for building a new campaign.

The Legacy Campaign then builds upon that by taking the accumulated stories and growth from the past campaign and using them as seeds for building a new campaign. What makes this even better is that this is not history written by a game designer, but rather this history was created by the players of the past campaign, which if they are in the current one, will be more intense because they will remember it better and will have a higher emotional investment because it was created by the players. 

Creating a Legacy

Creating a legacy is an exercise in extrapolation. The goal is to find the things that are important and interesting from the first campaign and determine how those things change over time. This can be done in a number of ways, including reviewing session prep, notes taken during the session, talking with the players from the first campaign, etc. 

However you review your past campaign, here are some things to consider using for your legacy:

NPCs

The NPCs who survived the first campaign have a chance to be in your new campaign. Consider which ones resonated with the past group, the ones they really enjoyed. Those you will want to pull forward. Also, look at a few more obscure ones. The obscure ones, when they come back into the game, will give that “deep cut” feeling.  Don’t feel the need to include every NPC from the past game. It is fine to have some of them fade into obscurity. 

Important Events

Look over the important events from the past campaign and think about the ones that would resonate forward to the time of the new campaign. Some events in the past campaign were important at the time but may not have the gravity to affect events in the new campaign. 

There will be some events that will resonate in the new campaign, and those are crucial to include. They are the ones that everyone is wondering how they would have changed the world. If the Great Wyrm was killed in the past campaign, how has the world changed in its absence? 

Here is a thing I love. Take something that seemed very small in the past campaign and have that event be the trigger for something that will be prominent in the new campaign. Perhaps the paper delivery girl in your past campaign is now the Mayor of the town after one of the PCs from the past campaign gave her a bit of advice about following her dreams.

Locations

Locations are really their own type of character. So, much like the NPCs consider what locations you may want to carry forward. To keep things fresh and to show the passage of time, consider subverting some of those sites. The hottest bar in the past campaign might now be a dive, a new place has now become the “in” place to be. 

While technically not part of the past campaign, look at new locations that can be added to the campaign. Review the past setting and look for areas that never got a lot of attention, and promote them to be a more prominent location.

Moving Time Forward

Once you know what you are keeping, you need to think about how you want it to change. This is where you will be extrapolating. What you want to consider is how this thing changed as time passed. Which means we have a few options.

Better

Things got better for this item. People grew and improved, a location became updated, an event had a positive effect going forward. 

Worse

Things got worse for this item. People grow apart, a location becomes run down, and an event had a negative effect in the future.

No Change

Things remained constant for this item. Some people are iconic, some locations never weather, and some events do not create change.

Gone

This item did not last. Some people leave or die, some locations are demolished or abandoned, and some events are forgotten. 

It’s best to have a variety of these outcomes for the items you selected to persist in your game. Mix it up and pick up some to contrast. Perhaps the village inn has gotten worse and is now run down and falling apart, but the innkeeper just got married. Some things will track together. The consequences of an event that got worse over time also have made several people worse in the process. 

Collaborating vs. Solo

As a GM, you could easily do all this work yourself. This could all be part of your campaign prep. I will say, though, that collaboration is always better, so share this process with your players — especially if the players who are playing the new game were the players who played the past game. 

You can do a bit of prep for this by making a list of items to look over. Go through your session notes and pull out all the interesting bits. Then at Session Zero bring out the list and brainstorm with your players what happened to each of these things. Follow all the rules of good collaboration, yes..and, make sure everyone gets heard, etc.

Together you can build this new future.

Time Keeps On Slipping… 

A legacy campaign is a great way to play something new while holding onto the memories of past games. It is a campaign that has a higher level of emotional investment and deeper understanding. Legacy campaigns are not hard to create, they just need a little prep work and that work is best shared as a group.

Have you ever made a legacy campaign? Tell us about them in the comments below. 

3 Comments (Open | Close)

3 Comments To "Creating Legacy Campaigns"

#1 Comment By Zapak Vim On September 26, 2019 @ 2:33 pm

thanks for this, its very timely with some good ideas for me to think about. Our Pathfinder campaign has been going six years and the players are finally (they are easily distracted) about to get to the long planned climactic battle. The final battle will change the politics of the region, so the PCs will eaither be dead or failures on the ruin, or respectable and powerful. Whatever the result, the plan is any survivors will retire and we will switch to PF2 rules and restart the campaign a generation later. Some of our more interesting NPCs in this campaign may become mentors, friends or even enemies of the new characters, and I imagine at least one or two players will play a child or younger relative of their previous character. This is all due to happen in the next few months and we will have some sort of group discussion where we go through the interesting locations and NPCs , and work out exactly where the new campaign will start. We will also use the Microscope game to develop some interesting histories for a few locations we decide we need to develop more before we start the new sessions. Some PCs have already started planning famileis and writing wills.

#2 Comment By Blackjack On September 27, 2019 @ 6:13 pm

Great article, Phil. I ran a legacy campaign a while back. It was a lot of fun. I set it in the same game world, 10 years in the future, and focused in a different part of the world to create additional newness for the players. Everyone had new characters.

One of the most emotional moments in the TYL (Ten Years Later) game came when a PC from the original game appeared as an NPC. He was powerful and mysterious… and in hiding. One of the players practically cried. “This means our old characters failed their epic mission!”

Now, here’s something I’d add to your piece about legacy games: The fun of moving things forward in time works for rolling them back, too.

Eventually we parked TYL and resumed the original game. Having gone through TYL and come back was fun because I brought some of the elements of TYL backwards in time. I’ve built present-day storylines around many of the TYL characters (PCs and their NPC allies). For most of them it’s like an origin story– they’re teens, they have at best a half-focused idea of what they want to do in life, and they’re at significant risk of careening headlong down dark or dangerous paths. The players loved helping out their future PCs!

#3 Comment By AC Mitchell On October 7, 2019 @ 12:30 pm

Very interesting article..

I actually am running a “parallel legacy” campaign where my adult friends have been playing through my campaign world for the past year, helping to create the world and backstory for the group of students that play in the same campaign at the school I teach at. The students’ world is set 15 years in the future, where some of them are playing the children (unwittingly, I may add) of some of the adult players. Things the adults do in their games affect the world that the students play in.

A good example from my game is when the adult players cleansed a small village of a necromancer and his zombies that he had raised from the village’s graveyard. Afterwards, the adult players had been taken in by one of the village women who helped heal them of their injuries and provide them with shelter. In return, the adult players raised funds to help the villagers get back on their feet after the destruction of most of their village.

When the student players arrived at the village (15 years later), it was now a small town centered around a tavern that was now located a half-mile away near the main trade route. The tavern is now owned by the woman from the village who had taken the adult adventurers in after their battle and nursed them back to health. She had taken the money the adult players had given her and built a tavern by the main trade route about a half mile from the village’s previous location and the rest of the villagers eventually moved there and also built businesses from the money the adult players had injected into their economy. The student players now hear tales of the “ghost town” up the road and the story of the founding of the tavern they are beginning their adventures in.