I’m back from Michigan but nowhere near caught up (we had a great time). Luckily, TT reader Walt C. posed a question via email while I was gone: How much of your material do you recycle between campaigns? (Great question, Walt — thanks!)
And to be clear, Walt’s question wasn’t just about carrying stuff over from one D&D campaign to the next — GMs can and should reuse, recycle and repurpose material from system to system, group to group and game to game. If you wrote an awesome encounter that the PCs never saw, why not use it again? If you ginned up a great NPC who got killed off early, why not bring her back in another campaign?
Especially when you’re short on time, using stuff you’ve already written that your current group has never seen before is always at least worth considering. Personally, I’m often too disorganized to do this properly — I don’t catalog the stuff I prep well, and I can’t always find it when I need it again (assuming I even remember to look for it, of course). Recycling is definitely something I need to do more often.
How about you?
I don’t recycle, but I often go a year or more between running games and I do minimalist prep so there usually isn’t anything left over TO recycle once I’m done.
I think if I were going to worry about this, it’d be re-using monster stats from big-crunch games. It’d be nice to have a database of critters for D&D with various different class levels and templates and so forth, so you can throw in something that isn’t just a standard mob very quickly.
I’m editing part of my letter to Martin to add illustration (Martin was afraid of giving away some of my campaign material, but none of it is in my Vault of Secrecy :))
To whit: I tend to recycle a lot of NPCs, organizations, and other bits and pieces from one campaign to the next. A Delta Green operative from a Call of Cthulhu campaign might show up as a Templar agent in a Witchcraft campaign. I’ve used the same television news reporter in a number of campaigns. Immortals from an old Highlander campaign have made appearances in newer modern fantasy campaigns.
In most cases, these “retreads” are given a new coat of paint to mesh with the new universe, but key concepts, personalities, and backstories are usually modeled as closely as possible. For example, I used to have a rich mutant superhero PC that owned a large corporation. The corporation has shown up in subsequent modern campaigns that don’t include superheroes. My old PC has even made cameo appearances in these new campaigns, although he obviously doesn’t have any superpowers. In a 1990s AD&D game, I used an old party from the 1980s as the gods of this new land. The players got a kick out of the twisted mythology (and I got to make a statement on how man shapes myth to his own liking).
Oddly, while it used to feel like I was cheating, I’ve found that my players really enjoy the reintroductions. They get excited when they see “Amber Knight, news reporter” stepping out of a news van for the first time in a new campaign instead of TV Reporter #6 (even though the PCs are meeting her for the first time, and her background might be different). I’ve also never had anyone cry foul over the recycled material.
When I run historical campaigns (or even futuristic ones), you can bet a few characters will have ties to those from other campaigns, even if the rules system or underlying setting is different (a Victoriana detective, for example, may have the same surname as a gumshoe in a pulp campaign).
It’s like I have this weird, giant, malleable inter-campaign mythology that each new campaign adds to (it helps that I tend to run a lot of modern fantasy/occult/horror games, so it all fits pretty well).
I love recycling stuff. (Probably because, although I love DMing, I don’t have a lot of prep time at my disposal.) My best recycle was a great campaign I came up with…I’ve now run the entire campaign 3 times with three different gaming groups. What was the most fascinating about it was how much the players changed the story…even though the outline and my NPCs were the same, the campaign was completely different each time I ran it.
I also re-use NPCs and monster stats. It floors me how much cosmetic changes “fool” the players. Also, if someone does recognize something similar about an NPC, they seem to fill in the back story themselves… “Are you related to Mr. So-and-so from This Village?” “Why yes, how good of you to notice…he’s my brother/long-lost cousin/sworn enemy who imitates me/mild-mannered alter ego.” *evil chuckle* Hooray for the willing suspension of disbelief by eager players!
I have never really done that…
One of these days maybe I will!
I haven’t DMed enough recently to have the chance to recycle. But I can say that I did write up some details for a town that I hoped the PCs would visit — which was subsequently destroyed before they got there. Thus those details, with a little tweaking, are now applied to a different town.
Also, in response to Martin’s comment about lack of organization preventing re-use: use a wiki! With tags! I put all my NPCs each into their own Tiddler with the tag “NPC” as well as a few other descriptives: elf, human, fighter, wizard, etc. Then I can just pull up the list of Tiddlers by tag(s) and viola!
I have two groups, originally one was on the east coast and the other on the west coast. So dead npcs got recycled between the games. Dead pcs also get recycled.
I also have prepared encounter cards with beasties which are used over again. What I do with my free time is to do a basic encounter with a beastie(s) and put the info in a 4×6 card and fill it away in the proper environment setting, hills, mtns, swamps, etc. Before the box was stolen I had about 200 basic encounters. Im currently back up to about 50.
Any special encounters are done before the game and if not used saved for the future.
I’m not so sure I recycle, but I definitely port things over into other games that I am running. A player in one game played the cousin of an NPC from another game and kind of connected them that way. I’ve used old PCs as villains in new games (with permission of the player), and I’ve made connections between places and locations across games. Since it is the same group for that are playing in the same world setting that isn’t hard to do.
in the past, anything i didn’t end up using was certainly fair game for recycling into a new campaign, and many group-favorite NPCs were recycled into new guises as well. i’ve been trying to keep my eberron campaign clean of that, though.
I recycle nearly everything. Not only do I try to get my bang for my buck with published adventures that I purchase and encounters that I plan, I reuse entire adventure ideas.
It helps that I have so many different groups that I can and have played with. But I’ve personally run the exact same epic-level mini campaign three times (but never finished it), three “Groundhog Day” style adventures, and several musical adventures.
I’ve recycled lots of stuff! Cleaning house in order to get ready to sell has been good for that.
Oh, wait, you mean re-use… 🙂
I’ve got bits and pieces I’ve re-used, but overall, very little.
I still have the dungeon I was using when I started gaming at MIT in ’78 or ’79. I haven’t used it recently, but I know I used it several times during high school, and may have used it during college.
What I’ve re-used most is modules.
I’ve used the Fell Pass from Dragon #32 at least twice (using it back when it came out, and later in a RuneQuest campaign).
I’ve used Trouble at Grog’s from Dungeon #4 at least twice if not three times, having used it for Fantasy Hero back in grad school when it first came out.
I started to use the Keep at Koralgesh from Dungeon #2 in my most recent AD&D campaign, having used it for D&D in grad school shortly after it first came out.
I’ve used parts of B10 Night’s Dark Terror twice, once for D&D and once for Cold Iron.
I’ve used UK5 Eye of the Serpent probably three times. I’m pretty sure I used it back in grad school and I know I’ve used it more recently once for RuneQuest and once for Cold Iron.
I’ve used Judge’s Guild’s Dark Tower a couple times. Not sure when I first used it, but I have some old player maps from it. Recently I used it for my second Arana Unearthed/Evolved campaign.
In my most recent RuneQuest campaign, I did re-use a friend’s PC as an NPC. I’ve perhaps done that a few other times. I may have re-used some of my high school NPCs in college.
I’ve re-used commercial settings occaisionally, having used Judge’s Guild’s First Fantasy Campaign (Blackmoor setting) a couple times, and Wilderlands of High Fantasy at least three times.
NPC stat blocks get relatively little re-use because I tend to shift game systems a lot, and even when I re-use a game system, I change things such that old stat blocks aren’t very useful. I don’t tend to go for deep characterization and theatrics, so that kind of stuff is not there to re-use, which if I did do, I see a lot of value in re-using, Walt’s reporter is an excellent example of NPC re-use that just doesn’t apply much to my style of gaming.
The two things I recycle quite often are stat blocks and maps.
For stat blocks, I’ll change the name/physical description a bit, give it some different attacks, but essentially it’s the same thing in a new wrapper.
For maps, I’ll turn them 90 degrees, draw them with the interior walls changed a bit. Just enough that it looks like a new location, but not so much that it takes a lot of time.
Lots of good stuff here in the comments!
While using old stat blocks or dungeons or unused material is all great (and I’ve certainly done my share), this is “invisible” to the players.
My question had more to do with “transparent” shout-outs and recycling, where the players know you pulled it from another campaign and enjoy it anyway.
And like Martin said, not “pulled” in the sense of “Oooh, we have to return to the Tomb of Horrors?” but pulled in the sense of “Hey, those men in black from our Call of Cthulhu campaign are now Combine agents in the Witchcraft campaign!”
This is the third campaign in the same homebrewed world so all the npcs are still around they just change significance depending on the the PCs focus in each campaign.
Last campaign the PCs had serious trust issues with the cities intel chief, even came near to blows a few times, in this campaign he is thier liason to the king.
Before running this era I did a campaign in the same world 13,000 earlier. Several immortal characters and things have appeared in both the before and after. Some things, including PCs (and in one case a PCs sword) have taken legendary significance.
For Martin’s version: I reuse a little of the mechanics– good encounter rules, variations of NPCs, etc.
For Walt’s version: I like it when it works… but sometimes it feels too like an in joke or seems lazy. I think I’d have to change the NPC’s name and see if the players pick up on the variation… I wouldn’t feel right introducing an old element in a new setting.
For the general question: Wow, there’s some excellent recycling going on! This strikes me as a great wiki section — I’d love to see tips on recycling in list form, and I know that would help me learn how to be a better recycling GM. One more to file away for the wiki overhaul!
For Walt’s specific question: I think your approach sounds neat, and I’d say if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Do your players get a kick out of the common threads? If so, rock on.
Apart from minor touches (halflings always have French accents was one I used to do), you’re the only GM I’ve heard of doing recycling in the way you describe.
“Apart from minor touches (halflings always have French accents was one I used to do), youâ€™re the only GM Iâ€™ve heard of doing recycling in the way you describe.”
So I am weird!
(Not that that comes as any great surprise!)
I do a lot of recycling, especially between systems. Thus if I have a pre-made D&D adventure never played before, I adapt it to fit to the new setting-rules and play it. Even we have re-played the same adventure with different settings: it’s amazing to see how you are playing the core of the same adventure you have played before but twisted enough to be a new and fresh experience.
I’ve done a lot of the recycling that Walt was talking about and have had great results with my players.
The two big ones are game specifics, every Star Wars game I’ve ran has had the same chain of bars in all the seediest locals. It’s called the Dancing Dewback and is actually a bit of a favorite of my group. They often will ask locals how to get to the Dewback first thing when they come to place they’ve never been. The Dancing Dewback is always chock full of special NPCs that are the same from location to location (their names change and their cousins with their counterparts at different places). Its a bit campy I’ll admit, but then that just makes the game a bit more like the setting of the movies anyway.
Along the same lines, in all my World of Darkness games, there is always the same NPC Cias(ky-Us)Octavious. His background and personality are pretty much exactly the same every game, but his position and role change. He’s been the villian, the man behind the curtain, Prince of their city, etc.
On one hand I can see how it’s kind of lazy to use the exact same locations or NPCs from game to game but my players have had a great time with them. I keep character sheets on the NPCs I recycle from game to game, and I keep a Word document thats full of recycled locations with notes on where they can be found, who can be found there, what can be found there etc.
I think the key to a successful recycled character or place is making sure that its a truly unique and enjoyable experience that is highly intractable and most importantly fun to interact with.
Just my two cents on it at least.
For those who wonder if recycling is cheating, consider, have you ever said (or thought) somethign along the lines of: “This NPC is sort of like Luke in Return of the Jedi.”? How often do you describe a movie in terms of a previous movie?
Re-using familiar roles and memes has been a staple of fiction for esssentially the entire history of recorded fiction (and assuredly before the invention of writing).
That RPGs assign some numbers to the roles that may also be re-used is just a refinement of the process.