All of the Star Wars campaigns I’ve run have been set in the same version of the Star Wars Universe. What this means is, I’m assuming that whatever happened in a previous Star Wars campaign, those events happened in the next campaign that I facilitate. I’ve run campaigns set in the Knights of the Old Republic Era, the Darth Bane “Brotherhood of the Sith” era, the “Dark Times” between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope, and during the Galactic Civil War.
I give little hints that this is the same universe for my players. For example, one of the Moffs in the Rebellion era game had the same last name as one of the Old Republic soldiers, and later on, one of my player characters ran a version of his droid from the Old Republic era, with partially damaged memories to reset their character advancement.
I’ve done this with a few Forgotten Realms and Dragonlance campaigns as well. This isn’t especially groundbreaking. I’ve talked to several game facilitators that have seeded historical events or NPCs from previous games, and some pretty famous campaign settings, like Monte Cook’s Ptolus, are predicated on extrapolating later history from an earlier campaign.
But then I decided to do something more ambitious.
The Birth of the Meta-Campaign
This started as just having too many players for a single Star Wars game. I’m generally not big on having more than five or six players in a campaign, and I had something along the lines of nine people interested in an Edge of the Empire game I was planning on running. I decided I would run two different games, on alternating Thursdays.
Then, the thought struck me. What if both of the campaigns were related? What if they didn’t just vaguely take place in the same galaxy separated by sectors of space, but were directly tied to one another? That’s when I started to do some planning.
Both groups ended up working for Honest Cid’s Outer Rim Transport, a shipping company owned by Cid Ybom, a Herglic entrepreneur whose business was based out of the Polis Massa asteroid settlements (where Luke and Leia were born in Revenge of the Sith). Honest Cid picked up a lot of contracts of questionable legality, so in addition to his shipping concerns, sometimes he needed people to move material and undertake jobs that were not strictly on the books.
The team on the first and third Thursdays was Team Aurek, and the team on the second and fourth Thursday was Team Besh. Team Aurek was all small-time criminals bailed out of prison on Eriadu after running afoul of the law, while Team Besh were all people in dire straits with local criminals, given a hand getting off the planet Terminus on the edge of Wildspace. This gave me a common origin for both teams, and a common employer to tie the stories together.
Team Aurek received their pick of a few different jobs from some adventure hooks I came up with, and Team Besh picked their jobs from that point as well. In between the general jobs that the teams were undertaking, I introduced narratives for the “meta-campaign” that either team could explore.
The interweaving narratives involved running into Cid’s cousin, the bounty hunter Monstro, and his partner, the cyborg Gungan bounty hunter Deadeye Bodad (who was a cyborg because of shenanigans in a previous campaign). Monstro crossed paths with both teams on different occasions. The crime lord Fade was an ongoing threat complicating the missions of both teams, and eventually Team Besh revealed the former Gammorean security chief using a Humanoid Replica Droid and stolen blackmail files to carve a name for himself in the underworld. Both teams ran afoul of the Hutts, but Team Aurek eventually stole the massive shipment of nerve gas that their local kajidic was going to sell on the black market, and neutralized it before it could be sold.
In the end, Team Aurek stopped a rival Assembler crime lord (hive mind spider creatures that live on space stations made of webs) from turning Honest Cid over to the Imperials, but not before they were forced to relocate the business from Polis Massa. Because of this, Team Besh was trapped on Eriadu after stopping a terrorist bombing orchestrated by the ISB, and they ended up being pressed into service as Imperial assets, as one of the team was a former Imperial that was on the run from the ISB.
Throughout the game, we had one player join, one switch nights, and two leave the campaign, which opened up their characters to be used in adventures for both teams. The groups would often discuss with one another what was going on during their mission, and there were even some friendly arguments about the messes that one team would leave for the other team to clean up.
I would say, overall, this experiment was a success. Both teams felt like they were not only in the same universe, but part of the same organization, despite little direct contact. So, how did we manage to juggle this campaign? Let’s look at some specific steps.
This is probably the most important step in the process. If you are going to have two interconnected groups, you need to have a means of tying them together beyond a common setting. If you have two groups of adventurers, even if they start in the same place, eventually they can range all over your campaign world. This means that the means of organically bringing in consequences and developments from the other group becomes strained.
I’m going to be the first one to say that I’ve had a challenging time running sandbox campaigns, in part because I can’t keep myself from devoting too much energy developing too much of the sandbox “just in case” the player characters come across that particular hook. That said, in a more “sandbox” style campaign, the best way to facilitate a “shared world” is to have a common home base. If everyone hangs out in the same bar, or hires themselves out of the same adventurer’s club, in the same town, there is going to be much more opportunity for characters to hear about the exploits of others, even if they somehow manage to avoid every location that other group has ever interacted with.
For a less sandbox-style campaign, having a common employer, organization, or patron will be a good way to tie the groups together. In this instance, it’s going to be very easy to hear mission updates about the “other team” when the group is getting their latest assignments. There are also lots of pop culture references for this kind of arrangement. As an example, The Avengers, the X-Men, and the Justice League have all, at different times, had multiple teams with different rosters, stationed in different regions, that were all part of the same general organization.
The important element for both of these concepts is a constrained common point. Waterdeep is a pretty big common home base for adventurers, but having both groups staying at, and operating out of the Yawning Portal Inn, creates more familiarity. Working for SHIELD means it would be very easy to never see agents from another wing of the organization, but having everyone working for SHIELD’s Kaiju tracking unit and operating out of the Behemoth Helicarrier gives them enough room to be distinct strike force teams, but not enough room to completely escape the effects of the other team’s actions.
- Common Home Base and/or Common Employer/Organization/Patron
- Constrained Common Elements
We know we want our common elements to be constrained, so the groups can’t entirely ignore one another, but now that we have the constrained area or organization as our core conceit, how do we communicate the commonality of the setting?
On a meta-level, you should tell each of the groups what you are doing. Ideally, once you have your core concept, you may want your session zero to contain both groups. This may also help you to determine what night each player is going to play.
Once everyone knows, on a meta-level, who is involved in the campaign, you also need a means of communication in the campaign itself. This might be an established “rumors” phase of the game, where someone at the local bar tells stories of other adventurers, which happen to be the other group of players. For a common employer, this might be a mission briefing before the group takes on their next job, where they can find out the evolving aspects of the campaign.
This shouldn’t be an info dump, but rather a concise summary that explains how the actions of the other group of player characters have changed the overall outlook of the campaign. You don’t need to give one team all of the information about the contacts that were made, or the party they attended undercover, but if they blew up the governor’s mansion at the end of the party, that’s something you should share.
You should also establish a means of communicating between groups, once you establish the time scale between them (we’re getting to that). This is something you should think about in both a meta and in world sense. For example, in the world, you may have the adventurers leave a note for the other adventurers warning them about a monster on the loose in an area they have previously explored. In-game, this may be a note left with the bartender, but in the real world, it’s an email between players, or a post in a Discord server.
- Try having a shared session zero for both groups
- Have a formalized way to “touch base” with the exploits of the other team
Find an in-universe means of sharing information between groups
- Find a real-world means that works for the players for sharing information
I’m a big fan of formalizing the amount of downtime that characters in the game receive. In part, this is because many games have rules for what characters can do that take a specific amount of time (crafting items, healing from wounds). If you wait for players to ask if they can take two weeks in the middle of a session to build a new droid or brew some potions, the momentum of the adventure may get thrown off. On the other hand, if your adventure ends at a logical breakpoint, you can easily say that there is a week between game sessions, and the PCs can spend that time healing, building, or repairing items.
This has been formalized in Dungeons and Dragons Adventurer’s League games, where every session includes downtime days as rewards, as well as in setting rules, such as the Time Flies rule in the Midgard Campaign setting. If you don’t have another solid idea for how to advance your time scale, use the informal method used for television series. In many cases, television shows tend to have about a week between episodes, whenever a previous episode is referenced.
The reason time scale is going to be important for a shared game is that both groups may not be participating in their adventures concurrently, so you may need to track if the two groups are “out of sync.” If the groups are “out of sync,” not only will this affect the information that you share in mission briefings or gossip phases of the game, but it may affect player characters being able to contact one another across game sessions.
In my Honest Cid campaign, if both teams were “in sync,” and the players had access to long-range communication equipment, I would tell them they should feel free to text players from the other team to ask about information that that team may have come across.
You don’t need an extensive calendar to track this time scale if you aren’t planning on dealing with changing seasons or local holidays. This didn’t come up much in my Star Wars games, because we weren’t tracking years and months, just days from the start of the campaign. Keep a note of Team One, [Days Since the Start of the Campaign], Team Two [Days Since the Start of the Campaign]. When the teams are in sync, they can communicate, if they have the means to do so. If one is ahead of the other in the time scale, they can leave notes and information for the other team. Whenever time passes, add it to the days you are tracking.
In most cases, this will mean the groups are leapfrogging over one another in the time scale, and that’s fine, but once in a while, you may want to grant one team or the other more downtime between jobs to bring them in sync.
- Establish a Schedule for Assigning Downtime
- Keep Track of the Number of Days Since the Beginning of the Campaign
- Note when Teams are In Sync
- Assign Extra Downtime to Sync Teams when You want them Lined Up
Beyond the convention that ties the groups together (location, patron), to make a campaign like this worth running is common elements that both teams encounter. You should come up with broader elements of the campaign world that will interact with both teams. This could be a rival organization that has the opportunity to harass both groups of operatives. It could be a world event, like an earthquake or volcano erupting, or the invasion of a nearby city.
The important aspects of these common elements are that they aren’t just developments that the teams hear about during their briefings or gossip sessions, but they directly affect both teams. If a volcano erupts, one team may help locals evacuate, while the other team has to divert themselves to a port city to hire a ship to sail around the trade routes that are now cut off by the lava flow.
Having a recurring issue that one or the other team can resolve is also a good way to create “meta-team” building. If a rival organization has been harassing both teams, seed clues that lead to the leadership of that organization for both teams. If one team acts on the clue before the other team, they may have the chance to resolve the plotline, and when you update the other team, they know that their cohorts are on the job. This is also a good case for sharing information between teams. If the teams are in sync, and one team has picked up a clue but is busy resolving a different situation, they can pass on what they have learned to the alternate team to better equip them for success.
Common elements are also a good way to signify the end of a campaign. Finding out your patron is a supervillain, and taking down their organization, signals the end of the cooperative elements of the game. One group may deal with their patron’s right-hand henchperson, and maybe explain to the authorities why they aren’t complicit with the patrons actions, while the other team captures and defeats their old patron.
If the group has a shared base of operations, maybe it’s invaded, destroyed by a natural disaster, or just sadly bought out by someone that wants to radically change the place.
If you do end the campaign in this manner, consider having a session where you can have all of the players get together to play in character their farewells, with a chance to talk face to face, or perhaps set up a situation where they all communicate with one another via email or group chat to resolve this phase in their lives.
- Create Common Campaign Elements
- Have Common Campaign Elements Effect Teams During Adventures
- Have Teams Share Information About Common Elements When In Sync
- Use Common Elements to Signal The End of The Campaign
This isn’t the simplest style of campaign to run. In addition to the regular stresses of facilitating for a group, there are additional aspects you need to juggle to make the conceit of both groups existing in the same world a meaningful one. Much of this work can be a lot easier to manage when broken down into simple elements, tacked on to your regular prep work.
I have seen many gamers enjoying the stories generated when they have player characters that have played through the same adventure with different characters and different facilitators. They have a shared sense of accomplishment, even though they have different memories of how the adventure was resolved. They have common touchstones that they can share. In reflecting on this style of game, there is a similar feeling of participating in the same event, even while being separated from the other group. There is an added sense of accomplishment when one party does something that contributes to how the narrative for the other party evolved.
Have you ever attempted two canonically concurrent campaigns before? Have you run consecutive campaigns that were set in the same version of the setting you used previously? We would love to hear about your experiences and best practices below!