You don’t always have to raise the stakes.
Recently, I got a call from an old gaming friend who was coming to town for a few days and wanted to game with “the old group” again. As it happens I am able to pull everyone together for a one-shot session and I dusted off the characters from a favorite campaign. I fired up the old computer and began musing about the epic adventure I was going to write.
Unfortunately, the characters had been on so many adventures together that is was tough to think of something that could top them all and not feel like a retread. Did the group really need to stop yet another earth-shattering threat? They’d already saved the world at least a couple of times by the conclusions of previous campaigns.
That’s when I remembered that I didn’t have to raise the stakes. The players weren’t coming together because I had an awesome adventure idea; they were coming to celebrate the reunion of a treasured cast. The adventure is simply the excuse for them to slip into some comfortable old shoes and enjoy playing characters that had been put away for some time.
That said writing an adventure that echoes the old campaign doesn’t mean there can’t be new jarring elements. By its nature, a one-shot enables me to explore such elements without worrying about their impact on a continuing campaign.
Here are a few ways to make a “one-shot reunion” stand out without going all epic in the adventure.
Tying up a loose end. Sometimes a campaign ends prematurely or ended with one or more loose ends (this is one of the dangers of winging it). A one-shot is a great way to tie things up.
“I’d really love to help, but…” One or more PCs now has a job or other circumstance that makes it difficult for her to participate in the adventure. Part of the fun is getting that PC involved.
A Friend in Need. Simply putting a friendly NPC in danger is enough for the band to get back together and share memories of the past.
Good Guy Gone Rogue. A friendly NPC from the past turns rogue in the current adventure.
A Death in the Family. A friendly NPC (or PC, if you couldn’t get all of the old band back together) ends up dead or missing and this forms the crux of the adventure.
“We’re getting too old for this…” The PCs are long past their prime but they’re the only ones the victims can turn to for help. Obviously any aging rules apply; you can also assign experience-related disadvantages to the PCs or, better, yet, have the players decide what types of disadvantages their PCs now have.
The Origin Story. If your group started fully-formed, then a reunion one-shot is a great time to run a prequel that showed how the band got together.
Fool’s Gold. Perhaps one of the characters wanted to acquire something during the campaign and finally received it. Before the one-shot begins, however, the character was disappointed and this disappointment fuels the adventure. Perhaps a relationship went sour and the NPC involved now needs help, or the space vessel that the PC purchased was stolen by pirates while it held a special cargo and the PC needs to get both back.
I can’t wait for my group to get together this weekend (I’m using “the Friend in Need”). How about you? Do you always try to make reunions epic, or have you tried a more “lower stakes” approach? Do you find “lower stakes” reunions as fun or satisfying as epic reunions?
Walt, I’d like to have a one-shot with some of my groups old characters. Your article gave me good food for thought.
Not as good as the chocolate covered pretzels I got for Easter, but probably better for me.
thanks a lot for your post. I enjoyed it very much as I love to spin the story wheel or enjoying a good one. Proceed the good work.
While I haven’t run a game with the players running PCs from previous adventures, it sounds awesome.
I particularly like the example of “I’d like to help, but…” For example, the party’s paladin really wants to help her old friends, but she is leading a siege against an evil wizard’s castle. If her friends don’t help her end the siege, she cannot aid them.
It allows the players and GM to show how the characters have become important and ingrained in the world. That paladin is no longer the “Evil, I Shall SMITE Thee!” Paladin. She is more tempered. Her drive to do good has never weakened, but she no commands the companies of the South. She cannot go dungeon delving to slay a rumored vampire because she is needed on the front lines to bring down the wraiths the enemy is using.
Or perhaps the bard must navigate the court to assist his old friends. While he wants nothing more than to help, the king has tasked him with bringing the Duke and Baron to a trade agreement and the assassin the Count hired is really causing problems.
I really like being able to show the players that their characters matter, and have become integral to the things they hold dear. Plus it lets players and the GM ass fun lines like remembering Budapest very differently.
Raz, thanks for writing ” I really like being able to show the players that their characters matter, and have become integral to the things they hold dear.” That’s what I love, too, as a player. It’s one of my motivations.
The “We’re getting too old for this” is fun even not for a reunion. If you and your players have moved on to a new campaign it can be fun to revist.
I had a really great time with that idea once. We had a group of players (let’s call them Joe, Mark, Katie, and Phil. I was the GM) and we ran a fantasy campaign in a homebrew world using a homebrew system cooked up by our old GM before he had to move. He gave me his notes and ideas and then turned the adventure over to me to wrap up and let him know how it ended. We wrapped it up nicely, with me changing a few things from his original plans but it worked out great for everyone.
Joe and Mark both left the group but Katie and Phil stayed when we recieved new players. We started a new campaign and ran a completely seperate adventure in a different kingdom, though in the same world. Then one day Joe and Mark asked if they could “cameo” in an adventure. (They were brothers)The group readily agreed. Katie and Phil came up with something to occupy their old characters and then Joe and Mark revived their old ones for a time. While they didn’t have the time for RPG’s with other engagements, having them come and assist the characters for two sessions was great.
It helped wrap up a few loose ends from the original campaign and added depth to the new one. I made sure not to favor the old group and emphasize that, though the old players had returned, it was still the new campaign. We ended up getting some cool role playing when Joe and Mark’s characters admitted they really couldn’t do it anymore and got to tell the new characters how proud they were of them for following in their footsteps. At the end Mark passed down his sword and title down to another player, creating a cool “legacy” feel to it.
Joe and Mark gave me permission to use their characters in passing after that. They became more of the name that was heard less than the person that was seen.
So one cool thing to do with a reunion would be to see if it can blend in with your current campaign. Of course, circumstances happened to allow for that in our world. SciFi campaigns can often allow for alternate universe traveling if old characters want to come to the new world. It really depends on the players and whether or not they would be comfortable with that.
But we sure had fun.
this reunion sounds great. Especially the meeting between the old and new chars. Magic!
My group got into the habit of playing generational campaigns, where new characters were the children/apprentices/whatever of retired characters. This had the benefit of really tying new characters into the setting. Sometimes there would be an inherited magic item, but usually it was enough just to be able to do some name-dropping and to know some historical details no one else could. Once, the party got into a situation that would have been a total TPK: they walked right into the Bad Guys Trap and there was no hope. Instead of killing them, the Bad Guys captured them and sent a ransom letter. The next week everyone brought old characters, aged twenty something years, and came to the rescue. It was awesome!
I’m going to stick that idea in my back pocket. 🙂